Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty WorldSM
Waterway Robbery?

Courtesy of NewScientist, an article looking at what they term: waterway robbery.  As the report notes:

FRESH water is one of our most vital resources, but some nations have much greater access to it than others. That is partly down to the geographical good fortune of being sited upstream on a great river. But it is also because there is no functioning international treaty governing the sharing of transboundary waterways. In the age of mega-dams, downstream countries get water at the whim of their upstream neighbours.

There should be a treaty. The UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses was signed 15 years ago. It required countries to ensure the sustainable and equitable use of shared rivers. At the time, only three countries – China, Turkey and Burundi – voted against. All three are upstream countries on major rivers. But despite this apparent assent, only 24 nations have subsequently ratified it, 11 short of the threshold that would bring it into force.

Some countries’ reluctance to ratify the treaty is laughable. When questioned three years ago, the UK government claimed it did not want to “burden partner countries”, though it did not say who those partner countries were or how ratification would burden them. At least China said what it meant, arguing that it has “indisputable territorial sovereignty over those parts of international watercourses that flow through its territory”.

This week, we report escalating concern about China’s bullying tactics over five mighty rivers flowing out of Tibet, upon which downstream countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam depend (see “China is taking control of Asia’s water tower”). There are many other festering disputes, including on the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates. We also reported recently on a proposed dam on the Guinea stretch of the Niger river, which threatens vital wetlands in downstream Mali (New Scientist, 24 March, p 9).

Almost half the world’s people depend on water flowing down international rivers. Yet two-thirds of those rivers have no water-sharing agreements. This is a scandal that June’s Earth Summit in Rio should address. It should call for rapid ratification of the UN treaty. The world’s water bullies need to be tamed.



This entry was posted on Monday, April 30th, 2012 at 10:20 am and is filed under News.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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