Transboundary Waters Programme

Globally, there are 263 watersheds that cross the political boundaries of two or more countries; these watersheds represent about one half of the earth’s land surface and forty percent of global population. These facts underscore how much water connects us all but also highlight the potential for conflict – and for cooperation.

Waters that cross national borders can carry pollution from upstream to downstream countries, impacting human health and livelihoods. Upstream countries can extract too much water, or use it inefficiently, impacting the needs and livelihoods of downstream users as well as the environmental needs for water of critical aquatic habitat such as wetlands and mangroves. Continued population growth and economic development can further exacerbate these effects. The United Nations estimates that, by 2025, as many as 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions facing water scarcity, and as much as two-thirds of the world’s population could be facing water stress.

Climate change, which is already altering the global water cycle at an unprecedented rate, adds further complexity to these challenges through its impacts on the timing, intensity and variability of rainfall, droughts and flooding.

But history shows that cooperation, not conflict, has been mankind’s prevalent response to the challenges presented by transboundary waters.

Over the last 60 years more than 300 international water agreements have been reached while there have only been 37 cases of reported conflict between states over water. Even more important, cooperation on shared waters has been shown to help build mutual respect, understanding and trust among countries and to promote peace, security and regional economic growth.

UNDP’s Response
While a lot of progress has been made, even today, of the world’s 263 international basins, 158 don’t have any kind of cooperative management framework in place so plenty of work lies ahead for the international community. Through its GEF International Waters portfolio, the Shared Waters Partnership, and the Transboundary River Basin Initiative (TRIB; now completed), UNDP is supporting over 100 countries in the preparation of such frameworks in some of the world’s most important transboundary waterbodies.