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How Does International Water Law And Transboundary River Basin Water Governance Comprehend Each Other Through The Practices Of River Basin Organizations?

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Osman T&#;kansak (&#;stanbul, Turkey), Burcu Calli
Turkish Water Institute (SUEN)1

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 12: Transboundary river basins and shared aquifers,

The primary objective of this study is to assess the compatibility of water governance concept with the international water law by analyzing the structures and activities of transboundary river basin organizations.

A remarkable number of water experts agree that water crisis is mostly an outcome of inadequate governance and financing, rather than water scarcity. This claim is unlikely to be challenged considering the interconnectedness among water availability, access to water, environmental risks, technical infrastructure and institutional capabilities as aspects of water security to be regulated in harmony.

However, water governance is an ambiguous term due to lack of clarity about what this concept stands for. Some proponents of water governance consider this concept as an instrument with guidelines and indicators for effective water management, while others see it as a loose process with certain principles that are flexible enough for different stakeholders to adapt and negotiate to realize win-win situations on water management. The former group remains more inside the water box and focuses on the tangible performance of water institutions, be it private or public. The latter group favors full-engagement of civil society --including the ones outside of the water sector-, and approaches water governance as a process with cognitive and ethical concerns. One can find several other approaches in the literature somewhere between these two extremes. Briefly reviewing, synthesizing and developing an original approach to water governance will be one of the secondary aims of this study.

A conceptual discussion on water governance will not suffice for this study. Apart from the semantic attributions to the concept, this paper will elaborate the concept from a spatial perspective. There are several spatial levels ranging from local to global that water governance can be studied and practiced. This study will focus on water governance solely at transboundary river-basins level. Yet, the real challenge of this paper is to address the transboundary river basin governance with respect to international water law. There is no doubt that the norms and principles of international water law that we are familiar with today are the decades-long outcome of inters-state customary behavior and diplomatic negotiations. Among many legal documents that are developed in time, the ultimate piece is undoubtedly the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, which has entered into force in August, 2014. The convention is unique in the sense that even before entering into force, the Convention's basic principles such as equitable and reasonable utilization, not to cause significant harm, cooperation among riparian states have dominated the diplomatic discourse on joint management of transboundary river basins.

All in all, under the domain of the primary objective of this study, the following questions will be addressed:

a) Do the well-established principles of international water law cohere with emerging principles of good water governance in theory?

b) Has the development process of international water law followed a path that abides with participation, fairness and transparency principles of good water governance?

c) To what extend do the selected river basin organizations internalize the principles of international water law and good water governance in their structures and practices?


This study will primarily rely on review of secondary resources of different sorts.

1) The first group of documents to be reviewed will be the academic articles on governance and water law to get insight on the contemporary discussions (CASTRO, 2007; HEINELT, 2002; GUPTA ET AL, 2013; PAHL-WOSTL, 2012; CONCA, 2006; DELLAPENNA, 2013; ROGERS AND HALL, 2003, VALK AND KEENAN eds., 2011) .

2) The second group will inevitably be the legal documents including the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, Aarhus Convention and Dublin Principles among others. This second group of documents will help the authors to develop a perception about the contextual compatibility of the international water law with the good water governance at transboundary basin level.

3) The third group of review material will be the publications of international organizations, NGOs and think-tanks. It is known that OECD, UNDP and Global Water Partnership have conducted far-reaching studies on the concept of water governance (GWP, 2003; UNDP, 2013; OECD, 2011, 2012). This step of review will enable the authors to understand the impact of water governance on global level.

4) The fourth step of literature review will focus on material about selected river basin organizations in order to see whether principles of good water governance and international water law can actually be practiced at transboundary river basin level. This material can be vision & mission statements, conventions and protocols that paved the way for the formation of concerned organizations, strategic plans and so forth.

5) Finally, the authors will utilize the visual records of the panel discussions of the 3rd Istanbul International Water Forum that was held in May, 2014 which enabled attractive discussions among internationally acclaimed water experts on water law and governance.

Results and Discussion:

The result of the study is yet to be revealed at the end of this deliberate review process. For the time being, it is suffice to say that development of transboundary water governance and international water law are independent, yet parallel processes. Although the development of international water law is a rather rooted, static and state-centric process, the emergence of good governance phenomenon has potentially led to a transition process for a more inclusive, organic, and non-hierarchical transboundary water management model. However, the real interaction between transboundary water governance and international water law will be observable through the analysis or river basin organizations.


As mentioned on the "Results and Discussions" section, this study is too premature to make any in-depth conclusion and highlight. Yet, it would not hurt to point out that the water governance is rapidly striving to become the only game in town as it is strongly promoted by prominent international organizations, whereas the international water law has already secured its position in a rather unchallengeable manner. This is not to say that two phenomena are rivals to each other, but their compatibility is yet to be approved due to their characteristics. The effectiveness of river basin organizations provide a dynamic testing ground to discuss the interconnection of these two phenomena.

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2. Conca, K. (2005) Governing Water: Contentious Transnational Politics and Global Institutional Building. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

3. Dellapenna et al. (2013) Thinking about the future of global water governance. Ecology and Society. 18 (3): 28

4. Gupta et al. (2013) Policymakers' reflections on water governance issues. Ecology and Society 18, no.1, art. 35

5. Heinelt, H et al. (Eds). (2002) Participatory gpvernance in multi-level context. Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 107-131.

6. OECD. (2011) Water Governance in OECD Countries: A Multi-level Approach, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing

7. Pahl-Wostl, C. (2012) Governance and Water Needs Issues. Presentation, Natural and Social Capital (NAScap), International Institute for Sustainable Development.

8. Rogers and Hall. (2003) Effective Water Governance. Global Water Partnership Technical Committee. The Background Papers. No.7.

9. UNDP. (2013) User’s Guide on Assessing Water Governance. Oslo

10. Valk and Keenan (Eds). (2011) Principles of good water governance at different levels. Papers presented at a workshop held on 22 March 2011 in Delft, the Netherlands.

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