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20 March 2003

Text: Study Says 158 River Basins could be Flashpoints for Future Disputes

(Published to mark World Water Day on March 22) (1550)


A new study says that 158 international river basins upon which
millions of people depend for drinking water, irrigation, fisheries
and hydropower could be flashpoints for future disputes and that
cooperation between countries covering these basins is inconsistent or
absent.


A March 22 press release says the study, entitled "The Atlas of
International Freshwater Agreements," reports that many of these river
basins are in Asia, Latin America and Africa where tensions over water
may be aggravated by rising populations and existing political, social
and environmental upheavals.

The atlas, based on maps, statistical analyses and historical
documents, was published by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) in
conjunction with the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and
Oregon State University to mark World Water Day on March 22.

According to the atlas, more than 3,600 international water agreements
have been documented since the first recorded water treaty, which was
brokered 4,500 years ago by two Sumerian city-states to end a water
dispute along the Tigris River. Since 1820 there have been more than
400 agreements related to water as a limited and consumable resource.

But the atlas suggests that a huge amount of international diplomatic
negotiation needs to be done, with 158 of the world's international
basins lacking any type of cooperative agreements. Potential causes of
dispute can occur if the creating of newly independent states leads to
changes in political boundaries, countries act unilaterally to change
the course or volume of water, or nations are already at loggerheads
over other issues.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer told the World Water Forum
meeting in Kyoto, Japan that there is an "urgent need" for
international organizations to "act as the water equivalent of
marriage guidance counselors, amicably resolving differences between
countries and communities who may be straying apart."

The Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements can be viewed at
www.unep.org

Following is the text of the press release:

(begin text)

United Nations Environment Program
March 19, 2003

World Water Day March 22

Conflict or Cooperation: Pioneering Atlas on Freshwater Charts the
Choices

Kyoto/Nairobi - Around 150 river basins, upon which millions of people
depend for drinking water, irrigation and in some cases energy, could
be the flashpoints for future disputes unless urgent action is taken.

A study, launched today by the United Nations Environment Program
(UNEP) in conjunction with the Food and Agricultural Organization of
the United Nations (FAO) and Oregon State University to mark World
Water Day, shows that cooperation between countries covering these
basins remains patchy or absent. Many are in Asia, Latin America and
Africa where tensions over water for drinking supplies, irrigation,
fisheries and hydropower may be aggravated by rising populations and
existing political, social and environmental upheavals.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director who is attending the 3rd
World Water Forum in Japan, said: " This study, published as the Atlas
of International Freshwater Agreements, is both cause for alarm and
cause for optimism. It chronicles the history of water agreements and
treaties as far back as 2,500 BC and shows us that cooperation between
countries, that sharing of resources has been the historical norm. It
also, however, highlights the need for vigilance, scientific rigor and
diplomatic vigor in ensuring that this cooperation is maintained and
extended to other river systems".

"Although over 3,000 treaties and agreements covering over 100
international river basins have been signed over the centuries, 158 of
the world's international river basins lack any type of cooperative
agreements," he said.

Such river basins as defined here are areas or regions through which
important rivers run and which cross or demarcate international
borders.

Mr. Toepfer added: " There is an urgent need for international
organizations to apply the lessons of the past, for the benefit of
present and future parties. They should perhaps act as the water
equivalent of marriage guidance counselors, amicably resolving
differences between countries and communities who may be straying
apart, or act as go-between for those who are flirting with
cooperation but are too coy, too unsure, maybe even too distrustful
about how to proceed. So we must hone our skills and develop our
capabilities in what will be the increasingly important field of
hydro-diplomacy".

The Atlas, compiled by Aaron T. Wolf of Oregon State University,
United States, UNEP and the FAO drawing on maps, statistical analyses
and historical documents, suggests that the first recorded water
treaty was 4,500 years ago. This was when the two Sumerian city-states
of Lagash and Umma brokered an agreement to end a water dispute along
the Tigris River.

