Namibia shares all its perennial rivers with neighboring countries and is both a mid-stream and downstream country. Transboundary water cooperation is therefore crucial for Namibia’s water security and sustainable socio-economic development. In today’s interconnected world, water availability is directly related to peace and security.
Worldwide, pressure on freshwater is rising with climate change, with pollution and growing demand for water further contributing to water insecurity. Cooperation on transboundary water resources is therefore a “must, not a choice”, according the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Water and Land Reform, Hon Ms. Anna Ndahambelela Shiweda, as Water Diplomacy is increasingly becoming a cornerstone for transboundary water management, not only to avoid harm to others but also to benefit each other. The Minister was speaking on the occasion of the “National workshop related to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes: Namibia’s accession process” organized in Windhoek, Namibia on 31 May and 1 June 2022 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the European Union.
As part of its commitment to transboundary water management, Namibia has ratified basin agreements and is a member state of basin organizations including: the Okavango-Cubango River Commission (OKACOM) shared with Angola and Botswana; the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) shared with South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe); the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) with all other riparian states of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe; and the Cuvelai Watercourse Commission (CUVECOM) with Angola. At a regional level, Namibia is a party to the 2000 Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses and to the 1997 UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (Watercourses Convention) at the global level. Namibia is one of only two states in Africa to have all its transboundary freshwater bodies covered by operational management arrangements according to the national report submission for the 2nd monitoring exercise in 2020 of SDG Indicator 6.5.2, for which UNECE and UNESCO are co-custodian agencies.
During the national Stakeholders’ Workshop Namibia confirmed its intention to accelerate the accession process to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) which constitutes a unique global
legal and intergovernmental framework for the sustainable management of transboundary water resources, serviced by UNECE. Along with the formulation of a concrete road map to guide Namibia’s accession process, securing high-level commitment for Namibia’s accession was the workshop’s main outcome.
The National Workshop, aimed at providing insights in the obligations under the Convention, the benefits that Namibia can derive from its accession and possible challenges, as well as the next steps in the process. With support from UNECE, UNDP and European Union, the National brought together over 60 participants from different ministries, basin and regional organizations, academia and civil society among others.
Ms. Sonja Koeppel, Secretary of the Water Convention, emphasized that multiple challenges such as increased water scarcity and droughts due to climate change and development, and increasing pollution remain pivotal in transboundary water cooperation. As an effective global legal and intergovernmental framework and platform for cooperation and sustainable management of shared waters, including groundwater, the Water Convention can help countries to address some of those challenges. Accession can enable support by the community of Parties, experience-sharing with basins and countries world-wide, facilitate access to financing and raise the country’s profile at the international level.
As noted during the National Workshop by Ms. Bernadette Adjei, Director, Legal and Monitoring Department, Water Resources Commission in Ghana and member of the Bureau of the Water Convention, “Participation in the Water Convention serves as clear evidence of the willingness of riparian countries to cooperate for the benefits of the members states and their citizens through sharing of information, joint planning and development.”
Mr. Achim Schaffert, Head of Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union to Namibia, congratulated Namibia on its intention to accede to the Water Convention. He reiterated that transboundary water cooperation is critical to ensuring water and sanitation for all – in line with SDG 6, and the promotion of legal and intergovernmental frameworks for regional cooperation.
Mr. Schaffert informed the Workshop of the Team Europe Initiative on Transboundary Water management for Africa which was launched in Dakar, Senegal during the 9th World Water Forum held in March 2022 from which Namibia is expected to benefit through transboundary river management organs such as OKACOM, CUVECOM, ZAMCOM, ORASECOM to mention just a few. Therefore, Schaffert posited, by “acceding to the Water Convention, Namibia stands to gain new prospects for enhanced transboundary water cooperation in Sub-Saharan Africa, conflict prevention and regional stability”.
UN Resident Coordinator for Namibia, Mr. Sen Pang, further noted that “Nowadays, water has become one of the key factors of sustainable development. And as the time limit for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) draws to a close in 2030, the global community is taking stock of how it can move towards a sustainable future”.
Acceding to the Water Convention can contribute to ensuring universal access to water and sanitation for all through the implementation of integrated water resources management at all levels and improved water security.
The Water Convention has, since its entry into force in 1996, provided an important framework for improving the management of both surface and transboundary waters. It provides, under the auspices of the United Nations, a strong international legal framework and an elaborate institutional platform for Parties to discuss transboundary water cooperation and share knowledge and experiences in many related areas to the management and protection of water. Open to accession by all UN Member States since 1 March 2016. Chad and Senegal acceded to the Convention as the first African countries in 2018, then Ghana in 2020 and most recently Guinea-Bissau and Togo acceded in 2021. Currently 20 more countries around the world who are in various stages of the accession processes.