Surface and ground water systems such as rivers, aquifers and lakes in developing countries often cross national borders, which require coordinated approaches to manage the economically very precious waters. As a result, conflict over shared water resources in politically and economically asymmetrically shaped world regions such as the Nile or the Mekong basin may occur if states do not cooperate over water use and allocation. Transboundary water management is an instrument in development that seeks to induce cooperation between states over shared water systems.
Water on this planet is unevenly distributed and does not flow within national borders. Political economies that share transboundary water systems have in many cases developed differently in the past few decades. As a result of population growth and climate change, the role of greater cooperation between riparians has gained increased importance in development.
Cooperation discourses are a classic vehicle within the field of international relations to provide the theoretical foundations for more effective and efficient joint water use of riparians. Rather than the self-interest of nation-states, the focus is placed on common interests and needs shared by states (but also by non-state actors) in a process of global and regional integration. This focus has been triggered by the erosion of state sovereignty and the increasing weight of knowledge, and hence of scientists and experts, in the process of policy-making. Cooperation occurs “when actors adjust their behavior to the actual or anticipated preferences of others, through a process of policy coordination.”
Components of cooperation include goal-oriented behavior of riparians and mutual gains for riparians. The management of transboundary waters marks one of the greatest challenges in development cooperation in the 21st century; i.e. the urgency to increase mutual benefits of riparians in order to avoid conflict over water resources. Due to political and economic power disparities between riparians, international water law is not yet fully developed nor adopted to regulate flows. Development agencies assist riparians with organisational development by providing transparent data, independent knowledge and protocols to decision-makers in often highly politicized and securitized environments. In addition, financial support is provided to improve transboundary institutions that are given the task to negotiate and manage transboundary water resources.
GIZ provides technical and methodological advisory services to institutions such as river basin commissions that have received the mandate by member states of a shared watershed to manage and allocate water resources to the member states. By defining focal points for collaboration, the working relations amongst member states on water-related topics are sought to be improved. Through workshops organized by German Development Cooperation, the organisational framework is discussed and revised to enable more effective and efficient water resource management, to facilitate human resource development (capacity development) and to establish trust and exchange of experience between the practitioners working in the catchment area. With other development partners, information support systems are being developed and implemented to allow all riparians transparent access to data on water flow and allocation. Moreover, the principles of integrated water resource management (IWRM) are being anchored in the advisory services to regional and national decision-making bodies to introduce river-basin wide policies, principles and guidelines. 
Good practice examples
“Lake Chad is the only major source of surface freshwater in the Sahel zone. Currently it has a surface area of about 3,000 square kilometres. In 1967 the area was still 25,000 square kilometres. Its maximum depth is around four metres. In the last 40 years, the lake has lost almost 90% of its original surface area. It is fed by several major rivers, which together account for a catchment area of about one million square kilometres; the lake in turn replenishes important aquifers in the now dry centre of the basin. More than 20 million people today live in the Chad Lake Basin, most of them farmers and herders.”
To protect the shared water resources, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) was founded in 1964. The founding members were the four states bordering the lake: Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. In 1985 the Central African Republic, from which most of the surface water originates, joined the Commission. Since 2005, LCBC has been advised by German Development Cooperation on how internal organisational structures, management and human resources deployment can be improved. Within the scope of workshops and qualification measures, specific procedures are developed for handling the exchange of information and cooperation with representatives of partner organisations at national level. With the participation of Focal Points in member states, information systems are also being developed that are to facilitate decision-making processes and information management procedures. In member states, a network of experts in the field of water resources management is being established. Together with the German Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), the LCBC is strengthened so that it is able to coordinate the exchange of water resources data between the member states, integrate them in a management system and elaborate water resources strategies of sustainable character.
The initial results of the upscaling of capacity in LCBC and improved data availability show promising trends of better use of water and a stabilization of the ecosystem in the Lake Chad basin.
The water-poor states of Botswana and Namibia have significantly insufficient water balances with in Africa. Two river basins that play a key part in the SADC region, the Limpopo and the Orange-Senqu, deliver water to the economic giants in the region, i.e. Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The available water resources of these river basins are, however, almost completely exhausted despite 27 million people’s livelihoods dependent on these water resources.
The programme of German Development Cooperation aims to develop capacities and resources that will enable SADC’s shared water resources to be successfully managed. This involves measures at various levels of intervention.
At regional level, the project is supporting the SADC Water Division to plan and coordinate the activities of member states and donors providing support. The functions and capacities of the SADC are being developed with the help of organisational development measures. At the level of the river basins, river basin organisations such as the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) and the Limpopo Water Course Commission (LIMCOM) are being provided support to undertake measures designed to help with the realization of the SADC’s water agenda. This includes IWRM principles, and the provision and implementation of knowledge and information management systems. At the local level, the programme supports the establishment of transboundary water infrastructure and reliable water supply systems. For instance, the Kunene Project was implemented along the Angolan-Namibian border by SADC and serves to ensure a transboundary water supply system, as well as establish a water utility in Cunene Province in Southern Angola. German Development Cooperation is providing the infrastructure required, developing technical and institutional capacities, and upgrading specialist staff and technicians. Since mid-2006 Germany has also been coordinating the activities of international donors in the SADC water sector. The most important objectives are to strengthen the exchange of knowledge and information among all participants, and to network the latter on a cooperative basis.
