International Agreements over transboundary aquifers- what is really important?

Shaminder Puri 17 February 2016 

Shaminder Puri serves for a second term as Secretary General of the International Association of Hydrogeologists. His scientific, technical & policy experience on groundwater resource management comes from nearly four decades of work. His scope of practical experience derives from responsibility for the world’s largest water well drilling programme in the Rum-Saq Aquifer, restructuring of the coal sector in Ukraine and as global co coordinator of the Internationally Shared Aquifer Resources Management Programme (ISARM,) under which an atlas of 273 aquifers was published. He was also one of the prime technical contributors to the UN’s International Law Commission’s activities the issued Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, adopted by the UN General Assembly. He has held senior advisory position with UNEP, UNESCO, the EU’s EuropeAid programmes and the Asian Development Bank. His current assignment includes establishing the African Groundwater Commission and advising the Governments of Lesotho and Swaziland on their transboundary water resources management.


International agreements over the use of transboundary aquifers are rare and only a few have been completed, in comparison with many hundreds that have been completed over surface water. In drafting the Articles on the use of transboundary aquifers, many hydrogeologists were consulted on what might be the scope of such articles. The argument was that in the case of a dispute between countries, it would have to be the hydrogeologists who would have to provide the evidence to the legal teams who would be putting forward their cases to a tribunal. This exercise did to an extent bridge the distance between the scientific outlook towards transboundary aquifers, and the legal outlook on shared waters. The final version of the Articles is indeed based on the contemporary legal outlook. However, when applying them to the real world of hydrogeology, there appears to be a significant gap. Such a gap became quite evident in the course of the technical discussions on the shared aquifer between Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The ensuing Agreement has little connection with the Draft Articles; the seminar will consider this situation, and offer some insights into this perceived gap that may apply to the Rum Saq aquifer agreement.

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