26 May 2020

Lieu: Live | Webex Event & Facebook

Organisation: Geneva Environment Network

The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), serviced by UNECE, is a unique international legal instrument and intergovernmental platform which aims to ensure the sustainable use of transboundary water resources by facilitating cooperation. An integrated approached to water management, including in a transboundary context, remains essentials in this period. Timely and sufficient availability of water of adequate quality is a prerequisite for the provision of safe water, sanitation and adequate hygiene and for tackling possible impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

About the GENeva Environment Dialogues

The GENeva Environment Dialogues’ special COVID-19 series discusses the impacts of the pandemic on the global environmental agenda. Experts are concerned that the world is losing critical time to turn around alarming trends in biodiversity loss, climate change, sound management of chemicals and other environmental threats.

The series addresses the following topics:

  • The impact of the crisis on the invited organization activities
  • The response of the invited organization to the COVID-19 crisis
  • The impacts on the preparations of the conferences and negotiations they are hosting
  • New schedules and programmes for these conferences and negotiations


Facilitators: GEN Team


Secretary to the Water Convention, UNECE


Water Director, Hungary


Executive Secretary of Water Resources Commission, Ghana

Niokhor NDOUR

Director for Water Resources Management and Planning, Senegal


Read also UNECE article “COVID-19 pandemic shows the importance of integrated approach to water management and transboundary water cooperation“.

Opening remarks

Moderation: Diana Rizzolio, Geneva Environment Network

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis that affects everyone, and that has an important economic impact on top of the human suffering caused by the disease itself.

This morning we are discussing a water related topic, and in that context it is important to remind that the spread of the virus is closely related to water and sanitation. Washing hands is the first line of defense to prevent the spread of COVID19. However, not all of us have an easy access to water and sanitation to wash our hands properly. Today over two billion of people still have inadequate access to water.

There is a large response from the UN system and from other actors to this crisis, including on the global environmental agenda, as we have heard in all the sessions we have convened.

In the past weeks the Secretary General of the United Nations has various times referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as “an unprecedented wake-up call”. The pandemic is resulting in major economic and political shifts around the globe which are giving the international community a unique window of opportunity in which recovery plans can be instrumental in creating a more sustainable and resilient future. As we recover, we must build back better for people and for the planet.

The Secretary General keeps also reminding us that we have a framework for action – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Today we will discuss the impact of the pandemic on transboundary water cooperation. Our discussion will focus on the role of an important legal instrument, which long name is the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, known also as the Water Convention, in this crisis, and we will also briefly hear how its secretariat was impacted.

The Water Convention was adopted in Helsinki in 1992, entered into force almost 25 years ago. It is administrated by the UN Economic Commission for Europe. Although the convention was initially negotiated as a regional instrument, since 2016 it has been opened up for accession to all UN Member States.

It is important to bring to your attention that 60% per cent of global freshwater flow comes from transboundary basins, and therefore the role of the Water Convention in strengthening transboundary water cooperation and measures for the ecologically-sound management and protection of transboundary surface waters and groundwaters is essential.

The Convention provides an intergovernmental global framework for peaceful and cooperative management of transboundary water resources and allows to prevent potential tensions between countries and also to prevent transboundary impacts such as pollution.

An integrated approached to water management, including in a transboundary context, remains essentials in this period. Timely and sufficient availability of water of adequate quality is a prerequisite for the provision of safe water, sanitation and adequate hygiene and for tackling possible impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Water Convention

Sonja Koeppel, Secretary, UNECE Water Convention

Mid-March as many othe institutions, the Secretariat had to start operating virtually.

  • We are currently working from home, yet still helping countries through virtual means
  • Importance of the well-being of the Water Convention Secretariat staff
  • Our thoughts are with the frontline workers, particularly sanitation workers

Transboundary Water Management

Peter Kovacs, Water Director, Hungary

  • Transboundary Cooperation affected by COVID-19 – most meetings rescheduled or postponed
  • Work is still going on – cooperation with neighbours is continuing and what has been planned needs to go forward
  • Water is an essential element for life, hygiene, and sanitation – link to COVID-19 pandemic
  • Water is essential for the recovery and the prevention
  • Water resources are primarily transboundary (60% of world freshwater is in transboundary rivers)
  • Water cooperation helps preventing conflicts and consolidating peace, helps to have a more efficient climate change adaptation and reducing sectoral trade-offs
  • Water Convention is a crucial intergovernmental platform, tool to prevent disputes, share information and implement day-to-day cooperation on transboundary water management
  • The UNECE Water Convention is a global instrument since 2016 – no more only a regional scope
  • COVID-19 may lead to:
    • increased pressure on transboundary water resources
    • local or cross-border tensions
  • Water Convention – encourage establishment of joint transboundary commissions to manage water resources
  • During 2020-2021, there is work ongoing on the Checklist for developing transboundary agreements and on the Handbook on water allocation in transboundary context
  • Importance of performant monitoring and alarm system – key dimension of cooperation
  • Integrated Water Resources Management – Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystem Nexus
    • Integrated approach including many different sectors and actors
  • Support at national level through National Policy Dialogues

