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Handbook on Water Allocation in a Transboundary Context

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Which users may use the water of a lake, river or other source? For what purposes, in what quantity and of what quality? Where and when?

These are the questions answered by ‘water allocation’ which is the process and/or outcome of determining how different stakeholders use water. With growing water scarcity around the globe, determining such water use presents a major challenge – and even more so in transboundary basins where (potentially conflicting) interests of different water users overlap with (potentially conflicting) interests of different countries. And while allocating water in transboundary basins is not a new practice, the looming water crisis, accelerated social, economic and technological developments, and climate variability call for new, flexible approaches that can future-proof water management.

The good news: History shows that transboundary water allocation arrangements can work for the benefit of the States involved - if they are well designed, jointly agreed, adaptable and effectively implemented.

Just how and where can one find the expertise and relevant experiences when it comes to questions of water allocation in a transboundary water context?

Over a period of 3 years, more than 100 countries, 70 international organizations, 20 river basin organizations were involved in the Handbook’s development. A group comprising over 50 experts in this field met regularly and systematically analysed existing experiences on transboundary water allocation at the global level. They distilled criteria, good practices and solutions to deal with growing water scarcity around the globe. They learned from each other and improved their understanding of the benefits and challenges of utilizing water allocation in transboundary water cooperation.

The result: The first-ever ‘Handbook on Water Allocation in a Transboundary Context’ explains the various phases, benefits and challenges of transboundary water allocation and guides interested States through the process of assessing its potential usefulness in their shared basins. The Handbook contains 46 exemplar case studies highlighting key features of allocation and demonstrating their practical application in different transboundary water contexts around the world. It also helps build the capacity needed to address complex issues of water allocation, supports governments in establishing water allocation arrangements and, as such, sends a strong message on the importance, and feasibility, of transboundary cooperation and of adaptability. Last but not least, the Handbook presents the first-ever overview of water allocation agreements in transboundary waters.

More information on the Water Convention’s work on water allocation in a transboundary context can be found here.

Learn more and download its various chapters or the complete handbook here:

HANDBOOK ON WATER ALLOCATION IN A TRANSBOUNDARY CONTEXT
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INTRODUCTION

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MAIN MESSAGES

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PART 1: FOUNDATIONS

CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION TO TRANSBOUNDARY WATER ALLOCATION AND THE GLOBAL HANDBOOK

Summary:
This chapter describes the rationale of water allocation in a transboundary context. It sets up the Handbook by interrogating the central question: why and how is water allocation applied in transboundary basins, including surface and groundwater? The role, relevance, aims and limitations of allocation under changing circumstances and finite water resources are outlined. The Handbook’s purpose, audience, process of development under the Water Convention, content and usability are then described.
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CHAPTER II: DEFINITIONS, OBJECTIVES AND COMPONENTS OF TRANSBOUNDARY WATER ALLOCATION

Summary:
This chapter details the definitions and objectives of water allocation in a transboundary context, and describes the key processes, approaches and mechanisms applicable in allocation arrangements and agreements. It also presents an overview of the core components of international water law, shared knowledge and data, and cooperation at different scales of governance for advancing sustainable and equitable water allocation.
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CHAPTER III: ISSUES WATER ALLOCATION CAN ADDRESS

Summary:
This chapter first discusses the main drivers of water management challenges today and in the future—particularly the need to respond to increased and competing demands for water and water-related services—and the resulting pressures on available water resources. It then examines how allocation approaches and frameworks can seek to address these challenges of water availability, variability and uncertainty, focusing particularly on interventions in transboundary contexts. Methods for balancing various water uses and needs when planning and implementing transboundary water allocation and potential reallocation are then proposed, including balancing historical, current and future uses.
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CHAPTER IV: LIMITATIONS TO WATER ALLOCATION AND ITS LINKAGES WITH BROADER APPROACHES

Summary:
This chapter highlights the conceptual and procedural limitations to water allocation and the broader approaches to transboundary water resources management and cooperation with their linkages to water allocation. Several recognized broader approaches—IWRM, basinwide planning, benefit-sharing and the water-energy-food-ecosystem nexus—to consider in conjunction with transboundary water allocation, are presented with case studies and further resources for reference.
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PART 2: OPERATIONALIZING

CHAPTER V: OBJECTIVES OF WATER MANAGEMENT AND RELATED PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW TO GUIDE TRANSBOUNDARY WATER ALLOCATION

Summary:
This chapter begins by discussing cross-cutting objectives of IWRM and their related legal principles, to be considered when initially developing transboundary water allocation processes and outcomes. Core principles of international water law, both substantive and procedural, which should guide transboundary allocation of surface and groundwater resources, are then examined, with particular attention given to provisions of the Water Convention and Watercourses Convention. Additional principles of international law that are applicable to water allocation are then described. Finally, emerging legal principles relevant to water allocation in a transboundary context are outlined.
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CHAPTER VI: COOPERATIVE FRAMEWORKS FOR TRANSBOUNDARY WATER ALLOCATION

Summary:
This chapter discusses the cooperative frameworks that form the basis for transboundary water allocation. It highlights the role of the United Nations global water conventions (1992 Water Convention and 1997 Watercourses Convention), regional and multi- or bilateral legal agreements and institutional arrangements that form the foundations to enable cooperative allocation. The aim and function of joint bodies in transboundary water allocation are analysed, and the role and relevance of informal arrangements are addressed. Finally, national law coherence with transboundary arrangements is highlighted as being important for coordination and implementation.
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CHAPTER VII: KNOWLEDGE BASE FOR TRANSBOUNDARY WATER ALLOCATION

Summary:
This chapter discusses the need for and importance of a shared knowledge base (e.g. available water resources, water uses and needs) at the basin or aquifer level in relation to transboundary water allocation. It also considers means to gather that knowledge, including water resources assessment, water uses and needs assessment and transboundary impact assessments. In addition, it presents structured decision-making approaches and systems as tools for building management responses in a transboundary context.
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CHAPTER VIII: OPERATIONALIZING TRANSBOUNDARY WATER ALLOCATION: PROCESSES, MECHANISMS AND EXAMPLES

Summary:
This chapter outlines a set of technical, legal and institutional water allocation approaches, mechanisms and arrangements that can be adapted and applied to various transboundary contexts. A three-phase, 10-step modular process is presented that provides a variety of options for operationalizing water allocation. The chapter provides some guidance for measures to operationalize water allocation principles and objectives presented in previous chapters.
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ANNEX: TYPOLOGY OF TRANSBOUNDARY WATER ALLOCATION

Summary:
This Annex outlines the transboundary water allocation typology methodology developed for cataloguing and analysing allocation mechanisms in international water agreements that was used in a discrete piece of research specifically commissioned for this Handbook. The methodology and data used are just one approach to conducting a broad analysis of the global practice of allocation in international freshwater agreements.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Expert voices on the Handbook on Water Allocation in a Transboundary Context:
•    Mr. Antti Rautavaara, Director of International Water Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs / Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland (please click on the video);
•    Ms. Melissa McCracken, Assistant Professor of International Environmental Policy, The Fletcher School at Tufts University (please click on the video);
•    Ms. Dinara Ziganshina, Acting Director, Scientific Information Center of Interstate Сommission for Water Coordination in Сentral Asia (please click on the video)
ECE/MP.WAT/64