17 July 2018
HLPF Side Event Considers the Contribution of Transboundary Water Cooperation to the SDGs
Photo by IISD/ENB
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A side event examined the role of international water law and transboundary cooperation on water in achieving the SDGs.

The event was organized in the margins of the HLPF by the Governments of Finland, Kazakhstan and Senegal, with the UNECE and UNESCO who are the custodian agencies for SDG indicator 6.5.2 on the proportion of transboundary basin areas with an operational arrangement for water cooperation.

12 July 2018: Convened in the margins of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), this event was held on the theme, ‘Contribution of Transboundary Water Cooperation to Achieving the SDGs.’ Participants reviewed the history and current state of transboundary water cooperation, gaps and challenges, best practices, and other factors that can enhance cross-border water management.

Jointly organized by the Governments of Finland, Kazakhstan and Senegal, with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the event recognized the importance of SDG 6 (water and sanitation) to making progress on other Goal areas, including poverty (SDG 1), food security (SDG 2), health and well-being (SDG 3), sustainable energy (SDG 7), climate action (SDG 13), ecosystem protection (SDGs 14, 15) and peace (SDG 16).

Cheikh Niang, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the UN, opened and closed the event, noting the importance of sharing learnings with as many countries as possible and highlighting linkages between water, and peace and security. Thierno Hamet Baba Ly, Ministry of Water and Sanitation, Senegal, highlighted the role that transboundary water cooperation plays in peacekeeping, and outlined four key conventions on water management that have increased the country’s stability over the past 40 years. He underscored the importance of political will, saying it is fundamental to building political understanding and articulating the benefits of cooperation to all parties.

Seppo Rekolainen, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Finland, moderated the event. Recognizing Senegal’s intention to accede to the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), he highlighted the need for more countries to join, emphasizing the scale of the issue, exacerbated by climate change, which affects billions of people, or 40% of the global population, that live in the basins of transboundary river systems.

Europe, North America, sub-Saharan Africa and LAC countries have the most transboundary cooperation.

Panelist Jaana Husu-Kallio, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Finland, gave an overview of international water law, including the 1997 Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN Watercourses Convention) and the UNECE Water Convention. Outlining how these provide riparian countries with a framework for cooperation, she noted that conventions provide a common language and platform upon which States can negotiate equitable and sustainable solutions, offering the Finnish example of the country’s cooperation with Norway, Russia and Sweden.

Yerzhan Ashikbayev, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kazakhstan, noted the importance of transboundary water cooperation given that Central Asian countries are landlocked, and therefore dependent on each other. He highlighted the need to manage shared waters in an integrated and sustainable way to accelerate economic growth, which can have the co-benefit of increased political stability and impact on other SDGs. Flagging climate-related security risks, Ashikbayev acknowledged interconnections between climate and the water-energy-food nexus, as well as the value of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA).

Olga Algayerova, UNECE Executive Secretary, presented on outcomes of SDG indicator 6.5.2 – the only indicator in SDG framework exclusively dedicated to transboundary cooperation – currently listed as Tier II. With UNECE and UNESCO serving as custodian agencies, she described the results of a reporting exercise sent to 153 countries sharing transboundary waters, of which 107 responded. There is relatively low coverage of transboundary basins, she noted, with 59% covered by operational arrangements and only 17 countries as being considered “fully covered.” She also emphasized high regional variation, with Europe, North America, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries having the most cooperation. Given difficulties around measuring groundwater, Algayerova noted that most cooperation is on river and lake basins, rather than aquifers, but highlighted that this is an area where the custodian agencies can lead.

Anil Mishra, UNESCO, followed by outlining the Organization’s International Hydrological Programme, which has been in place since 2002, and how the Organization is expanding and improving the reporting cycle for SDG indicator 6.5.2. On improving aquifer governance, he noted UNESCO’s Internationally Shared Aquifer Resources Management (ISARM) initiative, which highlights data and gaps, and provides scientific and technical support to member States. He encouraged participants to look for the UNECE-UNESCO Global Indicator report to be launched at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, in August 2018.

Christina Leb, World Bank, closed out the panel with a presentation on the importance of international agreements between countries at basin level to unlocking financial resources. She noted that they send an important signal to financiers for commitment to long-term cooperation, and provide the legal basis for financial resource management, enabling countries and national institutions to become recipients of development financing.

Kazakhstan is hosting the Eighth Session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Water Convention in Astana in October 2018. [Contribution of Transboundary Water Cooperation to Achieving the SDGs] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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