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Water allocation in a transboundary context

Water allocation, which is the allocation in terms of quantity, quality or timing of water resources between and within different sectors and for different uses, is one of the biggest challenges in water management and protection. Increasing demands on water from different sectors, growing water scarcity and climate variability have led to a growing global interest in the topic of water allocation, particularly in a transboundary context, as competition over shared water resources rises.


The key principles of international water law (particularly the principles of equitable and reasonable use of shared water resources, duty to cooperate, the no-harm rule, the sustainability principle, the ecosystem approach and the precautionary approach), embedded in the Water Convention, provide general orientation for allocating water in transboundary basins. In practice, the benefit-sharing and Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystem nexus approaches promoted under the Convention can provide parallel options for addressing similar challenges and informing reflection about whether there is a need for allocation of water resources.

The Convention’s work on transboundary water allocation is co-led by Hungary and Finland and implemented by the Secretariat with the aim of raising capacity on the development of equitable and sustainable transboundary arrangements on water allocation based on increased understanding and knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of water allocation in transboundary basins and aquifers, including mechanisms, tools and practices

Activities on transboundary water allocation are part of the Water Convention’s Programme of Work 2022-2024 in Programme Area 3.3 on “Supporting equitable and sustainable water allocation in a transboundary context” under the general objective of Programme Area 3: “Promoting an integrated and intersectoral approach to water management at all levels.” In the Water Convention’s Programme of Work 2019-2021, led by Hungary, activities on transboundary water allocation included the development of a Handbook on water allocation in a transboundary context and organising two regional workshops.


Handbook on Water Allocation in a Transboundary Context

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The Handbook on Water Allocation in a Transboundary Context was published in December 2021. Over a period of three years, more than 100 countries, 70 international organizations, 20 river basin organizations were consulted on the Handbook’s development. Its primary audience is government officials, basin authorities and water sector practitioners working at different levels (local, national, inter-governmental) of governance of shared rivers, lakes and aquifers. As a practical guide providing an overview of the key elements, frameworks and modalities to consider in applying water allocation within transboundary basins and aquifers, the Handbook outlines options for, and alternatives/limitations to, water allocation, drawing on a diversity of practice.

The Handbook takes the form of a compendium, covering the major topics and illustrative case studies to demonstrate key elements of transboundary water allocation in different contexts, with a bibliography of references for further research. As a collection of global practices, the handbook provides a synthesis of existing practices, experiences and lessons learned from around the world. It incorporates a set of main messages and modular chapters in order to help guide riparian countries and joint bodies in assessing, adapting, and operationalizing different allocation arrangements within their own contexts. The Handbook presents the first-ever global overview of water allocation agreements in transboundary waters and integrates 46 exemplar case studies highlighting key features of allocation and demonstrating their practical application in different transboundary water contexts around the world.

The Handbook was officially adopted at the ninth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Water Convention on 30 September 2021.

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

Expert Group on the Handbook


An Expert Group comprising over 50 experts in this field met regularly and systematically analysed existing experiences on transboundary water allocation at the global level in the process of developing the structure and content of the Handbook Water Allocation in a Transboundary Context. They also advised on and helped draft case studies on transboundary water allocation used to practically illustrate key features of chapter content in the Handbook.

Three Expert Group meetings were held in which the structure and contents of the Handbook were discussed, relevant thematic topics and case studies presented and feedback and recommendations put forward for further content elaboration:
•    Meeting 3 - Virtual, 20–21 October 2020;
•    Meeting 2 – Virtual, 30–31 March 2020;
•    Meeting 1 – Geneva, 21–22 October 2019.

Expert voices on the Handbook

•    Mr. Antti Rautavaara, Director of International Water Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs / Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland; 

•    Ms. Melissa McCracken, Assistant Professor of International Environmental Policy, The Fletcher School at Tufts University;

•    Ms. Dinara Ziganshina, Acting Director, Scientific Information Center of Interstate Сommission for Water Coordination in Сentral Asia

Water resources allocation in a transboundary context to strengthen water cooperation between the countries of Eurasia (International Water Assessment Centre)

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Published in 2021 by the International Water Assessment Centre (IWAC), this brochure entitled "Water resources allocation in a transboundary context to strengthen water cooperation between the countries of Eurasia" was prepared based on materials prepared within the framework of a regional project "Sustainable Water Resource Allocation in a Transboundary context" and compiled with the participation of the project's expert group. The project was implemented with the financial support of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the participation of a group of experts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, as well as Afghanistan, Iran, China, Russia and Mongolia.  

The publication provides an overview of the existing regional cooperation in the basins of transboundary rivers of the Eurasian countries, a brief description of the legal and organizational framework for such cooperation and the distribution of water resources in transboundary basins. It also examines the existing problems of interaction in the allocation of water resources and offers recommendations for their resolution.

The IWAC regional project contributed in parallel to content preparation of the descriptive part of the Water Convention’s Handbook on Water Allocation in a Transboundary Context via thematic examples of cooperation on various aspects of water resources allocation in a transboundary context. It also assisted in the development of case studies included in the Handbook from the countries of the Eurasian region.  

Learn more and download the brochure in English or Russian.



Last update date: November 28, 2023