Apologies for my previous question, it might have been built on a wrong belief, which I hope will be clarified by answers to this question.

Few years ago, when the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia started about the utilisation of the Nile river, I remember hearing/reading something that there is an international law that says something along these lines:

"When a river is located in more than one country, but only one/some of them using it, if no other country utilises it for X number of years, then the river will be owned by those of which have been using it for these years"

So I searched for what could support or oppose that, with no luck. Now I feel that either there is no such law about ownership of rivers that are located in multiple countries, or maybe me or whoever said that misinterpreted an exited law that doesn't exactly say that.

By countries owning the river I mean no other country can use the river's water in a way that would affect those countries without their agreement.

  • Try the proposed "law" with any country that is stronger than yours (stronger military, stronger allies, ...) and see how far that gets you. You'd be more likely to lose territory than gain a river.
    – Roland
    Jul 16, 2020 at 14:45
  • Also, what do you mean by "own"? Are you referring to territory or to water rights?
    – Roland
    Jul 16, 2020 at 14:45
  • @Roland, added what I meant by owning.
    – Mocas
    Jul 16, 2020 at 15:18
  • Israel and Jordan, IIRC, have squabbled back and forth about very similar matters to Egypt and Ethiopia. There's probably a fair bit of information to be had by looking at coverage of that issue. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Water_Carrier_of_Israel Jul 16, 2020 at 20:45

1 Answer 1


I think you are mixing several issues here.

  • If an international border runs through/along a river, where is it? Is somebody on the river in both countries at once?
    When one country owns one bank of the river, and another country owns the other bank, it is common to set the border at the deepest channel (Thalweg principle). But specific cases can depart from this common use (see the Ems dispute between Germany and the Netherlands, where the German view rests on medieval fiefs).
  • If a river crosses an international border, what about water rights?
    For such rivers there is the Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. One could read the convention as giving weight the status quo distribution of water in the face of any planned change, but it does not exclude such changes. In fact much of the text is about making changes to the use of waterways.

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