UN Water Convention adopts pioneering instruments

23/01/2007

UN Water Convention adopts pioneering instruments

The German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety hosted in Bonn, on 20-22 November 2006, the 4th Meeting of the Parties to the UNECE Water Convention ("Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes"), marking the tenth anniversary of its entry into force. For some time, the Ramsar Secretariat has been working in particular with the Water Convention's Working Group on Integrated Water Resources Management, chaired by Switzerland (Sybille Vermont), cf. www.ramsar.org/wn/caxref:5003. The Water Convention has played a crucial role in strengthening transboundary cooperation in the region of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, i.e. Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. And since 2003, the Convention is also open for signature by countries outside the UNECE region, as its tools are equally valuable for solving water management problems in other parts of the globe.

The highlights of the MOP4 in Bonn are usefully summarized on the Convention's Web site (www.unece.org/env/water/mop4/highlights.htm), where other documents can also be found. From Ramsar's perspective, the adoption of the Recommendations on the payments for ecosystem services in integrated water resources management is probably the most important outcome of the Meeting. This pioneering policy instrument can assist decision-makers in finding the most efficient solution for addressing water management problems taking into account environmental, economic and social concerns. The recommendations indicate the measures to integrate the value of services provided by water-related ecosystems, e.g. wetlands and forests, into development policies and to provide compensation for such services.

Focusing on the UNECE region, the preliminary assessment of transboundary rivers in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia and of selected lakes in the UNECE region provides important updated information, also for wetland and Ramsar site managers in the countries covered.

The UNECE Water Convention has two specific protocols attached, one on Civil Liability in relation to industrial accidents (not yet in force), and a Protocol on Water and Health adopted in 1999, given the fact that in the European part of the UNECE region alone, an estimated 120 million people (one person in seven) do not have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, making them vulnerable to water-related diseases such as cholera, bacillary dysentery, coli infections, viral hepatitis A and typhoid. Cleaner water and better sanitation could prevent over 30 million cases of water-related disease each year in the region.

The Protocol is the first international agreement of its kind adopted specifically to protect human health and well being by better water management, including the protection of water ecosystems, and by preventing, controlling and reducing water-related diseases. Its Parties are required to establish national and local targets for the quality of drinking water and the quality of discharges, as well as for the performance of water supply and waste-water treatment. They are also required to reduce outbreaks and the incidence of water-related diseases. The Protocol introduces a social component into cooperation on water management. Water resources management should link social and economic development to the protection of natural ecosystems. Moreover, improving the water supply and sanitation is fundamental in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty.

The Protocol, open for signature also by countries outside the UNECE region, entered into force in August 2005. It is jointly administered by the UNECE Water Convention secretariat and the regional office for Europe of the World Health Organization. On 17-19 January 2007, over 40 countries met in the United Nations Office in Geneva for their first Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol to establish the necessary institutional arrangements for implementation support and to adopt a programme of work through 2009 (detailed results will soon be available on the UNECE Web site). These developments are of mayor interest to Ramsar's Parties in the context of our action plan on integrated water resources management 2006-2009 and the current work on wetlands and human health by Ramsar's Scientific and Technical Review Panel.

-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

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