Shared among Albania, Greece, Kosovo*, Montenegro and North Macedonia (the five ‘Riparians’), the Drin River Basin provides water resources for drinking, energy, fishing and agriculture, biodiversity, tourism and industry. The Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the sustainable management of the Extended Drin Basin was endorsed on 24 April by high level representatives from the five Riparians. This endorsement confirms the political will among the five Riparians to work across borders and sends a strong message that improved water resources management, which also yields benefits for public health and livelihoods, remains a priority and will continue to be pursued at the transboundary level, in spite of current difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The current crisis underscores the vital importance of water for hygiene in the region and globally.
At the virtual signing of a joint statement, H.E. Mr Jani Makraduli, Deputy Minister of Environment and Physical Planning, North Macedonia, stated “One of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is important to have good cross-border and regional cooperation. The SAP plays two different roles: environmental, as an important step towards future joint management of the Drin Basin, and an important political message for regional cooperation. I would like to greet the support of the implementing agencies of the Drin Process and donor partners (GEF, UNDP, UNECE, GWP-Med). I strongly believe the SAP can contribute towards supporting the planned donor conference and it will further continue with the follow up of the implementation of the projects from the SAP”.
The SAP was developed in 2019 and it sets out over 100 agreed policy and technical actions to address four transboundary issues that cause a number of negative effects to nature, society and the economy i.e. water pollution, biodiversity degradation, water and sediment flow disturbances, marking it the first strategic document for shared water resources in the region. It has been supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Drin Project, which is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and executed by the Global Water Partnership – Mediterranean (GWP-Med) in partnership with UNECE.
The project and SAP help the countries to implement international commitments, namely the Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), a unique legal and intergovernmental framework preventing conflicts and promoting cooperation across borders. Mr Marco Keiner, Director of UNECE’s Environment Division, stated “Transboundary cooperation in the Extended Drin River Basin has reached major milestones and brought important benefits, contributing to the implementation of the UNECE Water Convention by the Riparians. This cooperation importantly also supports the achievement of SDGs notably SDG target 6.5 on integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation”.
The GEF Drin Project was designed to implement the Memorandum of Understanding for the sustainable management of the Drin Basin (Drin MoU), signed in Tirana on 25 November 2011 by the responsible Ministries of the Drin Riparians. The Drin Core Group (DCG), a joint body established through the Drin MoU to coordinate its implementation, and its Expert Working Groups, are fully operational now.
The transboundary issues were identified through an extensive scientific assessment of the Drin Basin, known as a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA). These actions will also assist the Riparians in implementing water and environment related European Union (EU) Directives, such as the EU Water Framework Directive. The SAP will provide the main reference point to inform the coordinated management of the Drin Basin for years to come.
The priority for the Riparians now is to identify sources of funding to implement the SAP. This will require a broader set of stakeholders participating in the effort, since many actions in the SAP require working with the energy sector, agriculture and forestry. The thematic report on the resource nexus, developed with UNECE’s support as part of the TDA, makes a case for collaborative resource management actions across sectors, contributing on the one hand to sustainability and environmental protection but on the other also to different sectors’ objectives.
The cooperation in managing the Drin River Basin contributes to the Riparians implementing the obligations of the Water Convention, among them sharing information. With the current challenging economic outlook, it is crucial to target measures effectively, and improved use of information and progressive development of monitoring waters are key
*All references to Kosovo are made in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)