Why the International World Water Day is Focusing on Transboundary Waters

The International World Water Day occurs every year on March 22 in order to focus attention on the importance of freshwater. In 1992, the UN Conference and Development (UNCED) recommended creating an international day to celebrate freshwater. In 1993 the first International World Water Day was created. The theme this year is Shared Water, Shared Opportunities, with the focus on transboundary waters.

There are 263 transboundary lake and river basins that cover half of the Earth’s land surface, and 60 percent of them supply global freshwater. About 40 percent of the world’s population lives in river and lake basins that extend across two or more countries, and 90 percent lives in countries that share basins. Two million people depend on the groundwater that comes from about 300 transboundary aquifer systems.

Climate change increases the risk of inland flash floods, coastal floods, and droughts. As a result, climate change will put pressure on transboundary water resources. According to the UN whitepaperTransboundary Water: Sharing Benefits, Sharing Responsibilities, “The necessity to adapt to climate change, however, will also offer new opportunities for cooperation in developing adaptation strategies.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believes that climate change will have a “complex set of impacts” on the world’s water resources. A study on transboundary water resources and climate change by the Henry L. Stimson Center points out that melting mountain glaciers will disrupt upstream sources, “upsetting the timing and quantity of downstream flows.” This will cause “chronic pressures” for countries that share river resources because there will be less freshwater available, plus flooding or drought. “Both types of threats can impair food production, endanger public health, stress established settlement patterns, and jeopardize livelihoods and social well-being.”

Joint bodies with enforcement capacity are needed to ensure that countries who share water resources cooperate together in dealing with the impact of climate change. Of the 263 river basins in the world, 158 do not have a cooperative management framework, according to the UN  whitepaper. The whitepaper suggests three things the joint bodies would need to do: coordinate and advise, develop and implement policy, and settle disputes. The joint bodies would need to establish “institutional and administrative structures.” 


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