3,600 agreements signed over 4,500 years

More than 3,600 international water agreements have been documented
since this one. While most concern navigational, boundary delineation
and fishery issues, the dawn of hydropower and large-scale irrigation
development in the 20th Century has shifted the focus of negotiation
and treaty making towards water use, development, protection and
conservation.

Notably, since 1820 there have been more than 400 agreements related
to water as a limited and consumable resource.

Professor Wolf said: "We have found that cooperation between countries
over the past fifty years has outnumbered conflicts by more than
two-to-one. Things can go wrong. But since 1948, only 37 incidents of
acute conflicts, such as those involving violence, have occurred.
Thirty of these were between Israel and one or another of its
neighbors".

The Atlas lists 263 rivers that either cross or mark international
political boundaries - 69 in Europe, 57 in Asia, 59 in Africa, 40 in
North and Central American and 38 in South America. These
international basins are distributed over 145 countries that contain
50 per cent of the earth's land surface, 60 per cent of its freshwater
and 40 per cent of global population.

Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO, added: "Water treaties,
agreements and conventions abound, but knowledge of them, and the
relevant records, used to be scattered and not always easily
accessible. This Atlas is a welcome step in the consolidation and
dissemination of information about shared water treaties." The Atlas
dovetails with the UN World Water Development Report (WWDR), a joint
undertaking by 23 UN agencies. The Report was released on 5 March and
will be formally launched in Japan on 22 March, World Water Day.

Cooperative agreements lacking in 158 of 263 international basins

The Atlas suggests a huge amount of international diplomatic
negotiation, so called "hydro diplomacy" still needs to be done. 158
of the world's 263 international basins lack any type of cooperative
management framework.

Potential causes of dispute can occur if the creation of newly
independent states leads to changes in political boundaries, countries
act unilaterally to change the course or volume of water or nations
are already at loggerheads over other issues.

Even in areas where there are existing agreements, vigilance is
required.

Professor Wolf said: "Of the remaining 106 basins and water
institutions, approximately two-thirds have three or more riparian
states (ones with banks directly on or next to the river), yet less
than 20 percent of the accompanying agreements are multilateral, " he
said.

Ashbindu Singh, co-author of the Atlas, said the study also makes it
clear that existing and new agreements need to be strengthened to
include not only the need to share water, but to address issues of
water quality, monitoring, public participation, effective conflict
resolution and more flexible methods of allocation that take into
account events such as droughts.

Greater flexibility and more imaginative ways of sharing water
resources will be increasingly necessary over the coming decades as
demand, population pressures, the need to grow more crops and factors
such as climate change place greater demands on already stretched
freshwater reserves.

"The potential conflict over shared water resources is real," said
Halifa Drammeh, Deputy Director, UNEP Division of Policy Development
and Law. "The issues requiring negotiation and agreement among States
have grown more complex, but the practice of seeking a negotiated,
agreed solution has remained. This Atlas will be of value above all to
those who negotiate such agreements in future."

The main highlight of World Water Day 2003 will be the Third World
Water Forum (16-23 March 2003, Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka, Japan), which
is the key event during the UN International Year of Freshwater. The
goal for World Water Day 2003 is to inspire political and community
action and encourage greater global understanding of the need for more
responsible water use and conservation. A website
(www.waterday2003.org) has been created on behalf of the UN system by
UNEP, the lead agency for World Water Day 2003, to help governments,
key partners such as education ministries and schools, civil society
organizations, communities and individuals worldwide to plan events
that achieve this end. The Atlas of International Freshwater
Agreements is published by UNEP and can be viewed at www.unep.org and
purchased at www.earthprint.com

The Transboundary Freshwaters Dispute Database, based at the
University of Oregon and with a clickable access to treaties, is at
www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu

UNEP's Vital Water Graphics: An overview of the world's fresh and
marine water resources are available at
http://www.unep.org/vitalwater/

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)