No Significant Harm Principle

Closely linked to the rule of equitable and reasonable utilization is the obligation that watercourse States not cause significant harm. While the rule of equitable and reasonable utilization focuses on balancing competing interests, the focus of no significant harm is on the management of risk. Pursuant to Article 7(1) of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention, States must, “take all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm to other watercourse States.” The Convention seeks to harmonize the obligation of no significant harm with that of equitable and reasonable utilization by stating in Article 7(2) that:

“Where significant harm nevertheless is caused to another watercourse State, the States whose use causes such harm shall, in the absence of agreement to such use, take all appropriate measures [...] to eliminate or mitigate such harm and, where appropriate, to discuss the question of compensation.”


Principle of Ecosystem Protection

The increased recognition of the need to protect the environment in the latter half of the twentieth century has been reflected in international watercourses agreements. It is essential that international agreements take into account that ecosystem are not confined to national boarders. The enormous benefits resulting from sound riverine ecosystem and moderate floods can only be preserved if all riparian states are acitvely involved in preservation activities.

For example, the 1992 UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes aims to take all appropriate measures to prevent, control and reduce any transboundary impact. “Transboundary impact” is defined widely by the Convention to include:

“any significant adverse effect on the environment resulting from a change in the conditions of transboundary waters caused by a human activity, the physical origin of which is situated wholly or in part within an area under the jurisdiction of a Party. Such effects of the environment include effects on human health and safety, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, climate, landscape and historical monuments or other physical structures or the interaction among these factors; they also include effects on the cultural heritage or socio-economic conditions resulting from alterations to those factors.”

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Further Information

Environmental Aspects of IFM