Concerns focus primarily on international river basis, but they also apply to underground water supplies. The process of development and conservation of river basins has been uneven since 1981. The paucity of financial, human and technological resources faced by many co-riparian countries has prevented significant new approaches and hampered development. Cooperation with respect to some shared water resources has been severely hampered by tensions in some areas.
Water resources in many shared systems are already heavily contaminated. Highly toxic substances are being found more and more, even in the international rivers, lakes and aquifers of developing countries. Cooperative action has begun. Many world leaders have realized that the very viability of the societies and economies of their countries is at stake. International assistance has also been mobilized where national attempts to organize bilateral or multilateral co-operation or collaboration have been ineffective. Engaging qualified people and financing such studies, which are not revenue-producing, remain prime constraints, and not only for developing countries.
The need for effective international co-operation among riparian countries is greater now than ever before because of the growing demand for water in all co-basin countries and the increasingly harmful effects of activities in upstream countries. Over a third of the 200 international river basins are not covered by any international agreement; only some 30 have co-operative institutional arrangements. Clearly, efforts are needed to formulate and reach agreement on an international "code of conduct" or convention in the utilization of shared water basins so that the water needs of some countries are not undermined by irresponsible utilization of water resources by others. Improved international co-operation is also necessary regarding the transfer of knowledge and technology in the water resources field.
Article 2(5) of the Draft Protocol on Water and Health (1999) to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (1992) states: "Transboundary waters" means any surface or ground waters which mark, cross or are located on boundaries between two or more States; wherever transboundary waters flow directly into the sea, these transboundary waters end at a straight line across their respective mouths between points on the low-water line of their banks.
The Nile and the Amazon are both about 6,500 km long. The Yangtze and the Missouri-Mississippi are close. The Amazon, though 230 km shorter than the Nile, is easily the world's greatest river. It carries a fifth of all the flowing water on Earth and sends fresh water 160 km into the Atlantic.
Greater attention is being paid to the environment and water quality issues in the context of shared water resources. This is particularly true in a number of Eastern and West European countries and North America. Additional impetus has been given to this trend by the The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative in Environmentally Sound Management of Inland Waters, for example the Zambezi Action Plan for the development of the Zambezi River Basin. UNEP is also assisting a number of countries to develop and implement comprehensive water-management plans in several major transboundary river basins. These plans consider the natural features of the watershed, including the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems dependent upon it, as well as the human-related factors and impacts.
The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes was adopted by senior advisers on Environmental and Water Problems in March 1992 in Helsinki and signed by the European countries and the European Community. It is intended to strengthen national and international actions aimed at the protection and ecologically sound management of transboundary water, both surface and groundwaters. The Convention requires that the riparian parties shall cooperate on the basis of equality and reciprocity, in particular through bilateral and multilateral agreements, in order to develop harmonized policies, programmes and strategies covering the relevant catchment areas, or parts thereof, aimed at the prevention, control and reduction of transboundary impact and aimed at the protection of the environment of transboundary waters or the environment influenced by such waters, including the marine environment.
Article 13 of the Draft Protocol on Water and Health (1999) to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (1992) states: Where any Parties border the same transboundary waters, as a complement to their other obligations under articles 11 and 12, they shall cooperate and, as appropriate, assist each other to prevent, control and reduce transboundary effects of water-related disease. In particular, they shall: (a) Exchange information and share knowledge about the transboundary waters and the problems and risks which they present with the other Parties bordering the same waters; (b) Endeavour to establish with the other Parties bordering the same transboundary waters joint or coordinated water-management plans, and surveillance and early-warning systems and contingency plans, for the purpose of responding to outbreaks and incidents of water-related disease and significant threats of such outbreaks and incidents, especially from water-pollution incidents or extreme weather events; (c) On the basis of equality and reciprocity, adapt their agreements and other arrangements regarding their transboundary waters in order to eliminate any contradictions with the basic principles of this Protocol and to define their mutual relations and conduct regarding the aims of this Protocol; (d) Consult each other, at the request of any one of them, on the significance of any adverse effect on human health which may constitute a water-related disease.
Despite major efforts to counter these effects the losses continue. There is an opportunity for neighbouring states to cooperate on control, protection and use measures, or to enlist joint efforts in a common struggle against the elements. In shared water resources systems, little action on land degradation and desertification has been undertaken so far.