Author- Navodita Singh


The article is a medium for a better understanding of transboundary water treaties. The following article lays down the concept of transboundary water treaties, in the best way possible. In the following article, details about the international water treaty also known as, transboundary water treaties will be discussed. The article will cover the definition of transboundary waters along with subtopics like the need of the treaties, eminent international treaties where various countries are involved along as well as India is involved. The article will also look at the benefits and drawbacks of the same. Certain suggestions and conclusions will be added at the end of this write-up. 

The main aim of the article is to paint a clearer picture, for the readers, on the concept of international water treaty and working of the same in various countries. As well as, what exactly would it be like if such important treaties are not implemented in society.


Transboundary, treaties, water resources, water wars, diplomacy, India, United Nations, water treaties. 


Most of the living organisms depend deeply on water. Humans and water bodies have a powerful interrelatedness. In the era of crisis of water around the globe, depletion of water resources can cause social unrest and light up conflicts between two or more nations or cause tension within the nation. It is no surprise that if this issue isn’t taken care of there would be great damage to the ecosystem which would jeopardize all water bodies which fall under the category of transboundary waters. The drastic climate change has been in talks everywhere around the globe; hence, it is pertinent to find a reasonable solution for the betterment of climate. This is only possible via peaceful and diplomatic means and not by waging war against two or more countries. 

A transboundary waterway is a stream, lake, river, aquifers, or tributary of a river running through more than one territorial boundary. To live a sustainable life, it is necessary to share our resources with other countries. In layman’s terms, it means that most of the world’s water is shared water; consequently, because all waters in these basins are connected, political arrangements are necessary for the nations which share them (i.e., riparian nations) to manage them efficiently.

The most basic question that one would ask themselves is that, what exactly is the need for such treaty/treaties. The following sub-topic explains in detail, the need for international water treaties.


There is a growing need for water, as the population increases and so does the need of the society. Countries, which are greatly dependent on agriculture, the energy sector, navigation, supplying of water, and sanitation of water, need to show cooperation on an international level. The whole mechanism of transboundary water can be sensitive. For example, a seemingly positive unilateral decision taken up by a nation for the construction of a dam due to climate change can cause a reduction in the flow of water in the same river flowing through another nation. This would cause depletion of other water-related resources. Whereas, the release of water from the same dam would cause floods in another region causing people of that region to relocate or even lose their lives. The destruction would be irreversible in such cases. 

Moreover, if transboundary water management is efficient it would result in benefit for all nations. For example, water management can help boost up the production of energy and food, control urban-rural migration, and help decreasing poverty. Such transboundary water treats would also lead to a sense of togetherness amongst various nations and drastically improve their diplomatic relations. Without these treaties, the sustainable development of nations would curtail. Not only this but as mentioned before, these treaties result in better navigation, better international trade, improvement in marine wildlife, energy generation, navigation, etc. Hence, we can conclude that there is a raising need for such treaties to be enforceable in countries sharing cross-border water resources. 


There are various international treaties where India is involved. Some of the notable treaties are as follows-

  1. Indus water treaty- The treaty was signed between India and Pakistan. According to this treaty, Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej would be administered by India whereas, Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum would be under the administration of Pakistan. The treaty also outlines that 20% of the discharge by Indus will be used by India.
  2. Indo-Bangladesh Treaty- The treaty was signed for the river Ganga between India and Bangladesh. A join river commission was formulated for efficient management of the river system.
  3. India-Nepal Treaty- A treaty on reiver Mahakali was signed between India and Nepal. The centerpiece of the treaty was the Pancheshwar multi-purpose project on the said river. 
  4. India- China cooperation- A MoU signed between China and India to share information relating t hydrology such as water level, rainfall level, etc. on the Brahmaputra river.
  5. India-Bhutan cooperation- Signed between Bhutan and India over common rivers.

Other than the treaties signed by India with other countries, there are various other international treaties signed amongst other countries around the world. Some of the major ones are as follows-

  1. UN Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses of 1997- A treaty adopted by the UN to protect and use all cross-boundary waters on the surface as well as groundwater. There are currently 36 states, part of this treaty.
  2. Berlin Rules of 2004- These replaced the Helsinki rules on the use of waters of international rivers. 


