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Factors for Consideration in

Development of International Watercourses


1.            Physical Characteristics


Relevant factors


geographical basin area

Determines the number of riparians

rainfall distribution

Affects development potential

sedimentation and siltation

Affects development potential

salinization tendencies  

Affects irrigation potential and biodiversity

seasonal patterns and related effects

Affects regime structure and definition of “reasonable and equitable utilizationEo:p>

corresponding development potential

Mainly concerned with water for irrigation, industry, energy uses


2.         Policy


Relevant factors


existence of legal accords

The more existing accords, the stronger the argument for the establishment of a new regime that takes in all existing accords

past and present cooperation

The higher degree of past cooperation, the more chance of successful regime building.  This highlights the role and importance of mutual trust in undertaking joint activities

political trends

Concentrate on establishing regimes focusing on issues beyond politics (e.g., sustainable development)

dispute mechanisms

Dispute mechanisms need to be culturally specific

regime modus operandi

Regime structure should be based on international legal principles and developments, rather than policy, to the extent possible.

involvement of international organizations

The involvement of the UN or other appropriate international body should be encouraged where politically sensitive issues exist so as to promote trust and provide an independent basis for negotiations


3.         Social Considerations


Relevant factors


public awareness

Works to support effective regime building,            particularly with an accommodating government


Literacy of basin residents proves invaluable for positive development results. If non-existent,         educational programmes need to be built into the regime itself

upstream/downstream issues

Most difficult to solve. Best to keep “waterE           “sustainable developmentEor             “environmentE as the focus of discussions to lead talks in other areas. Other option is to initiate cooperation on a project basis with the intention to broaden later


Involves issues of human rights. Best to incorporate an international platform to promote trust and make reference to international legal principles


Needs to be conducted in a transparent manner according to international practices


implications of existing and wide-spread emigration to the development area will need to be considered

human resource development

Needs to be incorporated in the basin development plan and considered ongoing


4.            Economic Considerations


Relevant factors


cost allocation for projects

Apportion on joint and separable basis according to expected project benefits analyses

water costing and pricing

To be negotiated by members having regard to actual costs, benefits and comparable prices

fund-raising for projects

Responsibility should be assigned to the regime  itself for fund allocation from riparians and  fundraising from international donors


5.            Development


Relevant factors


basin development plan

Central to the water regime. Best to develop after  regime structure has been agreed upon.

integrated planning

Principles need to be enunciated clearly, preferably  with reference to sustainable development. Open to  negotiation.


Transport and navigation will need to be considered early on, and needs to be incorporated in the basin  development plan. Where infrastructure is weak,  specific programme responsibility should be  included in the regime.

physical characteristics

Regime needs to make reference to special and significant characteristics (wet, dry seasons)


Basic requirement for all development proposals

local people participation

Ideal to include stated and agreed upon mechanisms for local people participation (in EIA, data collection, etc.)

natural disaster management

To be incorporated as a basic component. Thought needs to be given as to how to act in case of emergency

human resource training

Should be integral part of any development project

data collection

If local infrastructure for data collection is weak, long-term programmes should be included in development proposal


6.            Environment


Relevant factors


environmental concerns

Deforestation, soil erosion, pollution (toxic chemicals and wastes) are major issues. If possible, these should be dealt with together in an integrated fashion.  Reference to ‘ecosystemsEand ‘ecological balanceEconceptually assists in how to deal with the issues. A mechanism for environmental protection should be specified. Environmental issues can be utilized as a medium to deal with  other difficult issues


Terms and contents of EIA should be examined or a relevant format prepared or referred to. Should include public hearings, notices and participation


Ongoing. If infrastructure is weak, costs should be incorporated in project costs

data collection

Ongoing. If infrastructure is weak, costs should be incorporated in project costs. Provides opportunity to involve local governments and communities


7.         Legal Issues


Relevant factors


structure and scope

Definition should be in terms of ecological parameters of the basin

“reasonable and equitable useEo:p>

A matter for in-depth negotiation having regard to international legal principles and local conditions.

decision-making processes

Incorporate non-ratification procedures for decision making to the extent possible. Important to ensure that decision-makers involved are actually empowered to make decisions

NGO involvement

Could be provided through an observer participatory mechanism


Transparency is of vital importance as it promotes trust and understanding. These provide the basis for successful regimes. Main mechanisms to incorporate principles of transparency are notifications, public notices, and provisions for access to information

legal harmonization

Advisable to incorporate provision for harmonization of national laws in relevant areas

legal principles

The Precautionary Principle deserves emphasis in international water regimes. State responsibility is a matter for international legal principles and can be limited to water uses.

mechanisms for review

Advisable to incorporate mechanisms to periodically review implementation and effectiveness of the regime

reference to international accords

A provision should be included for implementation coordination and regard to relevant international accords


8.             Intergenerational Equity


Some final words need to be given to the application of the concept of intergenerational equity[1] to water resources, and in particular, international watercourse development and governance.


While still too early to consider the principles of intergenerational equity as established principles of international law, the concept can readily be applied to the management of freshwater resources.  Intergenerational equity is concerned with the notion that the earth is entrusted to the present generation, and that the present generation is both the administrator and beneficiaries of the trust.  The ‘trustErefers to the resources of the earth, and to the issues of environment and development.  The management of freshwater resources can hold implications for many generations to come, including socio-economic and lifestyle implications.  While applications of the intergenerational theory have occurred[2], more thought needs to be given to ways in which intergenerational equity can be implemented. International water regimes and issues provide an extremely appropriate setting for the possibility and necessity for such implementation, and more thought needs to be afforded to ways in which this can be achieved.




[1] First put forward in Brown Weiss, E. 1989. In Fairness to Future Generations: International Law, Common Patrimony, and Intergenerational Equity. UNU Press & Transnational. New York.

[2] See International Court of Justice. Maritime Delimitation in the Area Between Greenland and Jan Mayen (Denmark v. Norway). No. 93/14 14 June 1993.

Source - United Nations University, Environment and Sustainable Development Programme, 2001.
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