Almost seven thousand miles away from the beautiful waters of Biscayne Bay flows the Kura River. For Miami’s locals and the thousands of visitors who enjoy the Bay’s waters, the Kura River may not have much meaning. But, for the people, environment and future of the South Caucasus mountain region – which includes Turkey, Georgia, Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan – the Kura is one of the largest and most important sources of freshwater.
Today, the Kura River is at the center of an international effort to ensure that transboundary rivers are managed cooperatively. For most of the last century the river was governed by treaties between the USSR and Turkey, and the USSR and Iran. When the USSR fell in 1991, the Kura became an international watercourse between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Since then it has not been managed by a bilateral or multilateral treaty.
As a scholar in international water law, Ryan Stoa, who serves as deputy director of the Global Water for Sustainability (GLOWS) program and is also a fellow in Water Law and Policy at FIU Law, was invited to Georgia to review a draft treaty between Georgia and Azerbaijan that would provide a framework for cooperation over the Kura river basin. Stoa was asked to provide his expertise to Georgian ministries and organizations involved in the negotiations.
At the table were the Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Agriculture, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with participation from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“Like many tranbsoundary watercourses, there are a multitude of stakeholders and interested parties in the Kura River basin,” Stoa shared. “The challenge is to create an agreement that provides benefits to all stakeholders and can act as a mechanism for further collaboration.”
During Stoa’s visit, he discussed outstanding issues, the state of international water law, and the rights and duties that are imposed by the draft treaty.
“The agreement as it stands provides a workable mechanism for Georgia and Azerbaijan to cooperatively manage the river basin. After meeting with the various ministries and reviewing the draft agreement I’m confident the agreement provides tangible benefits to Georgia and the region. The next step is to build enough legal awareness and political capital that the political actors involved can seal the deal,” Stoa commented.