NGOs: Portugal and Spain fail to comply with the UN Water Convention on transboundary rivers

Home » News » Rivers and Lakes » Rivers and lakes » NGOs: Portugal and Spain fail to comply with the UN Water Convention on transboundary rivers

14 environmental and civil society organisations have joined forces to urge the Portuguese and Spanish governments to increase their cooperation and elaborate strategies and plans to address the problems of shared river basin management.

Since the signing of the Water Convention of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 1992 and later the Albufeira Convention in 2000, Spain and Portugal have cooperated in the management of the river basins they share. However, the latest data collected by the river basin management plans (RBMPs) recently adopted on both sides of the border show that problems related to water pollution, the loss of aquatic biodiversity and the scarcity of resources have increased as a result of the impact of climate change, but also due to inadequate water management.

The undersigned organisations are of the opinion that the Albufeira Convention, in its current form, is not fit for addressing the existing problems that Spain and Portugal share. Within the framework of the public consultation processes for the review of the RBMPs for the period 2022-2027, these organisations requested the improvement of cross-border cooperation and water management to the competent authorities of both countries.

Given the lack of significant progress, in December 2022 five of these organisations reported the situation to the Committee for the Implementation of the UN Water Convention, noting in particular the ineffective planning of the two countries, the lack of transparency and the difficulties of stakeholders becoming involved in the planning process, as required by the Convention. Since then, there has been an exchange of information between Spain, Portugal and the Committee about water management and the basins they share.

Although it has become clear that Portugal and Spain are in close communication to provide answers to the Implementation Committee, the Committee is not yet satisfied with the answers. In a letter on 14 March 2023, the Implementation Committee concluded that there is no integrated basin-wide management plan for the shared rivers as required by the Convention. An example is that the website of the Albufeira Convention has not been updated since 2020

The Implementation Committee therefore asked the following:

  • Why is there no integrated basin wide planning for each of the shared river basins as a basis for the national RBMPs?
  • Why is there no permanent secretariat for the Albufeira Convention where individuals and organisations can ask questions and get information?
  • Why is there no clarity about the role and responsibilities of the permanent secretariat of the Albufeira Convention?

The Implementation Committee also concluded that there is a lack of options for public participation in the work of the Albufeira Convention.

The two countries sent their responses and again reiterate that there is coordination, but confirmed that transboundary RBMPs are not available and there is no functioning joint secretariat for the Albufeira Convention as was approved by both governments 15 years ago, in 2008.

Furthermore, the flow regime agreed in 2008 under the Albufeira Convention is outdated and does not ensure compliance with the requirements to maintain water flows that support river ecology (ecological flows) as required by the EU Water Framework Directive. This in particular for the lower Guadiana, where a flow regime was never fully established, and where both countries are planning large additional (and currently illegal) water abstractions.

Before the next meeting of the Implementation Committee in December 2023 in which the next steps with Spain and Portugal will be considered, the signatory organisations believe it is necessary to remember that there is an obligation in the Albufeira Convention to review the ecological flow regime of the Guadiana. For this reason, the signatory organisations demand that the water authorities of both countries implement a clear, ambitious and coordinated action plan to fulfil these shared obligations. This could serve as an example of the integrated management to which both countries are committed by the Albufeira Convention.

In 2000 the Portuguese and Spanish governments signed the Albufeira Convention, in which they assumed the obligation to cooperate on the management of the rivers Lima, Minho, Douro, Tejo and Guadiana, that flow from Spain to Portugal. The Convention was revised in 2008.

In addition, the two countries signed the UN International Water Convention, that also requires the two countries to cooperate on these transboundary rivers.

Signatory organisations:

  • Wetlands International Europe
  • WWF España
  • Centro Ibérico de Restauración Fluvial – CIREF
  • ProTejo
  • MovRioDouro
  • ZERO – Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável
  • LPN (Liga para a protecção da natureza)
  • SPEA (Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves)
  • FAPAS (Associação Portuguesa para a conservação da biodiversidade)

For more information:
Ana Catarina Miranda (GEOTA)
Phone: +351 936 930 013
e-mail: [email protected]