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GWF Highlights Increased Information Sharing in Transboundary Basin Treaties

Global Water Forum25 February 2013: Information sharing on water resources has become a key component of transboundary water treaties, according to a Global Water Forum (GWF) discussion paper. The paper, “Greater exchange, greater ambiguity: Water resources data and information exchange in transboundary water treaties,” analyzes data and information exchange in the 287 transboundary water agreement signed between 1900 and 2007.

Most transboundary water treaties have a mechanism for exchanging water resources data or information, according to Andrea Gerlak, Jonathon Lautze and Mark Giodarno, who co-authored the paper. Direct exchange mechanisms increased from less than 20% pre-World War II, to over 50% in the post-Cold War era, with “notable increases” from the 1930s to the 1940s and “consistent increases” beginning in the 1970s. The authors caution, however, that only 37% of treaties include direct data and information exchange mechanisms, and instead rely on indirect mechanisms, such as formalized communication and prior notification.

Procedural (i.e. frameworks for collective decision making) or generative (i.e. agreements that establish principles or social practices) treaties show the greatest increase in data and information exchange while democracies exhibited the highest exchange of information. Based on this finding, the authors conclude that the goals and nature of treaties influence levels of data and information exchange. They suggest these trends indicate “new global normative framework for transboundary water that [shape] international law.”

Only 29% of agreements that include data and information exchange call for regular exchanges, which the authors suggesting that this figure indicates a reluctance among States to legalize exchange schedules and a preference for event-triggered, on request or unclear exchange practices. They also suggest States may encourage ambiguity in exchange frequency to serve domestic purposes or facilitate flexibility in the event of resource uncertainty.

The GWF was established in 2010 as an initiative of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). [GWF Press Release] [Publication: Greater Exchange, Greater Ambiguity: Water Resources Data and Information Exchange in Transboundary Water Treaties]