Skip to main content

Water Supply: UN Convention

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What progress they have made towards acceding to the United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN watercourse convention), which seeks to alleviate tensions between nations with shared water resources.

My Lords, the Government have no immediate plans to accede to the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Only 16 countries have ratified the convention. With 35 countries required, there is little prospect of the convention entering into force. Despite that, its principles are widely applied. DfID supports water-sharing processes in the Middle East and Africa, and does not consider accession necessary for those to be effective.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, although it is disappointing. Given the warnings about the impact of climate change on fresh water resources, and given the millennium development goal that hopes to reduce by half the number of people without access to fresh water, will the United Kingdom ensure at the Bali conference that priority is given to the allocation of funding for the management of fresh water resources?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point, and can be assured that in Bali we will draw the attention of all delegations to the risk that Africa and poor countries elsewhere are confronted with. Africa is the region that is most vulnerable to climate change. It is projected that by 2020 between 75 million and 250 million people will be exposed to an increase in water stress due to climate change, and that agricultural productivity will have been severely compromised by at least a 10 per cent decline in rainfall. Therefore we will make the point strongly at Bali, although it is not a pledging conference so we may have to find other forums to secure more resources to redress the matter.

My Lords, does my noble friend regret that although the Labour Government co-sponsored the convention 10 years ago we have not been able to accede to it? Can he tell us anything about further consultation on the desirability of accession by any other government department?

My Lords, my noble friend is right that the convention seemed extremely important at the time. The UK did not accede to it because of difficulties around the waters of Northern Ireland versus the Republic, which have subsequently been well resolved through EU arrangements. That means that we have no direct waterways of our own to be affected. However, that does not prevent us using the principles of the convention in parts of the world such as the Nile basin, where we are providing assistance to countries that share common water fronts.

My Lords, although it is good to know that we support practical approaches to transboundary co-operation on the equitable sharing of water resources in the Middle East and Africa, why do we adopt a different approach in Mesopotamia, where Ministers say that it is for Iraq, Turkey and Syria to reach agreement on the sharing of their water resources? Would it not be a good idea to adopt the same practical approaches, particularly bearing in mind that, since dams have been built on the Euphrates in Turkey, the quantity of water flowing into Iraq has decreased by 50 per cent?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. However, even in the case of the Nile basin, and other areas where we have successfully supported arrangements, such approaches are arrived at between the countries that share those common water tables. Again, we would be extremely open to supporting an agreement between those three countries. Given the state of political relations there, however, we will first need to see a change in bilateral relationships between the three countries. An outcome of that would be a chance to work on their common water problems.

My Lords, what is the status of agreement or disagreement about the waters of the River Jordan and such other waters as there may be nearby? It used to be a serious problem between Israel and the Palestinians. Is that still the case?

My Lords, it is still the case, and the noble Lord will not be surprised that it is a victim of the same kind of political difficulties referred to in the previous question. Water will become the most valuable resource in the shortest supply in this century, but it is hard to resolve these issues when countries are not living peacefully as good neighbours. Good neighbourliness is a precondition of settling disputed water.