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The Coming Water Crisis: A Common Concern of Humankind

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2012

Edith Brown Weiss*
Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, United States. Email:


This essay argues that fresh water, its availability and use, should now be recognized as ‘a common concern of humankind’, much as climate change was recognized as a ‘common concern of humankind’ in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and conservation of biodiversity was recognized as a ‘common concern of humankind’ in the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. This would respond to the many linkages between what happens in one area with the demand for and the supply of fresh water in other areas. It would take into account the scientific characteristics of the hydrological cycle, address the growing commodification of water in the form of transboundary water markets and virtual water transfers through food production and trade, and respect the efforts to identify a human right to water.

Invited Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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26 N. 1 above.

27 N. 2 above.

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29 Montego Bay (Jamaica), 10 Dec. 1982, in force 16 Nov. 1994, available at: Art. 136 states: ‘The Area and its resources are common heritage of mankind.’

30 N. 8 above.

31 UNEP, Report of Meeting of Group of Legal Experts to Examine the Concept of the ‘Common Concern of Mankind in Relation to Global Environmental Issues’, 20–22 Mar. 1991, available at:

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36 Agreement on Agriculture and Agreement on Countervailing Measures, 15 April 1994, available at: