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UN logoUN General Assembly adopts resolution on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers

The 63rd session of the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/63/124 on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers by consensus on Thursday, December 11 and expressed its appreciation to UNESCO-IHP for its contribution to UN International Law Commission (UNILC) in the preparation of the Articles on the Law.

All 19 articles of the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, prepared by UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) and the UN International Law Commission, have been endorsed by the UN General Assembly in New York at its 63rd session, 11 December.

The resolution encourages the States concerned ‘to make appropriate bilateral or regional arrangements for the proper management of their transboundary aquifers, taking into account the provisions of these draft articles’, which are annexed to the resolution. These provisions include cooperation among States to prevent, reduce and control pollution of shared aquifers. In view of the importance of these ‘invisible resources’, States are invited to consider these draft articles as a basis for the elaboration of a convention.

To respond to the request of support formulated by the UNILC Special Rapporteur Ambassador Chusei Yamada, UNESCO IHP set up an international experts group to provide to UNILC technical and scientific support to. Since 2003 UNILC and UNESCO IHP have closely worked together with the UNILC for the preparation of the first set of articles on the law of transboundary aquifers. Lawyers and hydrogeologists have worked together to create a common language in the formulation of new sets of laws on water resources. This has resulted in a concrete example of efficient cooperation between to bodies of the UN System.

The Law of Transboundary Aquifers is a concrete step forward towards the peaceful sharing of groundwater resources. Until today there was no instrument of international law that could provide a complete set of recommendations and guidelines for the sustainable and peaceful management of transboundary aquifers. The UNESCO-IHP inventory of transboundary aquifers and the World Map of Transboundary Aquifers served as background for the preparation of the first set of articles. UNESCO-IHP has already inventoried 273 transboundary aquifers, some of those shared by more than 2 countries.

Aquifers contain almost 96% of the planet’s freshwater. Globally, 65% of groundwater is devoted to irrigation, 25% to the supply of drinking water and 10% to industry. Aquifers account for more than 70% of the water used in the European Union and are often one of the only sources – if not the only one – in arid and semi-arid zones: 100% in Saudi Arabia and Malta, 95% in Tunisia and 75% in Morocco. Irrigation systems in many countries depend heavily on groundwater resources: 90% in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 89% in India, 84% in South Africa and 80% in Spain.

Some of the biggest transboundary aquifers in the world are located in South America and North Africa, such as the Guarani and Nubian Sandstone aquifers. Those in Africa remain largely unexploited. Since aquifers generally extend across several State boundaries, exploiting these presupposes agreements for managing them jointly, in order to prevent pollution or over-exploitation by particular States. Mechanisms of this kind have begun to emerge. For example, in the 1990s, Chad, Egypt, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Sudan established a joint authority to manage the Nubian Sandstone aquifer system in a concerted manner.


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