Ben Yaw Ampomah, Executive Secretary, Water Resources Commission, Ghana

  • Ghana’s perspective through three lenses: key issues and challenges, benefits of cooperation under the Water Convention, status of accession to the Water Convention
  • Ghana has three transboundary river basins secretariats, plus the Volta Basin Authority
  • COVID-19 – activities postponed or held online
  • Reprioritization of resources, particularly relating to clean water supply, disaster risk reduction (floods), and post COVID-19 recovery
  • Reporting on the status of SDG 6.5 – virtual communication with riparian focal points
  • Ghana is adopting a more integrated approach, including disaster risk reduction and a new redesigned COVID-19 protocol
  • Three main challenges:
    • Adjust to the new circumstances
    • Increase pressure on transboundary water resources due to recovery measures – focus on quality, quantity and health
    • Improvement of information exchange and monitoring
  • Benefits of cooperation under the Water Convention are multiple, including the adoption of specific standards and procedures, and improving water governance
  • Ghana has virtually completed accession to the Water Convention, on the verge on submitting to the UN treaty Section
  • Urging riparian neighbours to accede to the Water Convention

Niokhor Ndour, Director, Water Resources, Senegal

  • Initiatives that help share good practices and experiences are most welcome
  • Pandemic has shaken humanity
  • Value of transboundary water cooperation is extremely high
  • Senegal shares water resources, both in the surface and underground, with its neighbours
  • Droughts in 1970s lead Senegal and its neighbours to develop transboundary basin organizations, the Senegal River Development Organization and the Gambia River Development Organization
  • COVID-19 restricting measures have been put in place in both Senegal and in its neighbour countries
  • Basin organizations adapted to the governmental measures to fight the pandemic – virtual meetings and working groups
  • Basin organizations support their Member States’ efforts by providing financial support to the national funds for combating COVID-19
  • Medium- and long-term management of water – Water Convention is a tool for development and strengthening of resilience in the basins
  • Measures adopted by countries to fight the pandemic might increase tensions on transboundary waters, or generate crisis events such as mass migration, regional conflicts, …
  • Water Convention can help build capacity and strengthen current mechanisms, including on water quantity and quality
  • New challenges in terms of information exchange and monitoring of water resources, which is a priority for the government of Senegal
  • Senegal is co-chairing with Finland the Working Group on Monitoring and Assessment
  • In the framework of the Convention, basin organizations can develop tools to enhance resilience to the pandemic and redesign projects, in accordance with donors, to better address emergencies
  • Need to foster cooperation to end food insecurity and allow universal access to water and sanitation

Water Convention

Sonja Koeppel

  • Water Cooperation continues in a virtual way
  • The structure of the Water Convention includes:
    • Meeting of the Parties
    • Bureau
    • Secretariat
    • Implementation Committee
    • Working Groups (on Integrated Water Resources Management and on Monitoring and Assessment)
    • Task Forces (on Water & Climate and on Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus)
  • Water Convention helps countries jointly address issues related to transboundary water cooperation, such as preventing transboundary impacts, preventing pollution, adapting to climate change, responding to water related disasters, managing water in integrated ways
  • Activities implemented at national, basin, regional and global level
  • Intergovernmental meeting calendar was affected – meeting postponed or moved virtually
    • 11th Meeting of the Implementation Committee postponed to August-September 2020
    • 15th Meeting of the Working Group on Integrated Water Resources Management postponed to September-October 2020
    • 11th Meeting of the Task Force on Water & Climate postponed to October 2020
    • 6th Meeting of the Task Force on Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus postponed to October 2020
    • The 9th Session of the Meeting of the Parties will be taking place from 29 September to 1 October 2021 in Tallinn, Estonia
  • Capacity building activities had to be postponed as well
  • Reporting under the Convention and the SDG indicator 6.5.2 – second reporting cycle ongoing, deadline is 30 June 2020
    • Only 17 countries in the world have all their transboundary basins covered by an operational arrangement
    • A lot of progress needed, Water Convention is supporting countries in improving transboundary cooperation
  • Protocol on Water and Health – legally binding instrument aimed at protecting human health from water-related diseases
  • Important to provide sanitation to all despite the increased pressure on water resources


Lalit Bajare

  • We at Nixie Engineers are focused on town and villages where the wastewater treatment is most neglected and mixes with local water bodies. By recycling wastewater at source, we are contributing to sanitation and saving fresh water. Is the UN also working in some ways like this ? How can we contribute on a larger scale or level ?

Danka Thalmeinerova, Ministry of Environment, Slovakia

  • Question to Peter K: how do you progress with the Handbook on water allocation in transboundary context? Is there some detailed roadmap – webinars, or draft handbook, seeking for case studies, etc?

