Can a transboundary multistakeholder platform support growing water cooperation in the Incomati Basin?

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By Ryan Nehring, Maliviwe Mgudlwa, Edward Mswane, Buyani Fakudze, Oscar Sibia, Sindy Mthimkhulu, Sylvia Machimana, and Jonathan Lautze

The Incomati River is one of 15 major transboundary basins in Southern Africa. Shared by Eswatini, Mozambique and South Africa, the basin is highly developed and has substantial flow-regulating infrastructure such as weirs and large dams. Key among these are the Maguga Dam in Eswatini and Driekoppies Dam in South Africa, which both provide water for irrigated crops such as sugar cane. Maguga is also used to generate hydropower.

Incomati Basin

Understanding stakeholder perspectives on a potential transboundary multistakeholder platform in the Incomati

Multistakeholder platforms (MSPs) are becoming a common feature of natural resource governance approaches around the world. They are diverse in their design, application and even name – sometimes referred to as multistakeholder forums, dialogues, or partnerships, among others – depending on aim and context. At their most basic level, MSPs institutionalize relationships between groups of people who have a stake in a particular issue, so they can collectively affect or improve outcomes.

In August 2023, researchers from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) met with the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA) and the Department of Water and Sanitation in South Africa; the South Regional Water Administration (ARA-Sul) in Mozambique; and the Joint River Basin Authorities – Project Board (JRBA-PB) in Eswatini. The aims of the meetings were to better understand actor groups’ interest in establishing a transboundary MSP in the Incomati and to solicit input on how such an MSP could support the growing water cooperation in the basin. Under the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains, the researchers also delivered a presentation on the best practices of transboundary MSPs to the Incomati-Maputo Watercourse Commission (INMACOM) Technical Steering Committee.

Discussions revealed that there is a diversity of stakeholders across agriculture, energy, tourism, and environmental conservation with interest in this river system. Platforms to channel these stakeholders’ interests are abundant, but they mainly operate within their respective countries. In South Africa, for example, catchment management forums and irrigation boards channel stakeholder interests to IUCMA. Irrigation districts and water users’ associations work with river basin authorities in Eswatini, while in Mozambique, ARA-Sul plays a similar role. These forums channel stakeholder inputs into the catchment management agencies to influence in-country decision-making on issues such as water allocations, water quality, and information sharing efforts.

Transboundary cooperation in the basin

While cooperation in the Incomati dates back some four decades, a body dedicated to basin-wide management – that is, with dedicated staff and team – had been lacking. The Tripartite Permanent Technical Commission (TPTC) was created in 1983 to oversee joint developments, utilization, and management of the Incomati and Maputo river systems. In 2002, TPTC instigated the signing of the Interim Inco-Maputo Agreement (IIMA) by member states. The IIMA’s main objectives is to enhance cooperation on the protection and sustainable utilization of the Incomati and Maputo Watercourses.

In 2021, a formal transboundary river basin organization was established – INMACOM – whose primary objective is to promote cooperation between the member states to ensure the equitable development, protection, and sustainable use of the Incomati Basin’s water resources, all of which will update the IIMA. Perhaps more importantly, INMACOM possesses all the organs of a typical river basin agency, including a Secretariat, a Technical Steering Committee, a Council of Ministers, and a set of operators in the three countries. Nonetheless, there is as yet no mechanism to channel stakeholder voices and interests into basin-wide management.

There is, however, an informal network for transboundary stakeholder engagement operating in the Incomati basin: the River and Environmental Management Cooperation (REMCO). Established in 2009, REMCO provides an opportunity for stakeholders in the basin to exchange information, experiences, and concerns. For example, a biannual conference allows stakeholders in the basin to present and discuss activities and challenges. REMCO is governed through a steering committee consisting of delegates from IUCMA, ARA-Sul, and JRBA-PB. Due to this governance structure, REMCO funnels stakeholder voices and concerns through the catchment agencies that serve as the steering committee.

Opportunities for improving voices for water

To support the demand in the Incomati, NEXUS Gains researchers are analyzing experiences from other transboundary MSPs to develop guidance for the design of an Incomati MSP that fits within the basin’s institutional context and responds to key transboundary opportunities identified by actor groups. These include:

Flood control: Given the large number of extreme climate events, including tropical cyclones, stakeholder groups noted a need to improve flood control measures in upstream dams. Heavy rains from Tropical Cyclone Freddy in 2023 created extremely high river flows, which led to the flooding of thousands of hectares of sugar cane and subsistence agriculture and the destruction of levees downstream in Mozambique. Information sharing on flood control is carried out through an informal network of catchment management agencies which, in turn, work with stakeholders in their own countries. A formalized basin-wide MSP could facilitate information sharing that is rapid and connected throughout the basin for better response time and flood preparedness.

Water quality: Diffuse runoff from agricultural chemicals and wastewater are a large challenge. Large-scale agriculture – particularly sugar cane plantations in the two upstream countries – uses large volumes of agrochemicals which affect downstream and coastal drinking water quality. A transboundary MSP could help connect the concerns and needs of upstream and downstream water users to share information on practices, resolve conflicts, and integrate their perspectives into decisions being made by INMACOM and government agencies.

Climate change: The existing allocation framework, outlined in the 2002 IIMA, is no longer adequate for the natural resource challenges under the ever-increasing effects of climate, which include higher temperatures, more floods, and longer droughts. There is need for information sharing during droughts and floods, and more broadly, as water availability evolves, an MSP will be able to provide a key opportunity for stakeholder voices to define how water and benefits derived from water are shared in future.

This blog was authored by Ryan Nehring (IFPRI), Maliviwe Mgudlwa (IWMI), Edward Mswane (INMACOM), Buyani Fakudze (INMACOM), Oscar Sibia (ARA-Sul), Sindy Mthimkhulu (JRBA-PB), Sylvia Machimana (IUCMA), and Jonathan Lautze (IWMI).

This work was carried out under the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains, which is grateful for the support of CGIAR Trust Fund contributors:


Header image: INMACOM Technical Steering Committee meeting in August 2023.

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