Argument: Only a global commons can equally protect the right to water


  • “National Sovereignty of International Watercourses”. International Greencross. 2000 – “There is no national sovereignty over water, but the different manifestations of sovereignty, and the corresponding entitlements and responsibilities of individuals, communities and state authorities, can be pooled for the benefit of everyone in a basin. Every state has a right to water for its people and its development, but as with all rights this is balanced with the duty not to prevent another People from achieving the same. For this reason a very holistic view of international watercourses and their significance and uses needs to be taken, including consideration of the hydrological cycle and the rights and needs of different stakeholders.”
…”The management of international watercourses should be determined less by the traditional notion of ‘restricted sovereignty’ than by a positive spirit of cooperation and effective interdependence.”
…”It has been said that sovereignty over water is impossible to define. Water is so all-encompassing that it does not appear to be feasible to devise a formulation of sovereignty which will satisfy all the possible elements of which water is a factor. Water is a critical resource the possession of which confers power. It is also a substance which summons many distinct images and significances for different peoples. Although water has been a political and military issue since antiquity, it is only since the 20th Century that we have developed the means to dramatically alter, store and divert the natural flow of rivers and access the vital sources of deep underground water. This power has rested largely with State authorities, and the harnessing of water has become a vital component in the economic development of States. The capacity to control watercourses has raised new questions regarding the ownership of water. Now that States have the ability to abstract or divert the entire volume of a transboundary river, the question remains as to what rights they have to the waters which flow through their territory and what obligations they have to their fellow riparians down-stream. From the other perspective, in cases where the down-stream riparian has been the first to utilise the waters of the river, to what extent does this confer prior ownership rights which must be respected by states further up-stream? Does a State have a right to the amount of water it ‘contributes’ to a watercourse through precipitation within its territory? If so, where does that leave states which rely on water originating outside their borders for the vast majority of their national water supply? These are all questions related to national sovereignty.
It is argued that the paradigm of a world order based on the principle of the inviolability of state sovereignty is shifting with increased ‘globalisation’. On the subject of international watercourses, the principle of “restricted sovereignty’, which establishes that a state does not have the right to do as it pleases with the transboundary watercourses flowing through or located under its territory, such as is held by the theory of ‘absolute territorial sovereignty’, also known as the ‘Harmon Doctrine’, has long been almost universally accepted in theory. It remains, however, to be fully acknowledged and implemented in practice. The same can be said about the theory of ‘absolute territorial integrity’, the traditional defence of the down-stream riparian, which insists that the natural flow of the river should not be diverted by activities further upstream, and that the rights of prior use are inviolate. Although still advocated by some lower stream states this is also giving way to reinterpretation.”
…”When considered from a logical, neutral perspective, the most frequently asked questions regarding international watercourses and national sovereignty can all be answered with a resounding ‘no’:
Does a state have sovereignty over water flowing through its territory as part of an international watercourse owing to the fact that it “contributed” to that flow a certain percentage of precipitation? No. This would be an impossible precedent to set as it would imply that states with low rainfall have correspondingly low entitlement to water.
Does a state have sovereignty over international watercourses, to an extent that would necessarily permanently prevent the development of fellow riparians, owing to the fact that it was the first to use or develop the resource? No. How could it possibly be acceptable for one state to so fundamentally restrict the development and perpetuate the poverty of another state on such a basis?”