Lenka Thamae, Orange Senqu River Commission

  • Question to Sonja: Are there any emerging lessons on nurturing transboundary water cooperation financing, in the face of COVID-19?

Guy Bonvin, Swiss Development and Cooperation

  • How do you create appetite for transboundary cooperation in a time when governments are focused on their owns needs (addressing the sanitary, socio-economic crisis) ?

Kamala Huseynli, Permanent Mission of Azerbadjan

  • UNECE Water Convention is the great and only legal instrument related to water management and use, but it is vitally important that riparian neighbors join it to make use of it. How can the downstream country benefit from that instrument if riparian neighbor is artificially prolonging its accession to the convention and continues to pollute on the upstream?

Abdulkadir Abdella, Permanent Mission of Ethiopia

  • Thank you, our host and panelists. How basic do you think is the importance of having regional mechanisms involving all basin countries to achieve major aims by the convention? In this regard, what are the main challenges in bringing all riparians onboard?

Anthony Kullie, Liberian Hydrological Service

  • Has Liberia been fully involved with UN Water Convention? Has the country been fully participating in all the activities of UN Water Convention? I am asking these questions because I want to know our current status with you guys. I am trying to organize information with all our associating organizations.
  • Where is the capacity building currently focused? Does it cut across every sectors of the water industry or it is only restricted to SDG 6.5.2?

Ryad Awaja Aouadja, State of Palestine, Permanent Observer to UNOG

  • Water remains a vital element for any political progress in my region, it’s a very sensitive factor for peace in Palestine and the Middle East, unfortunately no progress in the implementation of the transboundary water convention (Jordan River Basin).

Yasser Sorour, Egypt

  • Thank you to all panelists. Regarding water allocation have you reached any conclusion related to the pillars of allocations? I think the role to convince riparian countries especially upstream countries is also a responsibility of the international community.

Sola Ojo, Brandenburg Technical University

  • Question to UNECE. Are there any opportunities amid all the challenges in the working operations of UNECE due to Coronavirus pandemic ?


Peter Kovacs

  • Developing Handbook on water allocation in transboundary context
    • It is a very politically sensitive issue
    • Useful exercise to have good examples and to share good practices of transboundary water cooperation
    • Including experts from different regions from the world (America, Asia, Oceania, Europe, Africa)
    • Dedicated website on water allocation handbook development
    • Meeting of the expert groups before the end of the year – hopefully the handbook is developed before the MoP
  • Upstream and downstream countries have completely different interests
  • Long process, political process to have countries join – urge upstream neighbors to start implementation, monitoring, knowledge share
  • Important to create tools, then to accede to the Water Convention
  • Even with political tensions, technical cooperation continues
  • Creation of river basin organization – example is the Danube cooperation – 14 countries and the EU – take good coordinated steps against climate change, impossible at national level
  • Water Convention, even without accession, can be utilized by all countries at this moment

Sonja Koeppel

  • In general, financing of transboundary water cooperation has been challenging
  • COVID-19 made the situation more complicated, since countries might pritoritize other issues
  • Crisis as an opportunity to highlight the benefits of transboundary cooperation
  • Facilitate exchange in recovery and foster preparedness
  • Activities under Water Convention, aim to ensure that financing is there
  • Cooperation can start at the technical level, or use the second reporting cycle to have a dialogue with neighbouring countries
  • Liberia is currently not a Party, but has nominated a focal point
  • Delegates from the country have been participating in some meetings
  • National debate on accession is currently ongoing in several African countries
  • Palestine has been participating in the activities under the Convention
  • Secretariat remains fully operational and reachable by email and phone
  • Secretariat actively uses new ways and means of reaching out to countries and stakeholders, including webinars and other electronic communication tools

Closing remarks

Peter Kovacs

  • Too early to say – collecting case-studies on how the countries in reality share resources
  • Many of them have a good methodology
  • Water reuse might be really important in several regions of the world
  • EU developed new legislation on reuse of water in agriculture – can be applied to the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystem Nexus
  • Capacity-building – countries need working bodies and cooperation to manage water resources

B.Y. Ampomah

  • If you look at COVID-19, water is key and transboundary cooperation to manage water resources should be incentivized
  • Need to convince governments that transboundary water cooperation is essential
  • Need for water to be a priority in financing

Niokhour Ndour

  • Very important to reflect on cooperation during a pandemic
  • Cooperation is essentially a tool for resilience and development
  • In Senegal, cooperation is a reality since the droughts of the 1970s
  • The pandemic forces us to focus more on cooperation

Sonja Koeppel

  • Capacity-building is done beyond SDG target 6.5
  • Helping in intersectoral cross-border cooperation
  • Launched a publication on renewable energy and water
  • Bring together different communities
  • COVID-19 as an opportunity to highlight the importance of water management and cooperation
  • We need sufficient and clean water for prevention and recovery
  • Let’s all work together to make the most out of this difficult situation



The event will be live on Facebook.