The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Water Convention include the replies to over 50 questions grouped in seven thematic parts. The FAQs are also available as a publication.
- 6.1 Can a country accede to the Water Convention if it cannot implement all its requirements due to the lack of resources and capacity?
The Water Convention takes into account the different levels of economic development and capacities of the countries. Its current Parties are at different stages of economic development and have varying capacities.
The general obligation of prevention, control and reduction of transboundary impact, as well as many other obligations of the Water Convention, are of a ‘due diligence’ nature and require Parties to take “all appropriate measures” when implementing them. Such measures should be proportionate to the economic, financial and other capacities of the Party concerned, as well as to the degree of risk of transboundary impact. Different legal, economic, operational, administrative and technical measures, in accordance with the Convention, are to be progressively put in place and implemented through a step-by-step approach in accordance with the resources and capacity of a Party.
A common way of setting the path to ensure the implementation of the Convention is to develop a plan for the implementation of the Convention. An implementation plan can demonstrate the Party’s commitment to take all appropriate measures. Moreover, such a plan can help gather the needed internal resources for implementation and can help in approaching development partners for external funding. If needed, the Implementation Committee under the Water Convention can assist in developing such a plan.
The Convention’s institutional framework provides assistance to support Parties in implementation, ranging from policy guidance to capacity-building, exchange of experiences and field projects.
See also replies to the related questions:
Would the Water Convention be an efficient instrument for developing countries? [2.6]
Is a Party to the Water Convention obliged to build wastewater treatment plants to treat polluted transboundary waters?[5.9]
- Guide to Implementing the Water Convention (ECE/MP.WAT/39), paras. 60–67.
- 6.2 How can the Water Convention be implemented when countries have conflicts, border disputes or are at war with their neighbours? How can countries enter into bilateral or multilateral agreements to implement the Convention in such cases?
Implementation of the core obligation of cooperation and many other obligations under the Water Convention depends on the cooperative attitude of all the Riparian Parties concerned (i.e. Parties to the Convention sharing the same transboundary waters). It could therefore be limited in the case of war, conflicts or border disputes between Riparian Parties. However, a state of war or a lack of trust between the Riparian Parties does not absolve them from making every possible effort to fulfill their duty to cooperate. Parties should make efforts to implement such duty by adopting all measures, proportionate to their means, conditions and capacity, to make cooperation possible. Cooperation over transboundary waters in cases of war, conflicts or border disputes can be informal, unofficial or focused on certain aspects or technical issues only.
In order for a Party to comply with the obligation to enter into agreements or arrangements, it has to accept in good faith all contacts initiated by other Riparian Parties and aimed at concluding the agreements. A Party that has not entered into agreements or arrangements should be able to demonstrate that it had taken all measures to make cooperation possible, but that no agreement could be reached due to the attitude of other Riparian Parties.
- 6.3 What happens if a Party does not respect its obligations under the Water Convention? Are there any adverse legal consequences?
The Water Convention itself does not include rules or procedures on responsibility or liability. In case of a breach by a Party of its obligations under the Convention, the general rules and principles of international law, which govern the responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts, would apply. The most authoritative development in this area is the 2001 Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts adopted by the International Law Commission (A/56/10).
In 2012 the Meeting of the Parties established a mechanism to support implementation and compliance within the Convention’s institutional framework. An Implementation Committee was established as part of the mechanism. The mechanism is non-confrontational in nature and is designed to help Parties overcome difficulties with implementation rather than ‘punish’ them for non-compliance. The mechanism can facilitate a large number of supportive measures (e.g. assistance with establishing transboundary water cooperation agreements, facilitating technical and financial assistance, including information and technology transfer, and capacity-building). Nevertheless, upon recommendation by the Convention’s Implementation Committee, the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention may decide on such measures as issuing a statement of concern, a declaration of non-compliance, or a caution or suspension of the special rights and privileges accorded to the Party concerned under the Convention. As at mid-2020, no such precedents have taken place.
- 6.4 What are the decision-making, working and subsidiary bodies under the Water Convention?
The Meeting of the Parties is the highest decision-making body under the Water Convention. It meets in regular sessions every three years and adopts the programme of work for the following three-year period. In between the sessions of the Meeting of the Parties, the decision-making is vested with the Bureau, an elected body comprising about 12 Parties to the Convention from the different geographic regions.
