International Water Law

The chief international legal document related to international water resources management is the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses [adopted by the UN General Assembly in May 1997]. (See the press release for who voted and who did not. Some interesting insights!) This has largely superceded the "Helsinki Agreement" (Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes Helsinki [Helsinki, 17 March 1992]) although there are a number of international agreements which were based on the Helsinki Agreement.

Useful and well researched articles for further reading on these matters are:

  • The Legal Response to International Water Scarcity and Water Conflicts - The UN Watercourses Convention and Beyond by Dr. Patricia Wouters, (Director, Water Law and Policy Programme, CEPMLP, University of Dundee, Scotland - see below for web site)

  • Geneva Strategy and Framework for monitoring compliance with Agreements on Transboundary Waters: Elements of a proposed Compliance Review Procedure (Word Document 92kb) Prepared by Dr. P. Wouters ( in consultation with the group of invited experts and with the assistance of the UN/ECE and UNEP/ROE secretariats)

  • The legal response to the world’s water crisis: What legacy from the Hague? What future in Kyoto? (DOC) - Dr. Patricia Wouters, Dr. Salman m. A. Salman, Patricia Jones

  • Examples of international agreements are the Mekong River Basin Agreement [adopted on 5 April 1995] and the SADC Shared Watercourse Systems Protocol (PDF). It is interesting to see how agreements develop, for example the original SADC agreement (PDF) has been substantially developed. See also a recent Comparison of National Water Laws in Southern Africa prepared by Joanne Heyink Leestemaker.

    There is a very large body of documents related to international water law. A site which has a large number of resources is the International Water Law Project (IWLP) site. The website has recently been relaunched and redesigned. The new IWLP website features a tremendous amount of information pertaining to the regulation, allocation, management, and conservation of transboundary freshwater resources.


    "Green Cross works to prevent conflicts in water-stressed regions. We promote informed and participatory decision-making, regional cooperation and the integrated management of land and water resources at the basin level. Green Cross contributes to the prevention and resolution of actual and potential conflicts by convening people representing all sectors of affected communities to shape solutions together."

    Murray-Darling Initiative

    "The Murray-Darling Basin Initiative is the partnership between the governments and the community which has been established to give effect to the 1992 Murray-Darling Basin Agreement. The purpose of the Agreement (Clause 1) is 'to promote and co-ordinate effective planning and management for the equitable, efficient and sustainable use of the water, land and other environmental resources of the Murray-Darling Basin'. The Initiative is the largest integrated catchment management program in the world, covering the watersheds of the Murray and Darling rivers, an area of over one million square kilometres."

    The International Water Law Research Institute (IWLRI) at the University of Dundee was created to promote academic research, postgraduate teaching, advisory services and professional training in the area of international and national law of water resources