Management of International Waters: Opportunities and Constraints

Global water demands are likely to increase steadily in the foreseeable future due to increases in population growth in the developing world and change s in per capita demand as a result of changing lifestyles in nearly all parts of the world. Since all exclusively national sources of water that could be used economically have already been developed, or are in the process of development, there would be tremendous pressure to develop international water bodies, which are often the only new sources of water that could be used cost-effectively. The se international water sources have not been developed in the past, primarily because of absence of agreements on water allocations between the countries concerned. Thus, the potential for conflicts in the 21st century between the countries on various international water bodies is likely to be much higher than at present. International organizations can play an important role as mediators in conflicts on international water bodies. However, except for Eugene Black, President of the World Bank, who played a critical role in the 1950s on the formulation of the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan, their contributions have been somewhat marginal. These organizations have become increasingly risk-averse during the past three decades, and their leaderships have given the potentially thorny issue of development of international rivers a wide berth. In 1970, the United Nations decided to take up the case of the law of the non-navigable uses of international watercourses. Some 27 years later, the UN General Assembly approved, on 8 July 1997, a convent ion on this subject. The convent ion, though a useful step, is very broad, general and vague, and thus is likely to be of only limited help to the negotiators on the various international watercourses. Even when the convention is ratified, agreements on the development and management of international water bodies are likely to be achieved only through protracted negotiations between the countries concerned, as has been the case in the past.

By Asit K. Biswas, 1999. Article published in International Journal of Water Resources Development, Volume 15, Issue, 4, pages 429-441. DOI: 10.1080/07900629948691

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