The Meeting of the Parties establishes working or subsidiary bodies to develop specific areas of work under the programme of work. These include the Working Group on Integrated Water Resources Management, the Working Group on Monitoring and Assessment, the Implementation Committee, the Legal Board, the Joint Ad Hoc Expert Group on Water and Industrial Accidents, the International Water Assessment Centre, and currently, the Task Force on Water and Climate and the Task Force on the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus.
Each body receives a clear mandate from the Meeting of the Parties and implements the activities in one or several areas of the programme of work. The exact set-up of the working bodies therefore changes depending on the programme of work of the Convention, thus ensuring flexibility and responsiveness to changing needs. The working bodies are the main venue for the exchange of experience and where cooperation develops in specific areas. The secretariat is responsible for servicing all meetings under the Convention and assisting the Convention bodies in implementing the programme of work.
Sessions of the Meetings of the Parties and meetings of the working or subsidiary bodies are attended not only by Parties to the Convention but also by non-Parties, international organizations, NGOs, academia, and the private sector. However, decision-making both at the Meeting of the Parties and at meetings of its working or subsidiary bodies involves Parties only. In practice, the decisions are commonly adopted by consensus, but this is often the result of prior intensive negotiations.
- 6.5 What is the role of the Implementation Committee under the Water Convention?
The role of the Implementation Committee is to facilitate dispute prevention and provide practical case-oriented assistance. Established in 2012, the Committee consists of nine members who act in a personal capacity (not as country representatives). These are outstanding lawyers and water professionals who are nominated by the Parties and are elected by the Meeting of the Parties. The Committee normally meets twice a year in an open and transparent manner.
Party or Parties jointly can ask the Committee to provide advice in the framework of an advisory procedure to assist their efforts to implement the Convention. This is a unique procedure that reflects the supportive and non-adversarial nature of the Committee and ensures tactful assistance at an early stage. The Committee can also receive self-submissions and Party-to-Party submissions regarding difficulties in implementing the Convention. It can also undertake a ‘Committee initiative’ when it becomes aware of possible difficulties in implementation and compliance by a Party.
The Committee can provide advice and facilitate assistance to individual Parties and groups of Parties. It can, for example, provide assistance in establishing transboundary water cooperation agreements, facilitate technical and financial assistance, and seek support from specialized agencies and other competent bodies.
- Decision VI/1. Support to implementation and compliance (ECE/MP.WAT/37/Add.2).
- Video message by Prof. Attila Tanzi, Chair of the Implementation Committee, Dispute settlement in the UNECE Water Convention (2015).
- Information on the Implementation Committee: background, materials and documents, list of meetings, composition
- 6.6 Do Parties have to submit national implementation reports under the Water Convention?
In 2015, a regular reporting mechanism was established under the Water Convention.
Parties have to submit reports every three years.
For Parties to the Convention, reporting under the Water Convention is combined with reporting under the SDG indicator 6.5.2 (Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation) for which UNECE and UNESCO are the custodian agencies.
- Decision VII/2. Reporting under the Convention (ECE/MP.WAT/49/Add.2), pp. 2–15.
- Progress on transboundary water cooperation under the Water Convention. Report on Implementation of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (ECE/MP.WAT/51).
- Guide to reporting under the Water Convention and as a contribution to SDG indicator 6.5.2 (ECE/MP.WAT/60).
- Reporting under the Water Convention and SDG indicator 6.5.2.
- 6.7 Do Parties have to make mandatory financial contributions to support the activities under the Water Convention?
The Water Convention does not impose any mandatory financial contributions. Parties contribute to the Convention’s trust fund on a voluntary basis only. The trust fund supports the implementation of the Convention’s programme of work. The secretariat reports to the Meeting of the Parties on the spending of funds.
The Meeting of the Parties calls on all Parties to contribute to the Convention’s trust fund. Any contribution is valued and enables the implementation of the Convention’s programme of work, thus helping to develop a stronger support system for the Parties.
Parties are also invited to make in-kind contributions to activities envisaged in the programme of work.
- Water Convention Programme of Work 2019–2021 (ECE/MP.WAT/NONE/14).
- 6.8 Which countries are eligible for financial support under the Water Convention?
The Water Convention’s trust fund can be used to provide technical support to Parties and sometimes non-Parties, particularly to promote and implement the Convention through the organization of seminars and other training activities, studies and pilot projects.
The trust fund can also be used to support the participation of experts from developing countries and countries with economies in transition to attend workshops, seminars, symposia and other meetings organized within the framework of the Convention, subject to resources available for specific meetings or areas of activity under the Convention’s programme of work.
While non-Parties can also benefit from the Convention’s trust fund, priority is given to Parties and countries in the process of accession to the Convention.