|Period: May 2003|
Management in Transboundary River Basins
by Prof. G. Tsakiris
Although groundwater development has a long history (occurrence of wells have been noted even at Bronze Age), systematic exploitation of groundwater aquifers was realized during the nineteenth century. During the nineteenth century the advent of steam technology permitted the pumping from relatively shallow wells and later from boreholes. Today bores may be as deep as 500 m.
In contrast to surface water resources, groundwater has suffered from the “out of sight, out of mind” problem which makes management more difficult. This problem has delayed to the second half of the 20th century the licensing system for groundwater development and abstraction.
Generally speaking the quality of groundwaters is considered higher than that of surface waters on account of filtering of materials and degradation of organic pollutants during transit underground. Today in most cases groundwater sources require considerably less treatment than surface water sources whereas in some cases only chlorination is required. Due to this fact groundwater is preferred for high quality uses such as municipal water supply therefore increasing the competition from various consumption centres.
Finally groundwater is even more important for arid and semi-arid countries which base their water consumption on aquifers exploitation rather than the scarce and unevenly distributed surface water resources.
2. AQUIFER MANAGEMENT UNCERTAINTIES
It is widely known that aquifers may have different functions according to the natural conditions and the anthropogenic interventions in the area. Some of them are:
However the pressures on the groundwater resources are serious and have been intensified during the last decades. In summary here are some key points which cannot be analyzed further in this short text:
The main obstacles towards effective and sustainable management of groundwater resources are among others:
3. GROUNDWATER AQUIFERS IN TRANSBOUNDARY RIVER BASINS
The problem of groundwater allocation is getting more difficult in the case of Transboundary river basins. There are many groundwater aquifers around the world which are related to “tranboundary problems”. Some 47% of the land and 40% of the population of the world live in transboundary river basins and therefore competition over the water resources in these basins is expected to be intensified over the coming years.
There are many conferences, meetings and conventions in many places of the world which are devoted to the principles of management of transboundary river basins. Relevant concepts and doctrines have been extensively discussed and supported in many such occasions. Although it is wise to avoid the repetition of views one should at least refer to the existing doctrines without commenting further:
Without further debate it seems that the last approach will prevail if countries wish to follow the road of peace and development rather than the permanent competition and conflict.
The groundwater aquifers as explained earlier are a part of the water system of the transboundary river basin and therefore should be treated as any other water resource of the basin.
This applies to all groundwater aquifers of the river basin regardless if they are crossed or not by a boundary between two or more countries. It is important to stress the various conditions under which groundwater aquifers may be represented by this general approach
Obviously this type of holistic approach is the only way for achieving the widely accepted criteria of sustainable development, trans-generationality and a fair balance between strong and week partners.
4. INTERNATIONAL LAW AND EU DIRECTIVE
UN and other world organizations have been involved in the formulation of what called “international law” on water issues and mainly on transboundary water resources. The most remarkable of them are the Helsinki Convention in 1992 and the New York Convention in 1997. It is understood that international law is a decentralized system relying mostly on the self-assistance and the opinion of the world community. Unfortunately international law lacks compulsory jurisdiction and centralized enforcement which are necessary features of national systems.
It is amazing to note that the General Assembly of the UN called upon the International Law Commission to prepare a set of “draft articles” on the “non-navigational” uses of International water courses. The commission worked for 23 years for the first draft and 3 years for the final draft (1994). The revised text of this draft after 3 more years of consultations was approved by the General Assembly on May 21, 1997 by a vote of 104 – 3.
This delay shows the difficulties encountered in tackling hot issues such as the transboundary water resources.
The situation considering the common management of transboundary river basins is clearer in Europe. According to the last EU directive (2000) riparian countries are encouraged to form joint management structures for dealing with transboundary water resources.
Therefore it is a positive contribution of this meeting to convey and strengthen the message to the riparian countries to realize in practice the EU directive articles concerning these delicate issues. It is the task of this meeting to emphasize the unity of the river basin in which groundwater aquifers are a part.
In conclusion, groundwater aquifers should be managed under cooperative management plans using a holistic approach for mutual long term benefits, development and sustainability for the riparian countries.
Prof. in Water Resources Management
National Technical University of Athens
President of the European Water Resources Association
President of the Greek Committee for Water Resources Management
Address: National Technical University of Athens
School of Rural and Surveying Engineering
9 Iroon Polytechniou, Zografou Campus
15780, Athens, Greece.
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