Examples of the Political Character of International Water Law Academic Article uri icon


  • It is widely known that over a billion people lack access to potable water, and well over twice that number are without adequate sanitation'-the latter situation often being related to the former. It has been calculated that every eight seconds a child dies of water-related causes-a stunning statistic and an absolutely unacceptable state of affairs. While much has been made of the prospect of global water shortages, what is perhaps not so well known is that most of the world's fresh water is shared by two or more states. There are more than 260 international drainage basins, which account for about 60 percent of global river flows. This figure does not include an increasingly important form of this resource, groundwater, much of which also straddles international boundaries. Perhaps this is in part what motivated UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to say, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January of this year: "As the global economy grows, so will its thirst... many more conflicts lie over the horizon," and "too often, where we need water, we find guns." The question for this panel is: "To what extent do political considerations affect the legal relations among states sharing freshwater resources"? In many ways this is a field that almost invites the intervention of politics: partly because individuals-the Egyptian, Ethiopian or Mexican farmer, for example-may be directly affected by their government's practice regarding shared water resources; and partly because water may be so vital to the very life of a nation that it can be regarded as a matter of national security and thus influence strongly the way that country relates to its neighbors.

published proceedings

  • Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law

author list (cited authors)

  • Eckstein, G. E.

complete list of authors

  • Eckstein, Gabriel E

publication date

  • April 2008