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  • Published on: 13 Dec 2011

Draft Resolution

UN General Assembly Call for UNESCO-IHP to Support Countries in Sustainable Management of Transboundary Aquifers
On 9 December 2011 the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at its Sixty-sixth session adopted a new Resolution on the ?Law of Transboundary Aquifers?. This Resolution calls upon the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (IHP) to support countries in the sustainable and equitable management of their transboundary aquifers. It also encourages UNESCO-IHP to continue its scientific and technical work on the assessment of the transboundary aquifers of the world, an action that is pivotal for the peaceful sharing of groundwater resources and the prevention of conflicts.

Transboundary aquifers are an important aspect of global water resource systems together with transboundary river basins. However, recognition of their importance in terms of international water policies and legislation still remains very limited. Existing international conventions and agreements barely address aquifer systems. With growing global pressures including climate change, population growth, etc. placed on groundwater resources in general, and on transboundary aquifers in particular, the need for a regulatory framework developing cooperation and joint management of this precious resource becomes increasingly more urgent. Much political and technical debate, usually associated with the Middle East region, has been devoted to reducing tensions and the potential for conflict in areas concerned by issues related to international waters. Literature predicting that future wars could well be fought over water, now agree that this won?t necessarily be the case; water has long proved to be a catalyst for peace and not for war. However, given the unprecedented pressures that our planet and our era are currently witnessing, transboundary waters, and aquifers in particular, will deserve special attention by policy-makers in the future so as to develop adequate frameworks, both legal and technical, for their sustainable management. By adopting this Resolution, the UNGA is inviting the countries concerned to initiate a thorough assessment of their transboundary groundwater resources as a means to strengthen regional cooperation and peace.

The UNESCO International Hydrological Programme is the only intergovernmental programme of the UN system devoted to water science, water resources management, as well as education and capacity building. UNESCO-IHP together with several partners has already identified 273 transboundary aquifers in the world, a figure that is comparable to that for transboundary river basins. More than 40% of the world?s population lives in a transboundary water systems region, and 89 transboundary aquifers have been identified in Europe alone. In general, as aquifer systems are partially isolated and therefore not subject to the same impacts as surface resources, they contain water that is of good quality. Such resources represent a vast hidden global capital that requires careful management. However, the hidden nature of transboundary groundwater resources and the lack of legal frameworks can lead to misunderstandings and false perceptions amongst policy makers. It is clear that the management of this invisible resource, contained deep under the soil within transboundary aquifers, is a crucial and burning issue. The management of transboundary aquifers still remains in its infancy due to the lack of institutional will and difficulties in the evaluation, not to mention the finance necessary to assess the relevant information.

The text of the new Resolution adopted today reaffirms that ?the major importance of the subject of the law of transboundary aquifers in the relations of States and the need for reasonable and equitable management of transboundary aquifers, a vitally important natural resource, through international cooperation?. Furthermore, the UNGA recommends that the set of 19 draft articles already annexed to the first Resolution on the topic (R. 63/124 approved in 2008) be considered by Member States when negotiating future agreements or arrangements for the management of their transboundary aquifers, where appropriate. These draft articles were prepared by the United Nations International Law Commission (UNILC) with the technical support of UNESCO-IHP that mobilized hydrogeologists, groundwater administrators and water lawyers between the period 2003 and 2008. The UNGA decided to further examine the question of the form that might be given to the draft articles during its sixty-eighth session taking place in 2013.

The UNGA Resolution on the ?Law of Transboundary Aquifers? will be brought to the discussion tables of the main upcoming fora dealing with water resources. These include the 6th World Water Forum, taking place in March 2012 in Marseille, and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) taking place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro.
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