The UN Transboundary Agreements Advisory Board

When working on solutions for water scarcity, it is important to consider the contextualization of each problem. This course of thinking leads to the framework by which nations establish regional commissions in pursuit of cooperative regulation of water resources. A number of problems do arise, however, with the implementation of localized international negotiations.

Firstly, while Mission 2017 stresses the need for context-specific solutions, considerations ubiquitous to the global community exist. The place for these regulations is the arena of international law implemented on a global scale. Though international water laws can be vague and lack enforcement, as Mission 2017 states in Transboundary Agreements, these problems are tractable. International laws provide countries a means to hold one another accountable. Secondly, while the aforementioned regional commissions have been pursued by some countries, not all have experience formulating such groups. Thirdly, as seen along the Nile and Brahmaputra Rivers, nations cannot always come to agreements when negotiating the management of shared water resources. In such scenarios, it would be effective to hold discussions mediated by a neutral third-party. Lastly, when governments want to implement intranational solutions, it is important for them to take into account the diverse array of considerations. Public or private interests can handle this job, however, no international, non-profit analyst agencies exist. To assist in resolving international problems, Mission 2017 suggests adding an additional partner to UN Water which acts as a consultant to other countries. This group will be called: the UN Transboundary Agreements Advisory Board (UNTAAB).

This consulting group would act as an advisory board to assist governments through the process of successful transboundary water negotiations. UNTAAB would provide neutral professionals to help mediate the negotiations. The presence of this group would not replace the role of current third party mediators such as the World Bank and the IMF–these organizations are essential because they help finance the water projects. The members of UNTAAB will work in conjunction with financing organizations. UNTAAB fulfills an advisory role, so countries have the option whether or not to utilize this group. Countries are incentivized to hire this group since they charge less than private analysts, are connected to international finance organizations, and hold the UN’s brand name.

This group would advocate and implement the use of key transboundary agreement strategies, notably:

1. The creation of JFF (joint fact-finding) teams. These teams will collect and evaluate hydrologic data and assist in the economic, social, and environmental analyses of the water project. Teams should have members from both countries. If neither country has qualified scientists, the UNTAAB will contain a small group of scientists that it can mobilize for this purpose.

2. Rating, quantifying, and defining the needs of the involved countries before negotiations begin. A country’s first priority water need is an adequate supply of clean, safe water for domestic use. After that the countries must prioritize their needs and the treaty should aim to satisfy their most important needs first.

3. Involving the public in the decision-making process. This can be done through a variety of methods, including stakeholder assessments, town meeting style forums consisting of stakeholders from various sectors, and polls/referendums.

4. The use of volumetric water allocation for dividing water for domestic needs and time-based water allocation and percentage of total flow allocation in most other situations.

5. Value creation and a non-zero sum way of thinking. This group will view water not as a fundamentally fixed resource, but a flexible resource. Viewing water as a flexible resource opens up more potential for cooperation (see Appendix A for more detail).

6. A step-by-step problem solving approach.

7. Keeping treaties up to date: based on the population and economic growth rates of the countries, the treaty should be modulated to fit the changing situation at regular time intervals. This time interval could be yearly, every five years, or every ten years. Re-evaluation of the treaty should take into account the growth of the countries’ populations, climate change, changing economies, etc.

Naturally, while not actively advising countries, this group could be responsible for data management and water research.


Appendix A: Value Creation and the Non-zero Sum Approach to Negotiation

In the traditional approach to water negotiations, water is treated as a fixed source to be divided. This is known as the zero-sum approach to water negotiation, and it results in animosity between countries because the situation is win-lose [1]. In the value creation and non-zero sum approach, decision-makers consider ways in which they can work together to effectively “create” water and benefit all interested countries. Ways to “create” water include improving water use efficiency, conserving water by methods such as drip irrigation, recycling water, and creating desalination plants [1]. Considering methods to create more water for use while negotiating how to allocate existing water results in more creative and effective solutions. For example, Israel and Jordan considered technological methods of creating water – including reclaiming wastewater for agriculture, desalination, drip irrigation, and improving infrastructure to reduce leakage – in their 1994 peace treaty, in which Israel received groundwater rights in exchange for increasing the desalinated water it shared with Jordan [1]. Water is an interconnected issue, and it should be treated as such in transboundary water negotiations. This group will advocate an open mindset of value creation and problem linkage rather than a narrow approach.



1. Lawrence Susskind and Shafiqul Islam, “Water Diplomacy: Creating Value and Building Trust in Transboundary Water Negotiations,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 3 (September 2012).