Protecting a Hidden Treasure: The U.N. International Law Commission and the International Law of Transboundary Ground Water Resources Academic Article uri icon


  • Ground water is the most extracted natural resource in the world. It provides more than half of humanity's freshwater for everyday uses such as drinking, cooking, and hygiene, as well as twenty percent of irrigated agriculture. Given the world's considerable reliance on this precious resource, it is reasonable to assume that international attention to, and especially legal consideration of, ground water would be substantial. Nothing is further from the truth. Despite the growing dependence, legal and regulatory attention to ground water resources have long been secondary to surface water, especially among legislatures and policymakers and above all in the international arena. Today, while there are hundreds of treaties governing transboundary rivers and lakes, there is only one international agreement that directly addresses a transboundary aquifer. Recently, the United Nations International Law Commission embarked on an effort to address this shortcoming and to consider the international law applicable to transboundary ground water resources. This undertaking follows and builds on the Commission's work on international watercourses, which culminated in 1997 in the U.N. Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. This paper reviews the work of the Commission in its present effort to codify and progressively develop the international law applicable to transboundary ground water resources. It begins with a short background of the present work and briefly considers the applicability of the 1997 Watercourse Convention to transboundary ground water resources. It then reviews the relevant issues facing the Commission and offers commentary and analysis as appropriate.

published proceedings

  • Sustainable Development Law and Policy

author list (cited authors)

  • Eckstein, G. E.

complete list of authors

  • Eckstein, Gabriel E

publication date

  • January 2005