The Unity of Water

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions stricken with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population will face water-stress conditions, meaning a scarcity of renewable freshwater. Will the international community muster the political will to act?

MOSCOW – In May, Vietnam became the 35th and decisive signatory of the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. As a result, 90 days later, on August 17, the convention will enter into force.

The fact that it took almost 50 years to draft and finally achieve the necessary ratification threshold demonstrates that something is very wrong with the modern system of multilateralism. Regardless of longstanding disagreements over how cross-border freshwater resources should be allocated and managed, and understandable preferences by governments and water professionals to rely on basin agreements rather than on international legal instruments, that half-century wait can be explained only by a lack of political leadership. So, though the world may celebrate the convention’s long-awaited adoption, we cannot rest on our laurels.

Roughly 60% of all freshwater runs within cross-border basins; only an estimated 40% of those basins, however, are governed by some sort of basin agreement. In an increasingly water-stressed world, shared water resources are becoming an instrument of power, fostering competition within and between countries. The struggle for water is heightening political tensions and exacerbating impacts on ecosystems.

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