Advancing transboundary basin cooperation through multistakeholder platforms and modeling: Insights from the 7th International REMCO Conference

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By Ryan Nehring, Maliviwe Mgudlwa, and Jonathan Lautze

Researchers from the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains participated in the 7th International River and Environmental Management Cooperation (REMCO) Conference in November, with the theme of “promoting operational transboundary cooperation”. This event, in Ezulwini, Eswatini, brought together more than 100 participants from across the region and the world to discuss the primary challenges and advances in the governance of the Incomati Basin.

REMCO is a transboundary stakeholder cooperation initiative established in 2009 in the Incomati River Basin by three catchment management agencies (CMAs), one each from Eswatini, Mozambique, and South Africa. The Incomati River flows through these three countries and it is characterized by several large dams, built for irrigation and hydroelectricity generation. Despite this infrastructure, the effects of climate change are intensifying droughts and floods are becoming more extreme, particularly in Mozambique. At all times of the year, poor water quality as a consequence of agricultural runoff and municipal wastewater is an increasing concern. In 2021, the Incomati-Maputo Watercourse Commission (INMACOM) was formed to promote cooperation between the three countries to ensure the equitable development, protection, and sustainable utilization of water resources.

Initiatives like REMCO are becoming increasingly common for transboundary river basin governance. They fill the gap between more formal governmental interests that are present in river basin organizations (RBOs) and stakeholder interests within and across countries that share the basin. These stakeholder engagement initiatives have a vital role to play in ensuring perspectives on water use and quality are being channeled from local contexts to the transboundary level. Each river basin has its own unique context with differing institutional approaches for stakeholder engagement. In the case of REMCO, its steering committee is comprised of representatives from each of the three CMAs and one of those representatives serves as chairperson in a role that rotates every two years. REMCO organizes a biennial conference in the country of the CMA that is chairing the initiative that year.

This year’s conference featured representatives from all three country governments, the three CMAs, the Dutch Embassy in Maputo, basin stakeholders, representatives from the Blue Deal, academics, and a representative from INMACOM. NEXUS Gains works closely with INMACOM on modeling to improve benefit and information sharing across the basin.

NEXUS Gains featured prominently at the REMCO conference. Researchers from the Initiative organized two events, discussing the role and prospect of a transboundary multistakeholder platform (MSP), and modeling for enhanced basin governance.

REMCO Conference delegates. Photo: Maliviwe Mgudlwa.

Role and prospect of a transboundary MSP in the Incomati

The first event, led by Ryan Nehring from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), featured a panel discussion on the potential and role of a transboundary MSP, highlighting the challenges and priorities for establishing such a platform in the Incomati Basin. The panel featured REMCO representatives from each CMA: the Joint River Basin Authorities – Project Board (JRBA-PB) from Eswatini; the South Regional Water Administration (ARA-Sul) from Mozambique, and the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA) from South Africa.

The panelists highlighted REMCO’s 14-year journey in engaging stakeholders at the transboundary level and suggested that while REMCO’s informal structure is effective for stakeholder engagement, a closer relationship with INMACOM could prove beneficial in integrated basin governance. This would allow for basin-wide implementation of decisions that address common challenges.

One of the main challenges outlined by the panelists was the issue of financial sustainability: currently, REMCO is funded by contributions from the CMAs and European partners. The panelists also discussed the willingness of REMCO to take up bigger issues, such as climate change, and noted how such issues demand long-term transboundary cooperation that integrates stakeholder perspectives from the local level up to the basin level. However, such issues require sustainable funding and commitments from each of the country governments.

The panel marked a significant step in defining common areas of work and water governance responsibilities between the two organizations, setting the stage for ongoing discussions and shaping their future engagement.

Pywr modeling in the Incomati for enhanced basin governance

The second NEXUS Gains event highlighted the Pywr modeling work that is being done in partnership with INMACOM and the University of Manchester. Pywr stands for Python Water Resources: open-source modeling software that simulates different scenarios of water resource utilization. This work hinges on training young professionals from the CMAs who will use Pywr to analyze the availability and use of water between different sectors. It is ultimately these young professionals who will support INMACOM in their role of ensuring equitable development and sustainable use of the basin’s water resources.

Young professionals from the project showcased their use and understanding of Pywr at the event. These included Zanele Lulane (JRBA-PB), Kamogelo Mohlala (IUCMA), and Khethiwe Ngcobo from South Africa’s Komati Basin Water Authority. They all led data collection in their respective countries and are currently leading the use of Pywr for transboundary cooperation. With the support of Naga Velpuri (International Water Management Institute [IWMI]), Mikiyas Etichia (University of Manchester), and Jonathan Lautze (IWMI), they demonstrated how the model could produce simple, evidence-based information on the current state of water use in the basin and simulate the impacts of possible future climate scenarios to support decision-making.

A subsequent panel discussion, facilitated by INMACOM, fostered debate on how Pywr is a critical tool to analyze data for future scenarios on water consumption by each member state; how much water respective sectors (irrigation, domestic industrial) are using; and even how much could be allocated to future irrigation projects. The takeaway was the significance of this quantitative information in supporting basin-wide decision-making and enhancing basin-wide management.

In addition to the two events, researchers from NEXUS Gains learned more about the activities, challenges, and advances being made in the Incomati Basin. The three-day event included a wealth of panels, presentations, and networking with local and international water professionals. The flurry of activity highlights the interest of stakeholders to enhance river basin management and the potential benefits for local communities.

Pywr modeling demonstration. Photo: Maliviwe Mgudlwa.

Ryan Nehring is Associate Research Fellow (IFPRI), Maliviwe Mgudlwa is a Consultant (IWMI), and Jonathan Lautze is Research Group Leader – Integrated Management of Basins and Aquifers (IWMI) and leads NEXUS Gains Work Package 2: Water Productivity and Storage.

This work was carried out under the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains, which is grateful for the support of CGIAR Trust Fund contributors: www.cgiar.org/funders

 

Header image: Multistakeholder Platform Workshop. Photo by Maliviwe Mgudlwa.

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