Economics and the equitable utilization of transboundary freshwater


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Equitable utilization is the fundamental rule of international water law. It is the doctrine responsible for the fair allocation of international waters as between different water uses and users. Equitable utilization is a process whereby the interests of each watercourse state are taken into consideration on a case-by-case basis over time and as circumstances change. The process occurs through political negotiations, with an equitable outcome as the goal. However, the debilitated state of many transbouhdary watercourses today indicates that equitable utilization - despite its admirable goals - is failing to resolve the tragedy of the global freshwater commons. With growing demands on water resources due to increasing world population, economic industrialization and increasing awareness of the need for environmental conservation, water management is an issue that will only become more pressing. Watercourses that flow between two or more states face additional challenges in that the water resources must be shared between them. The central question of this thesis is whether greater use of economics would help the equitable utilization paradigm lead to higher standards of water management between upstream and downstream states. The benefits of the economic approach include optimal efficiency of water use, political feasibility in water negotiations, and flexibility across time and regions. Although there are technical, distributive, and moral limitations to the use of economic principles, they can be sufficiently addressed such that the economic approach ought to be a central part of the solution to the problem of global water scarcity. Greater use of economic incentives needs to be made within equitable utilization regimes. Sensible ' pricing of water is imperative. Markets for water, however, are not yet a feasible option because they require well-defined, secure, and enforceable property rights in water, all of which are difficult to achieve at the international level.


Water resources development -- International cooperation; Water resources development -- Economic aspects; Water rights -- (International law)

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