Thirty-five member countries of the United Nations have now officially agreed to common guidelines for sharing and managing freshwater resources that cross international borders. With Vietnam’s ratification, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNWC) will go into effect in August, transforming the way governments share fresh water and settle water-related disputes.
The agreement comes at a crucial moment. Climate change is influencing water quality and quantities, and people and wildlife are experiencing more volatile periods of droughts and floods. Growing populations and incomes are changing how people live, increasing and diversifying the demands placed on fresh water. Developing countries especially are using their waters in new ways, particularly for industry and energy.
But what one country does with its water impacts all others who share the same freshwater system. The UNWC will help countries manage local water concerns in a way that protects freshwater resources and ecosystems throughout the entire basin.
Vietnam also represents the first Asian country to ratify the UNWC and does so from a particularly important region: The Greater Mekong. The Mekong River passes through six different countries and fuels the ‘rice bowl’ of Asia.
This agreement is good for both people and nature. Habitats and wildlife are not bound by national borders, and some of the most important conservation areas are linked to international rivers and lakes. Species of fish, turtles, dolphins and porpoises—along with animals that look to freshwater resources for food and drink—depend on properly managed trans-boundary rivers and lakes. We have found that our conservation efforts are not as impactful in regions without good trans-boundary water governance; UNWC will play a crucial role in addressing this gap.
WWF has been working with countries and partners around the world to raise awareness of the UNWC and sow the seeds of cooperation. We look forward to supporting the rollout of the guidelines and continuing to encourage nations to ratify the UNWC in support of better water management.