Getting water co-operation to flow

When Merriam Shashape was growing up in the North West province of South Africa, she and her siblings fetched water from the windmill dam each day.

“It was far to walk and we carried the full buckets on our heads,” she recalls. When water in the dam ran dry, then Shashape and other villagers would have to walk even further to fetch water from the river.

Today, the 53-year-old mother and grandmother, who now lives in Gauteng province, has easier access to clean water. Actively involved in a community project, she now maintains a food garden at home. There she grows spinach, onions and carrots to supplement the family’s meals and income.

“It is such a relief to have a tap close-by that the children can get to easily. We use the water for household chores and for bathing. It also helps to water the garden,” says Shashape, pointing to the tap in her yard.

“Life is easier now,” she says.

As is the case for many in the SADC region, the water Shashape receives flows across borders. In Gauteng, many residents like her rely on water that starts in Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains, from where it flows into the Orange-Senqu River and then continues for 2 200km to the Atlantic Ocean through South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

Given that it flows through four SADC countries that all need the water, the Orange-Senqu River requires trans-boundary co-operation in managing its finite resources. This starts at the source, where Lesotho and South Africa co-operate with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project to provide water and hydropower, and continues downstream with agreements and projects to use the water equitably.

More than 70 percent of the region’s fresh water resources are shared between two or more SADC countries.

River basin organisations that support joint infrastructure, planning and co-operation have been established across the region in line with SADC’s Protocol on Shared Watercourses. The water division at the SADC Secretariat provides a platform for member states to address water related issues and challenges.

The Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) is an example of such co-operation.

More than 19 million people rely on the Orange-Senqu river basin. It is one of the most developed river systems in the SADC region with over 300 built structures ranging from inter-and intra-basin transfer schemes to large dams.

“One of the key values of the four ORASECOM countries – Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa – working collectively on a river basin is that it aligns planning and forecasting/projection on future demands and resource availability. In this way, the Commission promotes co-operation beyond theory,” says ORASECOM executive secretary Lenka Thamae.

He points out the science of climate variability and change projection can be tackled better at a regional level as these only make sense when viewed over a large geographic scale.

Examples of joint projects include the recent co-operation between Botswana and South Africa to address the extreme scarcity of water in southern Botswana.

Water resources are critical to sustainable economic and social development. The region must manage its transboundary resources effectively to meet domestic, industrial and agricultural needs and for sanitation and waste management for over 260 million people in the SADC region, according to Phera Ramoeli, senior water programme officer at the SADC Secretariat.

“In SADC, water is available in relative abundance, but there are spatial and temporal variations. The DRC has more water that the rest of the SADC member states, with estimated volumes of around 43 000 cubic meters per second coming out of the Congo River into the Atlantic Ocean on average,’’ he says.

‘‘In other areas, such as in some parts of Namibia, we have only 50mm of rainfall in a good year.’’

This underlines the need for SADC to develop infrastructure to harness water where it exists in relative abundance and transfer it to where it is needed through inter-and intra-basin transfer schemes.

But water access alone is not enough – it must also be clean and accessible. The effects of climate change threaten to make that even harder.

The water division’s strategy on Climate Change Adaptation in SADC notes that climate change adds pressure to existing threats on freshwater resources and water management systems. It increases water stress in already dry areas, for example, and undermines the water quality in areas flooded by rain or seawater.

The strategy is clear on the need for water infrastructure development with structures for irrigation, drainage, water supply and sanitation, hydropower generation, flood management and other purposes. These structures help to manage water resources and break the region’s dependence on rainfall.

‘‘SADC is able to support member states through promotion of their own projects as, ultimately, resources for implementation of large water infrastructure projects require investments that can best be guaranteed by governments through sovereign loans at the national level,’’ Ramoeli says.

One example is the Kunene water supply project, which does more than just supply water to Namibia’s dry northern areas and southern Angola’s Kunene region. It is also a good example of a collaborative project between two member states.

‘‘The source of water is in a dam on a shared river (the Kunene River) in Angola. From there it is transferred by pipeline and canal to Namibia where it is treated and supplied to the needy in centres in northern Namibia and also pumped back into Angola to serve their own needs,’’ explains Ramoeli.

‘‘When countries come together as SADC members, then it is easier for us to sell these projects to investors because of the shared benefit, costs and risk.’’

SADC River Basin Organisations and Committees

·      The Maputo-Inkomati Tripartite Permanent Technical Committee (TPTC) is a collaboration between three SADC member states – Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. The committee helps to manage the water flows of the Inkomati and Maputo Rivers during times of drought and flood. The TPTC also looks at how to protect and develop these water resources.

The ‘‘Third Water Use Agreement of 1969’’ between Angola and Namibia initiated the construction of the Kunene River Scheme. The agreement established the Kunene Permanent Joint Technical Commission (PJTC) and enabled Namibia to extract water from the Calueque Dam to supply water to the country’s north.

·      The Lake Tanganyika Authority (LTA) was established by Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia. The LTA promotes regional co-operation required for socio-economic development and sustainable management of the natural resources in the Lake Tanganyika basin.

·      The Limpopo River is one of the largest river basins in the SADC region extending across Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The basin is managed by the Limpopo Watercourse Commission (LIMCOM) established through a basin agreement signed by the four states in 2003.

·      Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa formalised the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) through the signing of the ‘‘Agreement for the Establishment of the Orange-Senqu Commission’’ in November 2000. ORASECOM was the first commission established following the adoption and signing of the Revised SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses in August 2000.

·      Given the need to protect the unique Okavango river system while satisfying the social and economic needs of Angola, Botswana and Namibia, the three states signed an agreement in 1994 that formed the Permanent Okavango River Basin Commission (OKACOM)

·      Mozambique and the United Republic of Tanzania in 2008 signed an agreement establishing the Ruvuma Joint Water Commission (Ruvuma JWC) with the principal objective of ensuring sustainable development and equitable utilisation of common water resources of the Rovuma/Ruvuma River basin.

·      The Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) agreement was signed by most of the riparian states in July 2004. The agreement entered into force in June 2011 after being ratified by two-thirds of the signatories. The Zambezi River Basin is the most shared river basin in the SADC region, involving more than half of the SADC member states. –

The feature is part of the SADC@35 Success Stories published ahead of the 35th SADC summit.

October 2015
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