2009 World Water Day: Shared water, shared opportunities

01 Feb 2009

22 March has been celebrated as the World Water Day since 1993. This year, World Water Day is dedicated to promoting responsible cooperation between countries in managing their shared sources of freshwater.

Such an approach to managing water systems can boost international trade, economic development and strengthens peace, security and cooperative relations between countries. In recognition of these linkages, the theme of this year’s World Water Day is "Shared Water - Shared Opportunities".

Almost half of the world’s land surface is covered by shared, or transboundary, lakes and river basins. Clean, dependable sources of freshwater are necessary for every aspect of human life, including drinking water, sanitation, recreation and agricultural and industrial production. Nearly half of the world’s population is dependent on these shared bodies of water.

As climate change progresses and continues to alter the hydrological cycle, more and more countries will experience water stress due to inadequate sources of water and increasing variability in the availability of water.. Such a scenario, accompanied by excessive and inefficient water use, chronic pollution and weak or poorly enforced policies and laws, could cause tensions between countries that share the same rivers and lakes (transboundary waters). Currently, there are 145 countries that share one or more transboundary water systems.

Although water-related conflicts between countries do occur, only rarely has water been the main reason behind tensions that can escalate into war. Since 1948 there were 37 incidents of acute conflict between countries over water. Yet, during the same period, over 300 international agreements were signed on transboundary cooperation, such as a 1960 treaty that laid out a plan of use of the Indus water basin between India and Pakistan and a 1995 agreement on the use of shared waters in southern Africa. Such responsible and shared management of transboundary waters has many benefits, as it builds mutual respect, understanding and trust among countries and promotes peace, security, trade, and job creation. In other words, sharing water provides opportunities for better lives and livelihoods.

One of the most striking successes in shared waters management is the treaty governing the use of the Danube River. The Danube is the most international river basin in the world, passing through 13 countries before emptying into the Black Sea via Romania. The past 150 years has seen the steady degradation of the ecosystems of both the Danube and the Black Sea. After the fall of the Soviet bloc, however, the countries along the Danube have cooperated on the monitoring and improvement of water quality and quantity in addition to instituting a damage control system to minimise accidental chemical spills.

This regional cooperation yielded many results, such as the establishment of 75 water quality monitoring stations in the Danube basin and agreement on governance reforms to reduce nutrient pollution. Through these reforms and major investments, industrial, municipal and agricultural pollution was reduced virtually eliminating dangerous oxygen depletion in the western area of the Black Sea and leading to measurable signs of ecosystem recovery. The restoration of the Danube River and Black Sea illustrates and underscores the significant environmental, socioeconomic and political benefits that can be gained through multi-country cooperation on transboundary waters.

For more information on World Water Day, please click here.