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Tanzania joining UN Water Conventions could open opportunities for stronger transboundary cooperation in East Africa – for sustainable development, climate action and peace

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The United Republic of Tanzania, which shares seven out of its nine river/lake basins with neighboring countries, is taking an important step towards stronger cross-border cooperation for sustainable water management by advancing its accession to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes as well as the Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.  

Confirming the country’s intention to join the Conventions was the key outcome of the National Workshop taking place this week in Dar es Salaam (1-2 December) on the United Nations Water Conventions.  

The United Republic of Tanzania’s Minister of Water, Mr. Jumaa Hamidu Aweso (MP), who was represented by Mr. Shaibu Hassan Kaduara, Minister of Water, Energy and Minerals, Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar stated: “Tanzania has a long history of transboundary water cooperation with its neighboring countries. This is essential as we share the majority of our waters. Rising demands on water resources and impact of climate change, among other issues underpinned the need for regional and international water cooperation. Acceding to the Water Conventions would enhance such cooperation by developing and strengthening joint monitoring and assessment systems, promoting joint coordination and collaboration in planning as well help to mobilize funds for transboundary development. This initiative will strengthen transboundary water organizations which Tanzania is part of.” 

The water resources shared by Tanzania include Lakes Victoria, Tanganyika, Nyasa, Natron, Chala and Jipe, as well as Rivers Kagera, Mara, Malagarasi, Mwiruzi, Ruvuma, Songwe, Momba and Umba. Lake Victoria is also part of the larger Nile Basin shared by eleven countries. 

Although Tanzania is endowed with numerous and diverse water resources in the form of rivers, lakes, groundwater and wetlands, important water challenge exist in many areas of the country. Key challenges include pollution, climate change impacts on the water cycle, uneven distribution of water resources across the country and throughout the year, inadequate coordination across sectors for development plans, rising demands from population growth coupled with increasing social-economic activities, catchment degradation, and water use competition and frequently pronounced floods and drought. The challenges can be managed through effective investment in the water sector, among others, to enhance water security and improve resilience to climate shocks. 

“Acceding to the Water Convention would strengthen Tanzania’s national and transboundary water management. In particular, we welcome growing interest of Tanzania and other governments in East Africa in the Convention, which could open new opportunities to strengthen cooperation in the region to jointly address shared water challenges in an integrated manner and reap benefits for both people and the environment” stressed Ms. Sonja Koeppel, Secretary to the Water Convention.   

Strengthening transboundary cooperation in the region and in Africa 

Some of Tanzania’s neighbouring countries, namely Uganda and Zambia are also in the process of joining the Water Convention.  

Tanzania’s accession would help consolidate the fast-building momentum for water cooperation in Africa and its lessons learned could also benefit other African regions.   

Chad, Senegal, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Togo, and Cameroon joined the Convention since 2018 following its opening to accession by all UN Member States.  More than 15 African countries are in the process of joining.  

Tanzania’s accession would build on longstanding engagement and cooperation with neighboring countries in managing and developing transboundary water resources. This includes the implementation of joint initiatives or projects in utilization, development and/or conservation of transboundary waters. Tanzania is also part of two regional development blocks of the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Tanzania also supports cooperation through the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) and the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). 

As well as providing a legal basis for cooperation that benefits peace, stability, economic growth and sustainable development more broadly, accession to the Convention also provides a robust basis to help mobilize financing and de-risk investments for climate change adaptation in shared basins.   

According to a new African Development Bank report which highlights the importance of integrating climate change adaptation measures in transboundary agreements, cooperation is crucial to address water challenges on the continent: one in every three people in Africa currently faces water insecurity, while African countries now spend between 2% and 9% of their GDP in responding to climate-related events such as floods and droughts.  

Pushing forward global efforts for water cooperation  

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on all Member States to join the Convention and ensure its full implementation, stressing that “the 1992 Water Convention is a powerful tool to advance cooperation, prevent conflicts and build resilience”. Today, it has 47 Parties worldwide.  

The Water Convention, whose secretariat is serviced by UNECE, is a unique and widely accepted intergovernmental legal framework. It requires Parties to prevent, control and reduce negative impacts on water quality and quantity across borders, to use shared waters in a reasonable and equitable way, and to ensure their sustainable management through cooperation. Parties bordering the same transboundary waters are obliged to cooperate by concluding specific agreements and establishing joint bodies.   

With 153 countries sharing the cross-border rivers, lakes and groundwater reserves that make up more than 60% of the world's freshwater flow, the key role of water cooperation for peace and sustainable development is being increasingly recognised, including by the African Ministers' Council on Water Strategy 2018-2030, and in the EU Council Conclusions on Water in EU External Action adopted in 2021. Having arrangements in place to cooperate on all shared waters is also among the 2030 targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, where, according to the latest data, only 24 countries are on track. Worldwide, some 3 billion people worldwide depend on water that is shared by 2 or more countries.  

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