Water is at the core of sustainable development. It is critical for human needs, for socio-economic development, and healthy ecosystems. Groundwater represents the largest available source of freshwater on earth, and a lot of it is locked up in transboundary aquifers spanning the territories of two or more States. Transboundary aquifers represent a key component for reaching the objectives set in various international agendas in which freshwater is a key element. The Sustainable Development Goals include a specific goal related to water, and a target about reaching transboundary cooperation. However transboundary aquifers and their management remain critical for achieving the other targets (access to safe drinking water for all, safeguarding water quality, increasing water-use efficiency, ensuring sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater in water scarce regions, and protect ecosystems). This dependency increases the need for an established cooperation among the riparian States, ensuring a sound management of this resource. Furthermore, water, and moreover groundwater, represents a transversal element for achieving other goals such as ending poverty, reaching food security, healthy lives, sustaining ecosystems and others.
Transboundary aquifers need to be managed like any (national-level aquifer), but it requires joint approaches, and greater degree of collaboration on a regular basis. The principles applied and procedures need to be agreed and aligned with international best practice, guided by international water law, and practiced according to specific cooperation agreements on the particular aquifer. Management tasks involve monitoring groundwater resources (water quantity and quality) and water uses, monitoring land uses, and waste management, sharing data, analyzing trends and risks to the resources, supporting and informing participatory management initiatives and practices at local level, and feeding information to relevant national and transboundary/international level entities.
The first map of transboundary aquifers of the world was released in 2009. In 2015, there were officially 592 identified transboundary aquifers around the world, and that number has been increasing as new data and research takes place worldwide. The challenge, however, remains the assessment of those underground resources as the basis for the ultimate purpose: the shared management and benefits of transboundary groundwater resources. Only a handful of agreements of shared groundwater resources have been recorded, but additional efforts driven at national/formal level and at local and regional scales are currently taking place and paving the road towards this objective. This topic will highlight recent developments on the delineation and assessment of transboundary aquifers around the world and how these new efforts can provide innovative methods and practices that can be useful and applicable to other transboundary regions in the world.
Cooperation among the concerned countries is critical to the sustainable, long-term management and shared benefits of transboundary aquifers and to effective governance arrangements. Against the backdrop of a handful of known formal arrangements on record for the governance of transboundary aquifers, and of the apparent desirability to expand and strengthen cooperation, the available record will be explored, including the available legal frameworks at the global and aquifer-specific level. Lessons and pointers will also be drawn aimed at informing more arrangements to come on stream for the effective governance of transboundary aquifers, resting on strengthened cooperation among the concerned countries and on robust legal frameworks.
A critical mass of knowledge brokers is required to support the development of educational initiatives on transboundary water cooperation and develop sustainable practice and guidance tools on shared water resources management, negotiations and governance. The educational initiatives that have taken place throughout the last decade have provided critical information about the transboundary aquifers to Member States and their management. The awareness raised has resulted in cooperative mechanisms and many constructive dialogues between scientists and decision-makers for transboundary aquifer management. This topic highlights education, capacity development and awareness raising activities and the need for continuing supporting programmers that are advancing knowledge and knowledge sharing around transboundary aquifers.