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Governing water

UN partner NGO WaterLex and White & Case map the legal frameworks governing water use.

It remains to be seen just how the international community will make the UN Sustainable Development Goals a reality, but one thing seems clear: Success will have a great deal to do with water. A 2016 UN report plainly stresses that water and sanitation are at the very core of sustainable development. This centrality is reflected by the sixth UN Sustainable Development Goal: to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. According to the UN, the goal "not only addresses issues related to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, but also the quality and sustainability of water resources worldwide."

Reforming water governance will be critical to achieving such sustainability. According to the Water Governance Facility, a partnership between the UN Development Program and Stockholm International Water Institute, "Water governance refers to the political, social, economic and administrative systems in place that influence water's use and management. Essentially, who gets what water, when and how, and who has the right to water and related services, and their benefits."

A 2016 UN report plainly stresses that water and sanitation are at the very core of sustainable development.

Water governance is an especially pressing issue given increasing water scarcity; by 2050, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, water demand is expected to increase by 55 percent, owing mostly to manufacturing, thermal generators and domestic use.

White & Case recently provided pro bono assistance to an NGO that is front and center in the UN's efforts to optimize global water governance. WaterLex was founded in 2010, just before the UN recognized water as a human right; it now serves as an official UN water partner. The organization works to promote sustainable governance worldwide, pushing for greater international cooperation, with a particular eye to the many human rights issues that come into play.

Research is a key component of the organization's various initiatives; before intervening in any country to propose and implement improved governance mechanisms, WaterLex undertakes in-depth assessments that it calls "Country Water Governance Mappings." These mappings, which are often conducted in tandem with expert partner organizations, comprise exhaustive reviews of current national legal frameworks, and allow WaterLex to pinpoint weaknesses in existing systems. Once these mappings are completed, WaterLex can carry out field studies to assess the feasibility of proposed solutions.

Our lawyers have undertaken a series of governance mappings for WaterLex. In the first phase, nearly 50 lawyers across ten White & Case offices researched existing water legislation in five countries. Partner Someera Khokhar and associate Daniel Moon in New York have spearheaded the research. "Water," Someera says, "is one of the planet's most finite and exploited resources. Understanding the current legal frameworks, and working closely with organizations like WaterLex to develop those frameworks to both sustain and provide fair access to this resource, is critical. We are privileged to be involved in the global leadership of protecting this resource."

"There isn't a precedent for carrying out exhaustive research on water frameworks," Daniel says. "Putting our knowledge and skills into practice to arm this important NGO with actionable insights has been a tremendous opportunity."


01 | No Poverty

02 | Zero Hunger

03 | Good Health and Well-Being

06 | Clean Water and Sanitation

07 | Affordable and Clean Energy

09 | Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

11 | Sustainable Cities and Communities

12 | Responsible Consumption and Production

13 | Climate Action

14 | Life Below Water

15 | Life on Land

16 | Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

17 | Partnerships for the Goals


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