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Strengthening global water management efforts

By 2050, water shortages could affect as many as 5 billion people worldwide. Global demand for water will continue to accelerate and soon outstrip supply. To combat this challenge transboundary water cooperation is essential. World-leading research from Northumbria University’s Law School is being utilised by the United Nations to foster and facilitate this cooperation between nations around the world. Where nations share access to and boundaries with water resources, they are invited to work together towards sustainable management and sanitation. This work forms an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring secure access to clean water and sanitation for everyone.

Transboundary water cooperation is essential for responding to the challenges of climate change, maintaining regional stability and peace amidst diminishing resources, and ensuring economic growth. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 prioritises the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all and sets global standards to ensure a cooperative response to these shared trials.

In 2017, the UN invited all 153 countries sharing transboundary waters to report on the status of their cooperative arrangements, aiming to share information on progress and identify where further support was required. Professor Alistair Rieu-Clarke, Chair of Law at Northumbria Law School, assisted the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in the implementation of this first reporting process. Using his expertise as a law researcher, Professor Rieu-Clarke supported submissions and analysed the results of the first reporting exercise to identify the key challenges and obstacles to effective and sustainable shared resource management.

Building on this work, Professor Rieu-Clarke helped address the shortfalls of the old reporting mechanism to develop a more robust and focused model, which will lead to better quality reports and more compelling policy messages.

Professor Rieu-Clarke contributed to global-level strategic planning and policy for the Sustainable Development Goals, which has placed transboundary water cooperation at the heart of the global response to future challenges. His research and collaboration with the UN fed into the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and were included in the Forum’s Ministerial Declaration, paragraph 23. Professor Rieu-Clarke presented the findings at the 8th session of the Meeting of the Parties (MoP) to the Water ConventionTwo major decisions on reporting and implementation were adopted by the parties at the MoP.

Much work remains necessary and Professor Rieu-Clarke continues to work on the reporting procedures and implementation of effective and sustainable water management with the UN. To achieve SDG 6 by 2030, and specifically target 6.5, which aims for the implementation of integrated water resources management at all levels, all transboundary water resources must be covered by an operational arrangement to facilitate cooperation between nations.

While good progress has been made on transboundary water cooperation, particularly in Europe, North America and sub-Saharan Africa, many transboundary waters lack these vital operational arrangements, and cooperation on transboundary aquifers (storehouses for groundwater) remains a considerable challenge.

The long-term importance of this work lies in anticipating the crucial global challenges of the future and working with key players at the international and national levels to ensure that a collaborative approach to achieving stronger transboundary water cooperation and sustainable water management is achieved. Developing these reporting and information-sharing mechanisms is a critical element to meeting these challenges and ensuring that everyone has access to clean water and sanitation not just now, but forever.

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