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  • DRAFT 30 June 2002

    1

    SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT ANDINTERNATIONAL WATERCOURSES AGREEMENTS:

    THE MEKONG AND THE RHINE

    Bantita Pichyakorn

  • DRAFT 30 June 2002

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    Table of Contents

    Introduction............................................................................................................................ 3I. Sustainable Development in International Watercourses Law ........................................... 4

    1. International Watercourses Law .................................................................................... 4Absolute Territorial Sovereignty: The Harmon Doctrine .......................................... 5Absolute Territorial Integrity ..................................................................................... 5Equitable Utilisation .................................................................................................. 6Common Management............................................................................................... 6

    1.1 The 1966 Helsinki Rules.......................................................................................... 71.2 The 1997 UN Convention........................................................................................ 8

    2. The Concept of Sustainable Development and its Elements in InternationalWatercourses Law.............................................................................................................. 9

    2.1 The Concept of Sustainable Development............................................................... 92.2 Its elements in international watercourses law....................................................... 10

    3. Influence of the Concept of Sustainable Development on Selected Issues ofInternational Watercourses Law ...................................................................................... 11

    3.1 Water Quantity....................................................................................................... 113.1.1 Duty to Use Water Equitably .......................................................................... 113.1.2 Duty to Maintain Water Flow ......................................................................... 12

    3.2 Water Quality......................................................................................................... 133.2.1 Duty to Protect the Environment of the Related Areas................................... 13

    II. Legal Mechanism Applied in the Mekong River Basin to Achieve SustainableDevelopment ........................................................................................................................ 13

    1. Introduction.................................................................................................................. 132. The influence of the concept of sustainable development in the Mekong Agreement 143. Legal mechanism of the Mekong Agreement .............................................................. 15

    3.1 Water Quantity....................................................................................................... 163.1.1 Equitable Utilisation ....................................................................................... 163.1.2 The Maintenance of Water Flow .................................................................... 18

    3.2 Water Quality......................................................................................................... 193.2.1 Water Quality Conservation............................................................................ 19

    4. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) ..................................................................... 21III. Legal Mechanism Applied in the Rhine River Basin to Achieve SustainableDevelopment ........................................................................................................................ 23

    1. Introduction.................................................................................................................. 232. The influence of the concept of sustainable development in the Rhine River Basin... 253. Legal mechanism of the 1999 Rhine Convention........................................................ 25

    3.1 Water Quantity....................................................................................................... 263.1.1 Management of Water Flow ........................................................................... 26

    3.2 Water Quality......................................................................................................... 273.2.1 Water Quality Conservation............................................................................ 27

    4. The International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine ................................... 28IV. Conclusion ..................................................................................................................... 30

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    Sustainable Development and International WatercoursesAgreements: The Mekong and The Rhine1

    Introduction

    Since rivers flow naturally from their source down to their mouth and may run through theterritory of one or more states, problems relating to ownership of the water may occur.Hydrologists estimate that the world-wide demand for water may be doubled by 2050having dramatically increased over the last 100 years.2 This leads to the conclusion thatwater resources may become limited or even scarce in terms of per capita availability andmay also lead to more international or regional conflict between riparian states.3 In otherwords, international watercourses may cause international disputes when it provesimpossible to harmonise the interests of those states.4

    In the light of the possibility of such conflicts, attempts have been made to clarify the legalprinciples applicable to this area of law, such as water allocation and water protection. Theimperative problem of water scarcity in some areas of the world such as in Africa countrieshowever forces international watercourses law not to limit its scope only with those currentproblems, but also to deal with the long term issue of sustaining and improving the amountand quality of water available for future generations. The inclusion of water issue in the RioDeclaration and Agenda 21 clearly illustrates this well. The same situation is also seen inthe forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development that to be held inJohannesburg in August 2002 as water issue remains one of the most imperative problemson its agenda.5

    To this end, this paper is therefore aimed at suggesting the practical approach of dealingwith water issues in the light of sustainable development. The Mekong and the Rhine riverbasins are taken as the case study for two reasons. First of all, both regimes adopt theconcept of sustainable development in their Agreements. Their interpretation of this notionare thus of great interest as they reflect what this notion is understood by these two differentregimes. The mechanisms adopted in the Mekong and the Rhine Agreements also illustratetheir particular existing interests, focuses and problems, which are different but useful tolearn from an international law point of view.

    Secondly, the legal mechanism of the 1995 Mekong Agreement shows great evolution thatis influenced by this concept. However, some provisions, particularly that concerning water

    1 This paper is prepared before the Johannesburg Summit. All discussions are therefore limited to theinformation up to June 2001.2 Dowdeswell, E., UNEP Water Conference Speech, speech presented at the Ministerial Conference onDrinking Water Supply and Sanitation of the United Nations Environment Programme, Noordwijk, TheNetherlands, 22 March 1994, ECONET, environmental water file, Topic 317, stating that ... Demand hastripled since 1950 and is nine time as great as that of 1900 (demand is expected to double again by 2050),quoted in C. Kukk and D. Deese, At The Waters Edge: Regional Conflict and Cooperation Over FreshWater, 1 UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, (1996), n. 19, 27.3 E.g. the dispute between Hungary and Czech and Slovak Federal Republic on the Gabkovo-NagymarosProject, for the judgement, 37 I.L.M. 162 (1997) or http://www.icj-cij.org/icjwww/idocket/ihs/ihsjudgement/ihs_ijudgment_970925_frame.htm4 Baxter, R., The Law of International Waterways, (1964), 34.5 www.johannesburgsummit.org.

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    conservation are quite problematic. The system of the Rhine river basin, which is one of themost successful rivers in terms of the maintenance and improvement of water quality, isthus taken as a model in order to suggest the better mechansim for the Mekong. The termwater conservation is used here instead of water protecion because the former gives abroader interpretation of activities that protecting the water from the current activities andalso preventing it from possible harm that may occur in the long term future. The termprotection however provides the narrower interpretation because it aims to protect the waterfrom the possible harm that already caused or will be occur in the near future.6

    This paper is thus divided into three parts in order to introduce the proper picture ofinternational watercourses law and the concept of sustainable development, the problemsthat the Mekong river basin are encountering in achieving its sustainability, and the lessonlearnt from the Rhine in attaining the same goal. The first part will explore the developmentof international watercourses law and the influence of the concept of sustainabledevelopment in this area of law. The concept of sustainable development will then bediscussed, particularly its influence and meaning in