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International Waters

Three-quarters of the Earth's surface is covered by water, and 70 percent of the land supports watersheds feeding into rivers, lakes and oceans. Water is a primary and fundamental global resource that is now under enormous stress. Global environmental concerns relating to international waters include degradation of the quality of transboundary water resources, physical habitat degradation of coastal and near-shore marines areas, lakes and watercourses, introduction of nonindigenous species, and excessive exploitation of living and nonliving resources.

International waters constitute a very broad focal area, covered by numerous conventions, treaties, and agreements and are more complex than a single framework convention because of regional differences around the world. Marine agreements are consistent with and operate within the legal framework of the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea which entered into force in November 1994. This Convention includes agreements on regional seas, pollution from land-based sources, wetlands, protected areas and species, fisheries, hazardous substances, biodiversity and climate.

With respect to international freshwater basins (including rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and international groundwater systems), no single binding legal instrument articulates a global consensus on sound use, conservation, and development of the resources. However, a large number of bilateral and multilateral agreements and management authorities exist.

Wherever appropriate, GEF activities in the international waters focal area are coordinated with those in other focal areas. GEF International Waters Operational Programs provide a planning framework for the design, implementation, and coordination of different sets of GEF International water projects that can achieve particular global environmental benefits.

The overall strategic thrust of GEF-funded international waters activities is to:

  • assist groups of countries to better understand the environmental concerns of their international waters and work collaboratively to address them;
  • build the capacity of existing and new institutions to utilize a more comprehensive approach in addressing transboundary water-related environmental concerns;
  • implement measures that address priority transboundary environmental concerns.

The links on the right provide more information on issues related to international waters.

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Useful International Waters Links