Review of the Convention on Transboundary Water - Principles, Requirements, Benefits and Challenges

Nov 20, 2013


Benameh Khoda

Salaam va Sobhe be kheyr

Mr. Meydani, Deputy-Minister

Mr. Mahmoudi, Deputy-Minister

Mr. Vatanfada, General Director

Respected managers and delegates from central headquarters and provincial water authorities

Colleagues from the UN Agencies

Ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be with you here today to share some thoughts on water resources management in a country where people have been intelligently managing water resources since civilization first took root in this region of the world.

What we call “Water” in English is pronounced “AAB” in Farsi consisting of the first two letters of alphabet in both Farsi and English!  Every living creature is dependent on water and that is why we acknowledge water as the alphabet of life.

And yet, although we say that water resources are “renewable natural resources” – if we continue to use our surface and aquifer water in an irresponsible and short-sighted manner – these resources may soon become non-renewable.

Globally, water shortages already affect two billion people in over 40 countries.  

And today, many states are experiencing serious water resources management challenges within their borders.

Projections show that by the year 2050, water stress will affect 54 countries.  These countries are currently home to 4 billion people – or well over half the world’s population.

In our region – the Middle East – current projections suggest there will be a rapid drop of per capita water resources. 

Because we live in an arid and semi-arid region, Iran will be one of those countries to be hardest hit. 

Here are the statistics. 

While the per-capita water resources of Iran stood at 7,000 cubic-metres-per-year in 1956, today, the figure is less than the “water shortage” threshold of 1900 cubic-metres-per-year. 

The situation will worsen.  According to current modeling, by the year 2020, the figure will decline further, reaching the “water scarcity” threshold of 1300 cubic-metres-per-year.

Shared basins and trans-boundary water resources

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s topic is shared basins and trans-boundary water resources.  So the question arises: why are these resources important?

The statistics are worrying.

Globally there are 263 international watershed basins.  And these basins supply fresh water to 145 countries.  

Significantly, these trans-boundary basins generate about 60% of the world’s freshwater flow.

They cover almost half of the earth’s surface. 

And they are home to around 40% of the world’s population.

Given this international inter-dependence on shared water resources, governments are increasingly facing disputes over how to apportion water resources fairly. 

If these disputes and disagreements are not managed properly, they could turn into conflict.  And – with conflict – comes all the depradation that we know, including displacement of populations – or “water refugees”.

So, should we view trans-boundary water resources as a source of dispute or areas for potential cooperation?

The answer to this question is complex. 

It is rooted in the interplay of national interests and the political economy of trans-boundary water management.  

Since national water demand exceeds the available national water supplies, states increasingly prioritize the harvesting of shared water resources to meet this demand.

At the same time, there are few practical global mechanisms in place to ensure sustainability of water resources management.

There are a number of different bilateral and multilateral watercourse agreements in place.  But most of the world’s trans-boundary water resources still lack sufficient legal protection.

So, what is to be done?

In order to address this very important challenge under the umbrella of the United Nations, more than 100 nations joined together to adopt the UN Watercourses Convention in 1997 (the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational uses of International Watercourses).

This is a flexible global legal framework that establishes basic standards and rules for cooperation between watercourse states on how to use, manage, and protect international watercourses.

In another attempt and to raise awareness on the potential to increase cooperation in the face of increasing in demand for water access, in December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared this year – 2013 – as the UN International Year of Water Cooperation.

The future we shape for subsequent generations is very much in our hands. 

As I have said, depending on how we look at it, we could treat the issue of “shared or trans-boundary water resources management” as either an opportunity or a threat.

Let us choose to treat it as an “opportunity” to address regional water management.

Iran has suffered from the handling of trans-boundary water resources in the region.

On its western border, increasing dust and sandstorms are directly correlated to the desertification in central and western Iraq mainly due to upstream water shortages of the Tigris and Euphrates.

On its eastern border, the Hamoun lakes have been dry for several years because of lack of upstream transboundary flow into the wetlands system from the Helmand River.  

Increasingly, the region will look to Iran to support the process of diplomacy and reach reconciliation and agreement on how water resources can be shared in a fair and sustainable manner. 

We must continue to focus on the side of “opportunity”.

The United Nations looks forward to supporting efforts to find ways in which countries can reduce their vulnerability to all forms of water scarcity.

Kheily motashekaeram.

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