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FAQs part 1

1. Added Value at Global, Transboundary and National Scales

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.


1.1 What is the relevance of the Water Convention for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) is an important tool to operationalize the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) , particularly with regard to water and transboundary water cooperation.

The Water Convention facilitates the achievement of Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) through its integrated and intersectoral approach and its attention to the prevention and reduction of water pollution, the conservation and restoration of ecosystems, and water use efficiency. As sixty per cent of global freshwater flow comes from transboundary basins, the Convention provides the legal framework and cooperation mechanisms to ensure for the timely and sufficient availability of water of adequate quality for humans, economies and ecosystems. It directly supports the implementation of SDG target 6.5, which requests that all countries, “[b]y 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate”.

The work under the Water Convention is also relevant in supporting the achievement of other SDGs:

  • Goal 2 (zero hunger), Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy) and Goal 15 (life on land) through, for instance, the Convention’s integrated approach to the development of sectoral policies and its activities on the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus.
  • Goal 3 (good health and well-being) through the Convention’s activities in cooperation with the Protocol on Water and Health.
  • Target 11.5 (reducing the impact of disasters, particularly water-related disasters) and Goal 13 (climate action) through the Convention’s activities on water and climate change.
  • Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and Goal 17 (partnerships for the goals) through the Convention’s activities on integrated water resources management (IWRM) and partnerships for transboundary water cooperation.


In addition, UNECE together with UNESCO, are custodian agencies for SDG indicator 6.5.2  (Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation), which measures the progress in transboundary water cooperation worldwide. As the reporting on SDG indicator 6.5.2 is closely linked with the reporting under the Convention, the Convention also offers a framework to discuss global progress on transboundary water cooperation and to identify common challenges and define responses.

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1.2 What are the advantages and benefits for countries to accede to the Water Convention?

By becoming a Party to the Water Convention, a country joins the international legal and institutional framework of the Convention that has already proven its effectiveness over the past two decades. This means that a country can use the instrument that has successfully facilitated the development of many transboundary water agreements and joint bodies and led to concrete results on the ground, including improved water quality, mitigation of the impacts of floods and droughts, improved joint planning in many areas (e.g. adaptation to climate change, management of dams and reservoirs, etc.), and better human and ecosystem health.

Overall, participation in the Convention—namely adherence to its rules and cooperation through the intergovernmental platform of the Convention—increases certainty and predictability in relations between riparian States and thus helps prevent potential tensions and differences, contributing to the maintenance of international and regional peace and security.

By becoming a Party, a State signals to other countries, international organizations, financial institutions and other actors its willingness to cooperate on the basis of the norms and standards of the Convention. Accordingly, such a State would enhance its respect by other actors in the international community for adhering to the rules and standards of the Convention.

A Party to the Water Convention benefits from the existing experience under the Convention, e.g. its guidance documents, activities and projects on the ground. The institutional mechanism of the Convention also provides support to the Parties in concluding specific transboundary water agreements and in setting up joint bodies or strengthening existing ones. This is particularly valuable in those basins where difficulties to conclude agreements exist.

Accession to the Water Convention can also facilitate the financing of water management and transboundary water cooperation, both from national sources as well as from international donors.

When becoming a Party, a country can participate in and contribute to the Water Convention’s institutional structure and decision-making, fostering the implementation of the Convention and its further development. Parties can decide on the development of the Convention, be elected to the Convention’s governing bodies and lead activities under the Convention. Parties can also participate in the development of the Convention’s three-year programme of work  so that it can better respond to their specific needs. Parties can also make use of the Convention’s Implementation Committee that is available to assist in finding solutions to complicated water management issues and to help overcome difficulties in transboundary cooperation.

Furthermore, Parties to the Water Convention collectively decide on the development of the Convention’s regime. They can initiate the negotiation of new legally binding instruments such as protocols or amendments to the Convention. They can elaborate new soft law instruments, such as guidelines or recommendations. They can establish new bodies within the Convention’s institutional framework. In this way, Parties can directly influence the further development of the Convention and international water law.

