The international community has been seeking to establish legal frameworks for improving the management of shared water resources. For instance, the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in May 1997 (but not yet in force), and the draft articles of the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, which were reviewed by the UNGA in December 2008, propose legal frameworks for managing shared surface and groundwater resources based on international water law principles. These principles aim to enhance the management of shared water resources by encouraging: the equitable and reasonable utilization of water resources, greater cooperation among all riparian countries, the regular exchange of data and information, and the prevention and resolution of conflicts arising over shared water resources, among others. The examination of these international water law principles should be placed within the context of integrated water resources management (IWRM) so as to ensure consistency and coherence among principles adopted in the Arab region affecting the management of shared water resources.
While multilateral and bilateral agreements have been negotiated and adopted by some Arab countries to facilitate the management of shared water basins among riparian countries, there is a need to improve understanding and clarify regional perspectives on the international water law principles that have been developed to guide the formulation of such agreements. Fostering regional consensus on such principles can then assist in the monitoring of existing agreements, the ratification of draft agreements, and the preparation of new agreements at the regional and international levels. Effort to achieve consensus on basic water principles has been pursued in other regions, such as in Europe through the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, which was adopted in March 1992. While this initiative resulted in the adoption of a framework convention for the management of shared water resources, fostering a vision on shared water resource management in the Arab region should first seek to raise awareness and understanding on international water law principles based on regional specificities and then foster dialogue on the ways that such principles can guide shared water resource management within a regional context.
Additionally, significant progress has been achieved by countries in the region on the adoption and integration of IWRM principles in national water resource plans and strategies. These principles express the need for cooperation and participatory approaches to water resource management, priority setting among competing water uses based on informed decision-making, information exchange, and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Given the support expressed by Arab countries for IWRM principles in national planning exercises, these principles should be reflected in complementary efforts to improve shared water resource management.
Within its on-going initiatives to strengthen the capacity of member states in developing and implementing IWRM plans, and to promote cooperation among member countries on shared water resources ESCWA and its partner organizations are working together to bring experts from member countries and the international community to discuss, examine and possibly reach consensus on the principles that should guide shared water resource management within an IWRM framework in the Arab region.
It is hoped that the meeting would contribute to a joint vision that could eventually lead to a regional legal framework for managing shared water resources among ESCWA member/Arab states and possibly between Arab countries and neighboring riparian states.