Helsinki Water Convention plans new assessment of transboundary waters and wetlands

Helsinki Water Convention plans new assessment of transboundary waters and wetlands

12 May 2017


Sava river floodplain downstream of Sysak, Croatia

The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, adopted at Helsinki in 1992 and administered by the UN Economic Commission for Europe, was originally limited to UNECE member states. However, since 2013, it is open for adhesion to all UN Parties, and already a number of Parties outside of the UNECE region have joined or started to participate in its work.

Carrying out, at regular intervals, coordinated assessments of the conditions of transboundary waters and the effectiveness of measures taken to protect them, is a key obligation under this convention, colloquially known as the “UNECE/Helsinki Water Convention”. Ramsar works with the Water Convention since the turn of the century. This cooperation has culminated in 2011 with the publication of the “Second Assessment of transboundary rivers, lakes and groundwaters” which included the assessment, with inputs by 30 Ramsar experts, of 25 transboundary wetland ecosystems and Ramsar Sites in Europe and Central Asia, cf. .

This was followed in 2015 by the publication of the results of a ground-breaking assessment of the water-food-energy-ecosystem (!) nexus that focused initially on three transboundary river sub-basins in the South Caucasus (Alazani/Ganykh), in South-Eastern Europe (Sava) and Central Asia (Syr Darya) and analysed the connections assured by water-related ecosystems (mainly wetlands) for water and land uses and energy and food production, cf. .

On 9-10 May 2017, the secretariat of the Water Convention invited a number of experts for a workshop at the UN Offices in Geneva, representing different parts of the world and international organisations, to discuss the ambitions, objectives and needs for a Third Assessment, this time to focus on selected transboundary river basins on all continents. Already, experts from Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Uganda and elsewhere expressed their growing interest to contribute to such an exercise, together with countries of the UNECE region. A proposed concept and work plan for 2018-2021 will be submitted to the Working Group of the Water Convention on Integrated Water Resources Management in July and to the Working Group on Monitoring and Assessment in February 2018. And after a fund-raising effort, the final proposal is planned to be on the agenda of the next MOP of the Water Convention, for hopeful adoption in October 2018.

This Third Assessment of transboundary waters and wetlands in selected river basins may become a particularly rewarding opportunity for cooperation for selected Ramsar Parties, and notably those who are working together in the framework of a Ramsar Regional Initiative that is focusing on a shared river basin, such as the initiatives for the Amazon, La Plata, Niger or Senegal river basins, for Central Asia, and others.

Reported by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar Senior Advisor for Europe