Participation in and implementation of the obligations of the Water Convention also improves water resources management and water governance at the national level. The Convention’s standards to be applied by all Parties, for example on the prevention, control and reduction of pollution at source, permitting, prior licensing of wastewater discharges, the application of biological treatment or equivalent processes to municipal wastewater, or the application of the ecosystem approach, can enhance national systems for water resources management and protection, especially if a Party develops an implementation plan and regularly reviews its efforts in implementing the Convention.

Last but not least, there may be additional advantages from accession for countries interested in one or an other area of work under the Convention. For example, a State suffering from frequent floods would benefit from the Convention’s activities on transboundary flood management and on climate change adaptation. The Figure below describes key benefits from participation in the Water Convention.

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1.3 What is the added value of accession to the Water Convention for a country that already has agreements and good cooperation with its neighbours?

Cooperation is an evolving process. By becoming a Party to the Water Convention, countries that already have agreements and good cooperation with their neighbours can learn about approaches, tools and experiences from other transboundary basins, which can strengthen cooperation in the basins they share.

Through the regular reporting mechanism  under the Convention, and in particular through the efforts of countries sharing transboundary basins to coordinate their responses during the preparation of reports, countries can review their national capacity and identify areas to further improve transboundary water cooperation, including the possible need to amend their existing agreements, as appropriate.

While the obligation to conclude specific agreements for transboundary basins is indeed one of the key obligations under the Water Convention, cooperation under the Convention is not limited to specific agreements and involves many other aspects and issues. Parties regularly discuss and address new and emerging issues and embark on new tasks such as the development of soft law tools or the preparation of innovative assessments that pave the way for new potential areas of work and cooperation. For example, already in 2006, Parties to the Water Convention began working on climate change adaptation in transboundary basins —an emerging area of work at that time.

Since 2018, the financing of transboundary cooperation —another pressing common challenge—continues to be addressed in the framework of the Convention’s institutional platform. In other words, Parties that already have agreements and good cooperation with their neighbours have many more opportunities to work on issues that can reinforce transboundary water cooperation in the basins they share, even when it functions well.

1.4 What is the added value of accession to the Water Convention for a country whose neighbours are not Parties to the Water Convention?
  • The first category of benefits relates to the improvement of water resources management at the domestic level. Accession to the Convention presents an occasion to review and strengthen national water policies and practices, enhance intersectoral cooperation and stakeholder participation in water resources management, and introduce new preventive measures at the national level for the optimal utilization and protection of transboundary waters and related ecosystems. In other words, accession can prompt a re-boost of domestic water management and governance frameworks and thus improve the status of water bodies within the national borders and beyond. For example, accession to the Water Convention in 2012 prompted Turkmenistan to develop and adopt a new Water Code (2016) in which integrated water resources management and the basin approach were introduced.
  • The second category of benefits results from the participation of Parties in the Convention’s institutional structure, which includes access to advice and the sharing of experiences within the framework of the Convention’s institutional platform. Such support may include assistance in establishing cooperation between Parties and non-Parties to the Convention.
1.5 What are the benefits of accession to the Water Convention for an upstream country?
1.6 Do downstream countries enjoy only rights and have no obligations under the Water Convention?
1.7 Would the Water Convention be useful to every country, taking into account regional specificities and each country’s unique situation?
1.8 Does the Water Convention hinder economic development?
1.9 How can the Water Convention prevent conflicts and wars over transboundary waters?
1.10 How can the Water Convention contribute to the resolution of latent conflicts over transboundary waters?
1.11 How does the Water Convention promote integrated water resources management?
1.12 Does the Water Convention reflect customary international law? If yes, what is the benefit of accession?
1.13 What is the relationship between the Water Convention and other multilateral environmental agreements?

In addition to synergies in the normative frameworks and related implementation efforts by States Parties to respective instruments, there are also many examples of practical cooperation in the activities implemented under the auspices of the Water Convention and other MEAs. For example, cooperation with the Ramsar Convention secretariat in the preparation of the 2011 Second Assessment of Transboundary Rivers, Lakes and Groundwaters  under the Water Convention made possible the assessment of 25 wetlands of transboundary importance, highlighting the need for stronger coherence between water management and conservation efforts at the transboundary level.

Further exploring the synergies between the Water Convention and other MEAs and relying on such synergies in national policies and at transboundary, regional and global levels may bring added value to implementation efforts by enabling countries to move towards a more integrated approach, inherent for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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Last update date: February 10, 2021