Transboundary Water Cooperation Helps Build Climate Resilience

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26 August 2015 | Jacqueline Tront

The Zambezi River Basin in Africa is shared by eight countries: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Photo Credit: CIWA / World Bank

Water does not respect geopolitical boundaries. Hydrological systems are completely oblivious of international relations. This makes life complicated for the water managers, financiers, diplomats, and most of all – the water users –around the world’s approximately 276 transboundary river basins, 63 of which are in Africa. Sixty percent of the world’s freshwater flows are in transboundary rivers, and 40% of the world’s population lives in their river basins. When water cuts across borders, it poses economic, financial, logistical and political challenges for people trying to manage and develop the resource.

Climate change is increasing uncertainty about where and when water will be available. It is affecting billions of people living in transboundary basins, and as often happens, the poor are the hardest hit. There is a long list of potential problems people will face – supply in water-stressed regions will diminish; some regions are likely to have more water than they can handle; most challenging is the fact that the timing and amounts of future water availability are impossible to predict with certainty. Other risks - the increasing intensity of droughts, floods, typhoons, and monsoons; uncertainties around waterborne disease; glacier melt and decreased storage in snow-pack; glacial-lake outburst floods; sea-level rise and salt-water intrusion - all pose the highest risk to poor communities that are least able to cope. For dozens of countries and billions of people who rely on transboundary waters, these challenges need to be addressed cooperatively. Despite its complexities, transboundary water cooperation presents countries with an important opportunity to effectively and efficiently build climate resilience.

The World Bank is supporting its client countries through three major responses.

1. Promote information and data sharing

Transboundary cooperation allows expansion of the information and knowledge base on weather and climate phenomena; collaboration among countries in making strategic regional and national decisions in the face of climate variability and long-term climate change; and effective and efficient dissemination of processed information to vulnerable populations.

For example, in Central Asia, the World Bank is supporting efforts to strengthen national and regional hydrological and meteorological information systems that will improve accessibility, reliability, and analytical capacity to use water resource information for improved water resources planning, monitoring, and management.

2. Promote basin-wide planning and development of strategic natural and man-made infrastructure

Transboundary cooperation allows countries to advance sound and sustainable regional and national infrastructures for storing, regulating, and exploiting their water resources. As a result, these countries will be able to reduce their vulnerability in the face of increasing climate variability and shifting long-term water availability trends.

For example, in the Niger Basin, the World Bank contributes to the funding of the Kandadji Program, which involves construction of the Kandadji dam and investments to increase power-generation capacity, boost agribusiness, increase irrigation, and support community development.

3. Strengthen the range of institutions needed to implement effective cooperative adaptation

Transboundary cooperation allows countries to develop a strong foundational institutional framework for effective sharing of information and collaboration on sustainable infrastructure critical to reducing climate disaster risk and mitigating environmental vulnerability.

In the Zambezi Basin, the World Bank, through the CIWA program, is supporting the Zambezi Watercourse Commission in its effort to develop a basin-wide master plan, a basin-level information platform, and a flood-forecasting and early warning system.

In another example, the World Bank acts as a neutral broker in the Indus Basin - we helped establish the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) which has played an invaluable role in the Indus Water Treaty’s implementation since 1960 by managing questions and issues that continuously arise as the two countries develop this shared river and ensure compliance with the treaty. In fact, it is in large part due to the overwhelming success of the PIC to negotiate, monitor, and manage, that stable cooperation over water has existed over the last half century despite two wars having taken place between the two countries in that time period.

To learn more, read “Water for Development: Responding to the Challenges.”

This blog was originally published on The World Bank. Click here to read the original blog.