Ministers to travel to Geneva for discussions on shared watercourses

Lake Geneva is shared by Switzerland and France, who have several agreements for the sustainable use of the lake, such as for fishing. Ministers are coming to Geneva to discuss cooperation on transboundary watercourses. (Credit: Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Countries will meet this week to discuss how cooperating on transboundary watercourses can help address the ever growing challenges posed by the dwindling of resources.

From Wednesday to Friday, over 100 governments will attend the meeting, convened by the Geneva-based Water Convention, a regional agreement for the sustainable use of cross-border basins.

At least 22 ministers of water, energy or the environment have confirmed that they will travel to Geneva for a high-level session on Wednesday  to kick off the conference, including from Estonia, Croatia, Ghana, Guatemala, Iraq and Moldova. Bolivia will send its vice-president David Choquehuanca Céspedes, the highest level of all attendants. Joined online by some other 20 ministers, the government officials will focus on harnessing cooperation on cross-border water basins for peace and stability.

There are over 263 rivers and lakes worldwide that cut through a border. They host over 40 per cent of the world’s population and account for 60 per cent of global freshwater. There are around 300 transboundary aquifers around the globe.

This means that when a transboundary river or an aquifer is polluted or is running dry in one country, it has significant implications for the people on the other side of the border. Climate change, human activity and population growth are adding pressure on these basins, threatening those who depend on them for drinking water, food or work.

However, only two thirds of them have some type of cooperation agreement between governments. Out of 153 countries with shared water basins, only 24 have agreements for all of them.

Initially a regional instrument, the Water Convention opened up for all countries in 2016. Ghana, Chad and Senegal have since joined it and others, including Togo and several African countries, are in the process of signing up. About 90 per cent of Africa’s rivers and lakes are shared between countries.

On Tuesday, ahead of the conference, ministers from The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal will be meeting in Geneva for the first time to formally discuss cooperation around the Senegal-Mauritanian Aquifer Basin that the four West African countries share. Home to around 15 million people, the basin is under pressure from the rapidly growing population and increasing agricultural activity.

The ministers are expected to agree on the creation of an organism tasked with managing the aquifer sustainably. Senegal and Mauritania are already part of another agreement on the Senegal River, along with Guinea and Mali.