One result of the project is the establishment of the Secretariat of the ORASECOM and the LIMCOM, which has enhanced regional economic and political integration. SADC’s capacities have been significantly strengthened since the programme was initiated in 2005.
Mekong River Basin
The Mekong, with its 5000km length, is one of the largest rivers in the world. It flows through six countries: China, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The ecosystem of the Mekong River basin is amongst the most diverse in the world, with a vast amount of plants and animal species being located in the basin. However, increased demand for water resources for hydropower and environmental degradation through a large forestry industry threaten future development. Forest cover was reduced from 95% in the 1950s to 50% in the 1990s as a result of agricultural expansion. Four riparian countries have established the Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB) in 1995. Its objective is to jointly govern the watershed that affects four countries in the lower basin: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam. LMB seeks to deliver economic, social and environmental well-being to all four riparian countries. The three principles that are applied are economic prosperity, social well-being and environmental sustainability; these three foci are also defined by the riparians as major objectives for future watershed development in the region. The construction of large-scale dams to provide energy to the region plays a significant role in the economic development plans of regional governments. In fact, the Mekong basin is one of the most active regions for hydropower development. As hydropower development can alter or even reduce hydrological flows, such interventions may negatively impact riverine ecology, soil fertility and fish abundance. Discharges are often insufficient to meet downstream water needs for irrigation and human consumption, which may in turn even trigger conflict over water resources. Thus, future water requirements will put immense pressures on the Mekong’s water availability and steady flow, which could then impact rapidly growing urban areas, economic development and food security.
By applying top-down IWRM principles together with bottom-up watershed management, the Mekong River Basin Commission seeks to implement a process that coordinates water resource management on all scales, from the local to the national to the supranational level. The four LMB countries made a commitment to IWRM in 2002, which has translated into significant changes in water resources management. All water policies of the four riparian countries have developed clear water-related policies and strategies, as well as institutional and regulatory frameworks to support these policies. By promoting the crucial interplay between stakeholder dialogue and cross-sectoral dialogue, the LMB has created an enabling and responsive environment that integrates water resource development in a coordinated way. It has also led to greater political and economic cooperation of all member states to integrate economic development with food security through an integrated political economic approach to allow hydropower development without jeopardizing regional food security.
On an operational basis, the results achieved so far include a goals-oriented performance management system (PMS) that enables the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to continuously improve its monitoring and evaluation tasks. In particular, the integrated policies on the national level can be coordinated by the MRC through better access to data on water resource use.
River Rhine Commission
As a result of similar socio-economic development of all riparians in the Rhine basin (Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands), the approach of the River Rhine Commission is to focus on water quality and ecosystems protection in managing the river. Unlike other basins such as the Mekong, the Rhine basin is not exposed to hydropower development or increased use of water for agriculture.
A major facet of the Commission’s work is the collaboration with the public and incorporation of the views of concerned groups, such as NGOs and industry, in decision-making. What started with the development of a joint monitoring strategy in the 1950s and 1960s has led to the sustainable development of the Rhine today. This development was backed by large investments, guided by a process of “learning by doing”, and influenced significantly by some major disasters: the Action Programme Rhine as a reaction to the Sandoz fire of 1986, and the Action Plan on Flood Defence in response to the floods of 1993 and 1995. The approach taken by the Commission can be used as an example of pragmatic transboundary water management in a democratic and participatory manner.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 BMZ (2011): Topic Sheets Lake Chad and Nile Basin Commission. Bonn: BMZ.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 GIZ (2009): Topicsheet: Transboundary Water Management. Eschborn: GIZ.
- ↑ Rosamond, B. (2000): Theories of European Integration. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
- ↑ Keohane, R. (1994): After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- ↑ Milner, H. (1992): Internatonal Theories of Cooperation among Nations: A Review Essay. In:World Politics, 44, (1992), 3, pp. 466-496.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 GIZ (2002): Managing Transboundary Waters – New Opportunities for Africa. Eschborn: GIZ.
- ↑ GIZ (2012): Transboundary water management. http://www.giz.de/Themen/en/28268.htm [2013-02-19].
- ↑ GIZ with IWMI, FAO, WWF, MRC, CPWF, IUCN, ADB and M-Power (2011): From Local Watershed Management to Integrated River Basin Management at National and Transboundary Levels. Phnom Penh: MRC. http://www.mrcmekong.org/assets/Publications/Reports/Watershed-Management-report2011.pdf [2013-02-19].
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