Lessons Learned in facilitating effective multi-country governance of shared waterbodies

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This article is based on a presentation by Andrew Hudson, UNDP on behalf of UN-Water to the G77 Ministerial Forum on Water (23-25 February 2009, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman). The Lessons learned were collected through UN-Water.

See also: Lessons Learned in promoting South-South knowledge exchange on IWRM | Lessons Learned in promoting South-South knowledge exchange on Transboundary Waters Management


Legal Instruments

1997 UN Convention on Non-navigable uses of Int’l Watercourses core principles (equitable use, no harm) already part of int’l customary law

2002 UN ECE Convention on TB Watercourses & Lakes has served as basis for new agreements (e.g. Danube)

ECE Convention amended (not yet in force) to make open for accession by all-UN member states

MEAs (CBD, UNCCD, etc.) provide further frameworks for regional cooperation

ILC Draft Articles law of transboundary aquifers – May 2008

Challenges remain: 158 of world’s 263 TB river basins lack any regional cooperation framework

Elements of ‘good’ transboundary legal instruments include:

  • Clearly set out institutional arrangements
  • Clear enforcement and dispute resolution mechanisms
  • Incorporate both water quality & quantity, climate change, societal values
  • Identify clear means to share benefits of water, not just the water itself
  • Provisions for joint monitoring, info exchange, public participation
  • Mechanisms that promote water-related joint economic development

Common weaknesses:

  • Weak capacity to implement and enforce
  • Inadequate integration of environment
  • Limited sectoral scope
  • Non-inclusion of important riparians

Institutional Structures & Capacity Development

Clear mandates for both regional and national bodies

Strong cross-sectoral coordination at national level

Strong political will & financing commitment

Involvement of appropriate range of stakeholders

Appropriate RBO rules of procedure and terms of reference


  • broad competencies and multi-disciplinary skills
  • Negotiation, diplomacy, conflict resolution skills

Joint bodies need to provide:

  • Coordination & Advisory functions
  • Policy development and implementation
  • Dispute settlement, monitoring & reporting

Information Exchange/Joint Monitoring and Assessment

Accurate assessment info essential for informed decision-making & policy formulation

Need for comparable info between countries: Harmonized, compatible assessment methods & data mgmt systems; agreed terminologies

Information exchange essential – accidents, infrastructure, extreme events, hydropower & navigation operations, etc.

Integrated Approaches

IWRM principles as applied to TB river basin; many multi-country agreements are highly sectoral

Land/water/ecosystem management that maximizes social welfare without compromising ecosystems

Multi-faceted, flexible decision-making processes

Adaptive management

Participatory Approaches to Regional Management

Help to maximize agreement

Enhance transparency & decision-making

Facilitate acceptance & enforcement of decisions/policies of shared waters institutions

Mechanism for gaining common ground between stakeholders

Requires financial resources to be effective

Organize openly & transparently

Involve all relevant groups (stakeholder analysis)

Benefits and Cost-Sharing

Focus on use of water to generate benefits, not on allocation of water

Optimize generation of basin-wide benefits

Work to share the benefits equitably

Even under benefit sharing approaches, will often be difficult trade-offs and choices

Payments for benefits/compensation for costs can be integral element of cooperative arrangements

Payments for ecosystem services – new, innovative


Short and long-term financing essential for legal frameworks, new institutions, capacity building, AND investments

As always, diversify: national, local, donors, etc.

Innovative financial mechanisms

  • Regional revolving funds
  • Payments for ecosystem services
  • (equitable) cost recovery for water services

Require strong political support, good governance and effective institutions


See also

Lessons Learned in promoting South-South knowledge exchange on IWRM

Lessons Learned in promoting South-South knowledge exchange on Transboundary Waters Management

External Resources

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