Women carry water home from a well in Geles, an Arab village in Darfur where an ecumenical coalition has provided wells and a variety of other services. While the Darfur Emergency Response Operation is focused primarily on responding to the needs of Darfur's internally displaced people, most of them Africans, it also is helping Arab villages, many of them host communities for displaced camps, as a contribution toward reconciliation and peace.


Water law encompasses a diverse array of regulations and principles, reflecting the complex nature of managing this vital resource. Existing legal mechanisms at the international level primarily focus on specific aspects, with a notable emphasis on navigation in international rivers. Some international agreements also tackle non-navigational issues and the equitable sharing of water resources. For instance, the Farakka treaty between India and Bangladesh notably addresses the utilization of the Ganges River waters. 

The UN Watercourses Convention of 1997 plays a crucial role in addressing non-navigational uses of international watercourses, emphasizing fair and rational water resource utilization through agreements among concerned states. Other international treaties indirectly touch upon water-related issues. For example, the UNECE Convention on Impact Assessment and the Desertification Convention addresses broader environmental concerns that intersect with water management. The scope of the Ramsar Convention, specifically targeting wetlands, extends beyond transboundary wetlands to include those entirely within a member state's territory.

Despite these international efforts, the bulk of water governance occurs at the national and local levels. This decentralized approach reflects the diverse challenges that different regions face regarding water management and underscores the need for tailored solutions that fit local contexts while addressing the overarching goal of ensuring sustainable access to clean water for all.

India's water dilemma

India is grappling with one of the most acute water crises globally, driven by rapid population expansion, urban development, industrial growth, and the impacts of climate change. Despite national water policies such as the National Water Policy 2002, India faces severe water scarcity, pollution, and unequal access to clean water. The depletion of groundwater sources, contamination of rivers and lakes, and inadequate sanitation infrastructure pose significant health risks and environmental concerns. Indias water problems exacerbate socio-economic inequalities, amplifying the challenges faced by marginalized communities. Addressing these multifaceted challenges demands comprehensive strategies that integrate water management with broader development objectives.

Central African Republic: water crisis amid conflict

The Central African Republic grapples with a severe water crisis exacerbated by ongoing conflicts and instability. Infrastructure destruction, deliberate contamination of water sources, and mass displacement of populations have left millions without access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. The lack of basic infrastructure and governance systems further compounds these challenges, hindering efforts to address water-related issues and promote sustainable development. To address these challenges, urgent action is needed to rebuild infrastructure, strengthen institutions, and promote peace and stability in conflict-affected areas.

Lebanon: escalating poverty and water scarcity

According to UNICEF, more than 71% of the population in Lebanon faced critical water shortages in 2021. The situation has worsened due to ongoing drought in the Middle East, Lebanon's economic crisis, and poorly managed water systems. Soaring prices have made water an increasingly scarce commodity, with the cost of bottled water skyrocketing from 1,000 to 8,000 Lebanese pounds per gallon. The most vulnerable, including large refugee communities, bear the brunt of this crisis, lacking reliable access to essential sanitation services.

Switzerland, a model for water management?

In stark contrast to the challenges described above, Switzerland is known as the water tower” of Europe, with abundant water resources and pristine lakes and rivers. Switzerland has implemented robust water policies, including the Waters Protection Act and the Federal Act on Agriculture, which prioritize the preservation of water quality and promote sustainable agricultural practices. 

Yet despite its successes, even Switzerland—like other wealthy and water-rich countries—grapples with water issues, particularly with the effects of climate change and with pollution stemming from agriculture, affecting both groundwater and surface water quality. 

Collective action is imperative

Collective action is imperative to achieve universal access to clean and safe water. By fostering partnerships and sharing knowledge, nations can learn from each other's successes and challenges in addressing pressing issues like water scarcity, pollution, and the impacts of climate change. This collaborative approach allows for the pooling of resources, expertise, and innovative solutions to tackle complex water-related problems effectively. 

Initiatives such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals serve as a vital framework for coordinating global action and cooperation on water and sanitation issues. Through these shared goals, countries and organizations can align their efforts towards achieving sustainable outcomes for water management and access.

However, collective action extends beyond governmental and intergovernmental cooperation. Civil society, including religious institutions like the World Council of Churches, plays a crucial role in advocating for water justice and promoting responsible stewardship of this finite resource. The World Council of Churches, for example, has been instrumental in raising awareness about water as a fundamental human right and a divine gift through its Ecumenical Water Network. It encourages churches and their partners to advocate for equitable and sustainable water practices that prioritize the needs of all people and future generations.

Unlike the issue of climate change which has an intergovernmental framework called the UNFCCC under which the COP mechanism operates, the water sector has many programs and offices looking into various aspects of water management and governance, such as the UNHCR, UNESCO Water Assessment Programme, UN Water, etc. Unfortunately they do not interact with each other and there is no overseeing intergovernmental body on water. Taking advantage of this gap, corporate-driven private entities such as the World Water Council continue to hijack issues related to water.

The so-called World Water Forum organized by the World Water Council every three years largely excludes civil society and grassroots water justice movements. This injustice in water governance needs to be addressed, ideally by establishing an intergovernmental mechanism for equitable water governance under the umbrella of the United Nations. In the meantime, the World Council of Churches supports the People's Water Forum” that brings together water justice movements from around the world to challenge the corporate power of water at the World Water Forum.

In essence, collective stewardship and responsible management are essential to safeguarding water resources for the wellbeing of present and future generations. By working together across sectors and borders, we can ensure that clean and safe water remains accessible to all, in harmony with the principles of justice, equity, and sustainability.

About the author :

Maseera Khan is a fourth-year law student from India, a talented content creator and certified digital marketer. She is currently completing a 3 months internship with the WCC Ecumenical Water Network, sponsored by the Keeling Curve Prize, USA.

Maike Gorsboth is a former coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Water Network. She currently works as a freelance researcher and author on water, human rights, and development, and serves as managing editor of the WCC EWN's newsletter "Together for Water".


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.