Research Handbook on International Water Law
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Research Handbook on International Water Law

Edited by Stephen C. McCaffrey, Christina Leb and Riley T. Denoon

The Research Handbook on International Water Law surveys the field of the law of shared freshwater resources. In some thirty chapters, it covers subjects ranging from the general principles operative in the field and international groundwater law to the human right to water and whether international water law is prepared to cope with climate disruption. The authors are internationally recognized experts in the field, most with years of experience. The Research Handbook is edited by three scholars and practitioners whose publications and work deal with the law of international watercourses.
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Chapter 21: West African approaches to international water law and treaty practice

Makane Moïse Mbengue and Nwamaka Odili


In West African, transboundary water governance has been progressive spanning from the colonial instruments to the post-colonial regimes adopted before 1990 and the post-1990 instruments following adoption of the UNECE Water Convention and the UN Watercourses Convention. Shared watercourse agreement in the region began in the 19th century with the 1885 General Act of Berlin applicable inter alia to River Niger. Since then, more agreements and treaties have been contracted for the management of some of the region’s shared watercourses particularly in the post-colonial era. Although only six of the region’s 25 shared watercourses are governed by legal instruments, West Africa has contributed to the world regime on regulation of shared watercourses. The initial instruments were primarily for access to the river for navigation and commerce; later treaties addressed the need for co-operation and building of institutions but very recent ones codify the universal principles of customary international water. Some of the instruments also reflect emerging substantive principles like common works, public participation, requirement of minimum stream flow and human right to water. The quality of transboundary water regimes in the region has improved over time particularly with influence of the UN Watercourses Convention and the UNECE Water Convention. However for sustainability of transboundary water management in West Africa, the need to address problem of non-regulation of its 19 shared watercourses cannot be overemphasised.

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