Transboundary water management and climate change
The world’s water resources are facing unprecedented pressures from population growth and economic development. Estimates indicate that, with current practices, the world will face a 40 per cent shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water by 2030. Climate change is worsening the situation, making water availability more unpredictable and increasing the frequency and intensity of floods and droughts. With growing water scarcity, determining who can use water, for what purposes, in what quantity and of what quality, where and when—in short, determining water allocation—represents a major challenge. In transboundary basins—where (potentially conflicting) interests of different water users overlap with (potentially conflicting) interests of different countries—the challenge is even greater and the political sensitivity high. Yet, sustainable transboundary water allocation is increasingly important and urgent, as 60 per cent of freshwater resources globally cross national boundaries. History shows that transboundary water allocation arrangements can work for the benefit of the States involved, but only if they are well designed, jointly agreed, adaptable and effectively implemented.
It was therefore decided to develop this Handbook under the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), which is serviced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The Handbook aims to promote a better understanding of the benefits and challenges of transboundary water allocation and guide interested States through the process of assessing the potential usefulness of water allocation in their shared basins, and support the establishment of such arrangements. A rich intergovernmental process under the Water Convention produced the Handbook, which benefited from the participation of more than 100 countries, 70 international organizations and 20 river basin organizations, and the knowledge and practice of more than 50 experts. It is the first time that existing experience on transboundary water allocation at the global level is gathered and systematically analysed to distil criteria, good practices and solutions. And through this highly participative and multidisciplinary process, the Handbook has already contributed to a better understanding of the benefits and challenges of utilizing water allocation in transboundary water cooperation.
The Handbook, and the experiences it builds upon, send a strong message on the importance of transboundary cooperation and of adaptability. Indeed, while allocating water in transboundary basins is not a new practice, the looming water crisis, accelerated social, economic and technological developments, and climate variability and change call for new, flexible approaches in allocation, in order to future-proof water management. Moreover, more controversy and disagreement can be expected, and only transboundary cooperation can ensure sustainable, equitable and resilient solutions that can prevent and address conflicts and promote development and peace.
It is my hope that the Handbook will help build the capacity needed to address this complex issue and contribute to the sustainable management of our transboundary waters. The way we manage our precious shared freshwater resources will determine not only the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation but also progress across other Sustainable Development Goals.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
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