Reaz Rahman


Today, three factors relating to fresh water sources are universally recognized: first, fresh water is a finite and shrinking resource, essential to sustain life, development, and the environment; second, the effective development and management of fresh water resources requires the participation and cooperation of all users, planners, and policy makers; and third, fresh water has an economic value in all its compelling uses and should, therefore, be recognized as an economic good. More than two decades ago, recognizing that many nations share international watercourses, members of the international community felt that an agreement was needed to codify the rules regulating international watercourses, to minimize environmental damage, and to ensure each state an equitable share in the use of such watercourses. The international community also recognized that because any such international agreement would require the harmonization of a variety of concepts, principles, and interests, and would involve addressing a host of political, legal, economic, and geographic factors implicating vital state interests, an umbrella agreement for regulating international watercourses was needed. The international community envisaged that such an umbrella agreement would set out general rules applicable to all international watercourses and would be complimented by other, more specific, local agreements. The duty to cooperate and notify other riparian states about planned measures for shared watercourses and the obligation not to cause significant harm to other states' watercourses were among the cornerstone articles of customary law for the envisaged umbrella agreement. Bangladesh has always attached paramount importance to the evolution and elaboration of universal rules of law that regulate international watercourses through comprehensive national, regional, and global regimes. This essay traces the international community's progress over the last quarter century towards establishing an umbrella agreement and analyzes the resulting implications for countries such as Bangladesh.