SADC transboundary watercourses


The Southern African Development Community's protocol on shared watercourses is recognised as one of the world's best in the fight against climate change-induced poverty and water stress in the region. However, sound agreements on the sustainable and equitable management of joint water resources have remained a major cause for concern. 

Zimbabwe and other member states within the Southern African region have over the past few years been failing to access and benefit from the shared transboundary watercourses and basins due to lack of binding memorandums of understanding and conflicts over, which country should benefit more than the other from the shared watercourses. 

The region has also cited the main challenge of a shared river as the people living along its banks, who do not want to equitably share the transboundary water resources with adjacent member states (riparian states). 

People living around the shared transboundary watercourses entirely depend on it for their source of water for agriculture, industrial and domestic consumption, hence the need to ensure equitable and environmentally friendly utilisation of the basins. 

Illegal gold panning and farming activities carried out by the communities living along the shared riverbanks have affected many of the shared watercourses, a development which has prompted the region to call for greater co-operation.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) has embarked on an awareness campaign calling for water co-operation among member states to sensitise stakeholders on the importance and benefits of working together in managing water resources in the various transboundary rivers and basins.

Zimbabwe National Water Authority, Save Catchment’s River inspector, Mr Luke Nyamangodo says there is need to conscientise the communities living along the shared transboundary watercourses to properly utilise them, as they are a source of life. He said many environmentally unfriendly activities have severely affected the quality of the shared water.

“Deteriorating water quality, which is attributed to the non-environmentally friendly gold panning activities and cultivating on the riverbanks, is the major cause for concern in most transboundary watercourses.

“Many of the shared watercourses are being polluted by illegal gold panning and farming activities that are not environmental friendly. “These shared river basins should be utilised in an environmentally friendly manner, as they are the source of livelihood to many communities living along their banks, hence greater co-operation is needed between the sharing countries,” said Nyamangodo.      

The awareness campaigns run under the theme: ‘Our Water, Our Livelihood, and Our Development’.  The ZINWA campaign initiative falls within the Pungwe Basin Transboundary Integrated Water Resources Management and Development Programme, a joint co-operative effort funded by the governments of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Sweden. A similar initiative is also being implemented on the Mozambican side of the basin. 

The campaign also focuses on sensitising stakeholders on the importance of applying the Integrated Water Resources Management concept in all development, management and usage of shared water resources in the basin in order to enhance efficient and sustainable water resources management within the region’s shared basins and rivers. 

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is “a process, which promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems”.

The call for water co-operation within the region, comes at a time when transboundary watercourses are not being fully utilised and shared among the SADC member states. Transboundary watercourses are viewed as a means to fight the effects of climate change-induced poverty.  

Water sector co-operation is, therefore, a critical factor in building regional integration and a tool to fight climate change-induced poverty.  Although many parts of the region are already facing water stress caused by climate change, the region expects its numerous shared transboundary watercourses to be the basis of the solution. 

Meanwhile, water officials from across Southern Africa met in Phakalane, Botswana, sometime early this year, to develop a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the regional agreement and stressed on the need for water co-operation among the region’s shared transboundary watercourses and basins.

Water co-operation in the region, is viewed as a source of peace rather than conflict. The UN General Assembly Declaration of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation (Resolution A/RES/65/154), has seen some members states in the region exchanging notes on regional water co-operation.  

The SADC's 2003 Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses stresses the importance of a basin-wide approach to managing transboundary waters, rather than emphasise on territorial sovereignty. It spells out the objectives of sound management as including co-ordinated management, sustainable use, and environmental protection.

Some great concerns were raised by some SADC member states for greater water co-operation within the region’s shared transboundary watercourses to reduce the plight of water, poverty and maintaining of peace in the region.

Officials from across the region agreed that implementation of the 2003 Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses will promote peace and stability in the region as well as enhancing food security in the region. 

The member states believed that shared river basins in line with integrated water resource management principles recognised that water management encompasses both social and economic goals, and should involve policy-makers, managers and users to contribute to SADC's three key objectives: regional integration, peace and poverty reduction.

SADC member states should promote equitable use, setting out of strategies for the development of shared rivers and lakes, and developing a policy for monitoring shared watercourses.

Zimbabwe, as many other SADC countries, shares different watercourses and basins within its transboundary areas and has the consent of seven riparian states, which share and draw water from the Zambezi River under the Zambezi Water Commission (ZAMCOM) and from Limpopo River under the Limpopo Water Commission (LIMCOM) agreements of 2003.

The Southern African region shares many river basins such as the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM), covering Angola, Botswana and Namibia, the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM), covering Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa; the Limpopo Water Commission (LIMCOM) covering Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique; and the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) covering Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Zimbabwe shares two transboundary watercourses by right of being among the eight riparian states under the Zambezi Water Commission (ZAMCOM) and four riparian states under the Limpopo Water Commission (LIMCOM). 

Equitable sharing of the watercourses and basins remains a debatable issue within the SADC region.

The SADC Secretariat Senior Programme Officer for Water, Phera Ramoeli, recently said the signing and ratification of Watercourse Agreements is an indication of the high degree of water co-operation and work as one family in the region.

“The SADC Water Co-operation has been viewed as a unifying body within the region. 

“The need to promote co-operation and conflict prevention in transboundary water resources can play a major role in promoting transparency, dialogue and very high degree of co-operation among member states. 

“There is also the need for the SADC member states within their river basin commissions to support and build the transboundary relationships aimed at increasing the capacity of high-level water decision makers on solving transboundary water conflict management and cooperation,” said Ramoeli. The water co-operation is specifically promoted through the revised SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses, which were first ratified in 1998 and revised in 2003 to foster close and co-ordinated co-operation in the management, protection and utilisation of shared watercourses, and to advance the SADC agenda of regional integration and poverty alleviation. 

It is also believed that over 70 percent of the SADC region’s freshwater resources are shared between two or more member states, a situation that has been the basis for the development and adoption of a series of regional instruments to support the joint management and development of shared watercourses.

The SADC instruments for water co-operation include the Regional Water Policy, adopted in 2005; the Regional Water Strategy adopted in 2006 and Regional Strategic Action Plan on Integrated Water Resources and Development Management which was first approved by SADC summit in August 1998 to run in five-year phases. 

The SADC Water Division is currently co-ordinating implementation of the third phase of the Regional Strategic Action Plan on Integrated Water Resources Management and Development (RSAP) 2011-2015. Zimbabwe is also in the process of laying a pipeline to draw water from the Zambezi River, one of the shared watercourses among its neighbouring countries.

October 2013
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