There are 54 enlisted or agreed trans-boundary rivers shared by India and Bangladesh, though the actual number is far more than that. Riverine People has tallied more than hundred rivers which cross the border between India and Bangladesh. Some of them are originated from even far upper riparian countries like Nepal, Bhutan and China. But we have only two treaties and agreements for two trans-boundary rivers; for Ganges River and Feni River. Both the treaties are bilateral and preceded by decades long negotiation. The water flow and health of the residual trans-boundary rivers is dependent on the goodwill of the upper riparian countries- India, Nepal, Bhutan and China. Here comes the importance of an international legal instrument, especially for the lower riparian countries like Bangladesh.
Given this background, we, Riverine People, the national civil society organization dedicated to river, water and wetlands, is proposing and observing River Rights Day, with fellow river and environment movements since 2015. River Rights Day is linked to The Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. The international treaty was adopted by the United Nations on 21st May of 1997. It is commonly known as the UN Watercourses Convention 1997. The convention is regarded as an important legal instrument for international watercourses.
For our understanding, this convention upholds the rights of the lower riparian countries with perfect safeguards. It stands for the no-harm principle and equitable share of water resources among international watercourses countries, which we had been advocating for long. Most importantly it requires the member states to take steps to control damages due to any of ‘development’ works. This document preserved some unique provisions for dispute settlement as well.
Despite all the potentials for cooperation among common river countries, the future of the convention was dimmed. More than hundred member states including Bangladesh voted for it in the UN General Assembly, with sponsorship of 38 governments. But it took 17 years to come into force after Vietnam ratified it as the 35th state on 19th of May, 2014.
Though Bangladesh voted for the convention in 1997 the ratification process never proceeded for unknown reasons. We have been urging the government to take up the unfinished agenda for years. Now we are trying to build public opinion explaining the convention and its potential. Considering this background Riverine People have proposed, declared and have been observing 17th August, the date of the convention’s entering into force, as the River Rights Day. We are hopeful that marking the day will help create public opinion in favor of the rivers.