Principle of Equitable and Reasonable Use

This principle is the primary substantive rule of international law in this field. Article 5(1) of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention provides that “Watercourse States shall in their respective territories utilize an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner.” The application of the rule of equitable and reasonable utilization is particularly relevant where the quality and quantity of water in an international watercourse is insufficient to satisfy the needs of all States sharing the watercourse. The ultimate goal in implementing equitable criteria is to ensure the maximum benefit to each of the State sharing the basin from the uses of the waters with the minimum detriment to others.

Determining what is equitable in such a situation involves a balancing of various relevant factors and circumstances including the following:

  • Geographic, climatologic, hydrologic, ecologic and other factors of a natural character
  • The social and economic needs of the watercourse States concerned
  • The population dependent on the resources of the watercourse for their survival, livelihood and well-being in each of the State sharing the watercourse

  • The effects of the use or uses of the watercourse in one watercourse State on other watercourse States
  • Existing and potential uses of the watercourse
  • Conservation, protection, development and economy of use of the water resources of the watercourse and the costs of measures taken to the effect
  • The availability of alternatives, of comparable value, to a particular planned or existing use.

The weightage to each factor is determined by its relative importance in comparison with that of other relevant factors and is the issue for negotiations among the States.

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