Home Institution

George Washington University

Publication Date

Spring 2012

Program Name

Switzerland: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy


Natural resources in general and water in particular are undeniably essential to human growth and development. However, in recent years, with rising demands for freshwater, sky-rocketing population growth rates, climate change, shrinking water resources and poor water management, scarcity of this critical resource is a growing problem around the world. A high percentage of the most severe water scarcity is due primarily to mismanagement and ineffective allocation of water resources. There is an overarching legal framework to govern the management of water internationally. The UN Watercourses Convention and the UNECE Water Convention are the two most important documents that govern global water management as it relates to International Water Law. However, their application has proven to be extremely difficult even at the local level. Furthermore, the 263 transboundary water resources that flow across political borders make water management in these regions even more challenging. Managing transboundary water resources entails harmonizing policies in several states, equalizing power structures and mitigating competition for a shared resource. Transboundary water resources have the capacity to either exacerbate tensions, increasing the threat of conflict or to foster effective and positive cooperation. However, if the relationship between states is ineffective, as in parts of the Middle East, the consequences can be catastrophic, even leading to full-blown wars. Therefore, fostering efficient and successful cooperation between riparian states is essential to their stability and future development. In regions vulnerable to conflict over transboundary water resources like the Mekong, building cooperative institutions is not an easy task. However, legal agreements, community programs and Integrated Water Resources Management mechanisms all represent tools that leaders can utilize to foster the necessary collaboration. This cooperation for transboundary resource management can in turn promote political stability and legitimacy, human security, economic growth and peaceful negotiations not only in water resource management but in general conflict resolution. The international community as a whole needs to approach the global population’s insatiable thirst for water by focusing on shared responsibilities as well as shared benefits.


Water Resource Management