Cooperation is one of the major obligations of water treaties. cooperation can generate, such as accelerated economic growth, improved human well-being, enhanced environmental sustainability, and increased political stability. Hence, positive outcomes of such treaties can clearly be reflected upon. Some of which are stated as under-

  • Several nations after the adoption and implementation of such treaties have avoided conflicts and wars. For example, since 1995 Israel and Jordan have come to a common understanding over sharing resources of river Jordan even as they were until in a legal state of war. 
  • Initiatives by the UN like UN-water thematic priority area on transboundary waters which provides the platform to promote cooperation and coordination in the area of transboundary waters. 
  • As mentioned before, the major advantage of the treaties has been that war and conflicts have been avoided and diplomatic ways have been opted-out for in order to use the water resources. Hence, strengthening the political relations between countries. 
  • The sharing of information relating to marine wildlife and other related resources has helped boost scientific research purposes. 
  • Transboundary treaties have boosted the economy by indirectly affecting growth in the agriculture sector as well as the hydropower sector.
  • The environment has benefited by such treaties as drought and flooding have been reduced and optimum amount of water has been allocated for different regions. 

Hence, we can easily say that the treaties have has a positive impact on the social, political, economic, and environmental fabric of the world. 


There are two sides of every coin, hence, if there are benefits of the said treaties, there are also drawbacks of the same, some of which are listed as follows-

  • Around 60% of transboundary river basins worldwide still lack any cooperative arrangement (UNEP, OSU, and FAO, 2002). 
  • Existing transboundary water treaties and institutions are often weak in terms of their mandate, design, resources, and enforcement mechanisms. Only around one-third of multilateral basins have treaties signed by at least three states, only 11 basins have treaties that include all riparian, and only about a quarter of all treaties cover the entire basin to which they apply. 
  • Very few agreements exist where transboundary aquifers are in the picture. Only six aquifer agreements have been adopted at the international level and two agreements regarding the sharing of transboundary groundwaters between sub-national/local authorities.
  • If the transboundary treaties are not enforced and taken up seriously, floods and drought-related issues will increase and the ecosystem will collapse. Climate change does not stop at the territorial boundaries of the nations. 
  • Without transborder management, the national GDP of any country would dwindle and the economy would see great damage done. There will be slow to no economic growth or development. 
  • Marine wildlife will also see huge disruption in case such inhumane activities continue and there is a lack of enforcement of such treaties. Law enforcement authorities will need to take a stronger stand while implementation of such treaties to save the climate and wildlife along with other resources that we gain from river basins, aquifers, etc.


To understand how to close in some of the loopholes and make the treaties better certain suggestions can be implemented. Listed below are some of the suggestions that would help our water resources to be used wisely and efficiently. 

  • Every nation that has a transboundary water resource should formulate legislation and prepare a legal framework of international cooperation, be it a UN convention and/or a basin agreement.
  • Financing tools and rewards for cooperation for complying with such treaties should be promoted.
  • Organizations for transboundary rivers, basins, etc should be formulated where there is a lack of such institutions. 
  • To encourage countries to develop basin-wide vulnerability assessments and adaptation strategies to address disasters and climate change.
  • Establishment of think tanks on national as well as international levels. 
  • There should be the exchange of information, regarding new research or scientific development, navigation, irrigation status, groundwater resources projects like hydropower, etc, to gain trust and shared vision amongst the countries. 


International transboundary water treaties have had a positive impact on the nations that have adopted and implemented them. Hence, it is clear that such treaties would cause more advantages than losses. The whole idea behind the adoption of such treaties has been that the nations co-exist peacefully without harming society and the ecosystem. As seen, there have been water wars that have been avoided just because of the adoption of such treaties. The takeaway from all this should be that such treaties should be not only adopted but put in force as well. As for the UN convention for international waters, more countries should play their part and indulge in such conventions. 

Lastly, our ecosystem is something we cannot afford to compromise with. Hence, we all should take every measure possible to protect it and further the science and research work, as well as protect wildlife. Moreover, the diplomacy and international relations between the countries would only benefit by entering into such treaties. 


  1. Transboundarywatergovernance accessed on 19th, May 2021.
  2. Benefits of enhanced transboundary water cooperation for development and ecosystems accessed on 17th May, 2021.
  3. Transboundary waters accessed on 19th May, 2021.
  4. List of important international water treaties of India, by Shakeel anwar accessed on 18th May, 2021.

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