1st Edition

International Water Law and the Human Right to Water The Case of Transboundary Aquifers

By Imad Antoine Ibrahim Copyright 2025
    240 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book examines the development of international law applicable to Transboundary Aquifers (TBAs) considering the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (HRWS). The purpose is to determine how International Water Law (IWL) and the HRWS can be harmonized in the context of TBAs. This is important given rules and instruments adopted to address this topic are relatively nascent, and the field itself is still in the process of developing regulatory frameworks. Taking the application of the HRWS to shared aquifers as a case study, the work discusses whether IWL and International Human Rights Law complement each other. The response to this question requires an analysis of the development of International Groundwater Law (IGL) and its challenges, the evolution of the HRWS, the nature of transboundary groundwaters, and the interplay between these two fields. The study argues that IWL agreements should contain a provision related to the HRWS to ensure the protection of this right with a stipulation included in the nonbinding instrument that tackles shared groundwaters: the Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers adopted in 2008 through the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution. The book will be of interest to international lawyers, water and human right experts, geologists and anyone interested in water and human rights issues.


    Imad Antoine Ibrahim is an Assistant Professor in Environmental Law & Governance at the Department of Governance and Technology for Sustainability at the University of Twente, the Netherlands. He is a Senior Research Associate at gLAWcal – Global Law Initiative for Sustainable Development, Essex, United Kingdom and a Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Center for Innovation in Gas Research and Utilization (CIGRU) & Institute of Water Security and Science (IWSS), West Virginia University, United States. Dr. Ibrahim is an Independent Expert Member of the Intergovernmental Working Group on Drought under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

    'Groundwater, and especially transboundary aquifers, are fundamental sources of freshwater for billions of people worldwide. Yet, little has been written on how international law for these critical resources intersects with the human right to water and sanitation. This timely book masterfully fills this gaping void in the literature with in-depth analyses and explanations that will be welcomed by legal, policy, and science professionals, as well as students, practitioners, and policy makers, working in these fields.'

    Gabriel Eckstein, Professor of Law and Director of the Energy, Environmental, and Natural Resource Systems Law Program, Texas A&M University, United States

    'This book represents truly excellent research. It is intellectually ambitious, highly relevant with potential for significant practical impact, and exhaustive in its execution. The author’s ambition lies in the fact that he seeks to address a range of important, yet difficult legal issues through the narrow lens of international groundwater resources law.  Such issues include the complex interrelationship between the established corpus of international water law and the emerging human rights of access to water and sanitation, an area quite under-explored in academic literature. It also, addresses other critical issues, including that of the risk of ‘fragmentation’ and resulting incoherence in international (water) law.  The author very ably tackles further difficult issues, including that of the extra-territorial application of human rights obligations.  Above all else, however, this book stands out for the depth and intensity of the author’s analysis of the quite particular field of international law relating to transboundary groundwater and aquifers.'

    Owen McIntyre, Full Professor at the School of Law, University College Cork, Ireland

    'Groundwater is fundamental for life on earth, it provides more than half of all drinking water worldwide Groundwater plays a fundamental role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, beyond the water goal only. It is also critical to realize the human right to water and sanitation. Most of the available groundwater flows under the territory of two or more States, representing an important shared resource. Ibrahim’s book represents an important and comprehensive contribution to the existing literature on the international law regarding transboundary aquifers. Ibrahim adds a novel approach by searching not only international water law, but also the human right to water and sanitation. The book presents a scrupulous and detailed research and a critical analysis of the legal frameworks at stake. It is highly recommended for all experts have an interest in improving their understanding of the laws relating to transboundary aquifers.'

    Raya Marina Stephan, Water law expert, Consultant/ Deputy Editor in Chief Water International, International Water Resources Association

    'The new book addressees a crucial topic for the future of our planet. Focusing on how International Water Law and the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation can be harmonized in the context of transboundary aquifers, this book is a must read for all scholars and practitioners working at the intersection of these two areas of international law. The argument that agreements or arrangements on transboundary aquifers should include provisions on human rights has to be welcomed as an innovative approach that must be considered by States in their negotiations processes.'

    Mara Tignino, Reader at the Faculty of Law of the University of Geneva and Lead Legal Specialist of the Platform for International Water Law at the Geneva Water Hub, Geneva, Switzerland

    'The research and conclusions in this book speak to the importance of multilateralism, international law and international cooperation for the sustainable management of our finite land and water resources, as well as of the imperative to put people, and their rights, front and center of any debate or decision. Its voyage through history to explain concepts and agreements, as well as its  clear conclusions on the importance of reconciling International Water Law and the Human Right to Water and Sanitation when addressing challenges related to the access to transboundary waters worldwide, are essential contributions to the global conversations on how to truly transition towards a sustainable future for people and planet.'

    Miriam Medel Garcia, Chief of Global Policy Advocacy and Regional Cooperation, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Secretariat

    'This is a terrific book, a must-read for experts in water law and public international law. An enriching and well-structured volume that develops sounds and interdisciplinary research.'

    Giuseppe Martinico, Full Professor of Comparative Public law at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Pisa, Italy