The Volta Convention: An Effective Tool for Transboundary Water Resource Management in an Era of Impending Climate Change and Devastating Natural Disasters?

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

The Volta Basin is a West African watercourse encompassing six riparian states, some of the most impoverished nations in the world. The basin region has recently been plagued with devastating parasitic diseases, floods, droughts, and water shortages. As the global temperature begins to shift, the rainy seasons in the basin have become more sporadic and intense, leading to both flooding and droughts. Recent deluges have spurred conflicts between states, springing from accusations of dam letting without prior notification. The inundations left thousands homeless and destroyed thousands of hectares of farmland. These extreme weather events are projected to increase in occurrence and severity due to climate change, which will also cause sea level rises, elevated regional temperatures, and decreased annual rainfall. The cumulative effect of these imminent environmental stressors will likely cause extreme water stress, food shortages, economic duress, and, ultimately, transboundary conflict between the riparian states relating to shared water resources. In the face of impending climate change disasters and water shortages, the basin states must take swift and immediate action to avoid their continued status as perpetual victims.

Transboundary water resource management has been nonexistent within the basin until recently. In 2007, the Volta Basin states signed and subsequently ratified a convention, the purpose of which is to promote social and economic growth within the region and to effectively manage the Volta River and its tributaries. This instrument was the first and most important step in creating a cooperative effort for the basin's water resource management. Unfortunately, the treaty is severely lacking in many of its substantive and procedural obligations. If these states take swift and immediate action within their transboundary water management program created by the new treaty, the basin states may prevail in protecting their populations and sovereign interests from the impending dangers of the changing climate.

This paper will begin in Part II with a physical description of the Volta Basin, including the tributaries of the watercourse and their relation to the riparian states of the basin. Part III will examine the historical uses of the basin's water, beginning with the pre-colonial and colonial eras, followed by post-colonial and modern uses. This section will include a detailed discussion of the various social, economic, and other pertinent obstacles caused by water issues that affect the riparian states, particularly those related to climate change. An analysis of the development of the international legal regime relating to the watercourse will follow in Part IV. Part B of this section will specifically treat the recently ratified Volta Convention and analyze its strengths and shortcomings in comparison to the United Nations' Convention on the Law of Non-Navigable Uses of International Watercourses. Then, Part V will argue that the Volta Convention's current obligations are insufficient to combat the impending natural disasters associated with global climate change. Finally, Part V concludes that the Volta Convention has the opportunity to be an effective tool for transboundary water resource management to protect the basin state populations from the dangers of climate change, only if substantial changes are made to the treaty.

II. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE WATERCOURSE AND BASIN STATES

The Volta River Basin is the ninth largest basin in Africa, covering over 400,000 [km.sup.2], an extremely sizeable basin when considering that the category for "large" basins begins at 10,000 [km.sup.2]. (1) Six riparian countries share the Volta Basin in West Africa: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Mali, and Cote d'Ivoire. (2) Burkina Faso and Ghana occupy a majority of the basin, 43 percent and 42 percent respectively. (3) The 15 percent remainder rests within the four remaining riparian states, of which Togo occupies 6 percent, Benin 4 percent, Mali 3 percent, and Cote d'Ivoire 2 percent. …