Engaging in regional dialogue to support transboundary water cooperation in Southern Africa

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Transboundary river basins extend across international boundaries and are shared by two or more states. In southern Africa, shared waters cover more than 60 percent of the area, generate more than 80 percent of the available freshwater resources, and contain about two-thirds of the population (UNECA). These precious water resources possess substantial potential to further the region’s socioeconomic development aims, but they are being threatened by climate-related stresses and resulting extreme weather events. Transboundary cooperation may enhance solutions to these opportunities and risks.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) participated in the 10th Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) River Basin Organisation (RBO) / Shared Watercourse Institutions (SWIs) workshop in Maputo, Mozambique, held October 2–4, 2023. The event was organized by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in collaboration with the Limpopo Watercourse Commission (LIMCOM). Its aim was the exchange of experiences in transboundary cooperation in Southern Africa under the theme “Promoting water security through inclusive transboundary conjunctive management and development of water resources”. The participants included the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), the SADC Secretariat, RBOs, representatives from national governments, researchers and academia from across the region, and international development partners. The discussions ranged from water law, the continued relevance of the SADC Watercourse Protocol, the evolving policy landscape, gender and social inclusion, as well as AMCOW’s water program.

The achievements of the IWMI-led NEXUS Gains initiative were presented by Dr Jonathan Lautze, Research Group Leader for Integrated Management of Basins and Aquifers at IWMI. He described Integrated Water Storage in the Shashe, Pywr Model Development and Transboundary MSP in the Incomati, and Digital Innovation (Digital Twin), specifically focusing on basins with emerging cooperation. “Transboundary cooperation at smaller scales tends to be more action-oriented and fit-for-purpose,” he said, pointing out that the Shared Water Facility will be able to support some activities in 2024 in emerging basins in the region for capacity development, road mapping and planning supported by the CGIAR Digital Innovation.

The panel discussion included representatives from the Songwe, Cuvelai, Incomati, and Buzi-Pungwe-Save river basins and was co-hosted by IUCN—IWMI’s partner on the Shared Water Facility. Davison Saruchera from IUCN noted that southern Africa has made significant strides in collaborating, but critical gaps remain, including financial sustainability, effective data exchange, benefit sharing, and capacity to deal with climate extremes.

IWMI also engaged in conversations with LIMCOM on working in close cooperation with its secretariat in the future. LIMCOM coordinates basin management across the basin’s four riparian states of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabawe.

Going forward, the next SADC RBO workshop will be hosted by a different RBO in the region and take place in 2026. This platform will remain key for stakeholders to provide updates, share lessons and develop networks, thereby continuing dialogue that supports transboundary cooperation for climate resilience and water and food security in the region.

 

Featured photo: Limpopo landscape, South Africa by South African Tourism

Authors

  • Nora Hanke-Louw, Project Coordinator, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) – Southern Africa & IWMI’s Program Coordinator of CGIAR Digital Innovation Initiative
  • Jonathan Lautze, Research Group Leader on Integrated Management of Basins and Aquifers at IWMI and WP2 lead of the NEXUSGains Initiative
  • Davison Saruchera, Regional Programme Manager, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

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