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Over the last two decades the international community’s concern for shared water resources has prompted the creation of declarations, treaties, agreements and joint basin organizations in the quest for peaceful cooperation over shared water (Giordano & Wolf, 2003).

There is however, no internationally universally accepted criteria for allocating shared water resources. There are some rules or factors that can be appealed to, or are described from an international law perspective, including Article 5 of the International Law Association’s Helsinki Rules (ILA, 1967) and Article 6 of the 1997 United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN, 1997).

According to the Helsinki Rules, the relevant factors which should be considered when determining reasonable and equitable use of shared watercourses include, but are not limited to:

  • the geography of the basin, including in particular the extent of the drainage area in the territory of each basin state;
  • the hydrology of the basin, including in particular the contribution of water by each basin State;
  • the climate affecting the basin;
  • the past utilization of the waters of the basin, including in particular existing utilization;
  • the economic and social needs of each basin state;
  • the population dependent on the waters of the basin in each basin state;
  • the comparative costs of alternative means of satisfying the economic and social needs of each basin state;
  • the availability of other resources;
  • the avoidance of unnecessary waste in the utilization of waters of the basin;
  • the practicability of compensation to one or more of the co-basin states as a means of adjusting conflicts among uses; and
  • the degree to which the needs of a basin state may be satisfied, without causing substantial injury to a co-basin state (ILA, 1967).

Factors deemed relevant to equitable and reasonable utilization of shared watercourses listed in the Convention on International Watercourses include:

  • geographic, hydrographic, hydrological, climatic, ecological and other factors of a natural character;
  • the social and economic needs of the watercourse states concerned;
  • the population dependent on the watercourse in each watercourse state;
  • the effects of the use or uses of the watercourses in one watercourse state on other watercourse states;
  • existing and potential uses of the watercourse;
  • conservation, protection, development and economy of use of the water resources of the watercourse and the costs of measures taken to that effect; and
  • the availability of alternatives, of comparable value, to a particular planned or existing use (UN, 1997).