Finland and the Republic of Namibia, both countries which are strong advocates for transboundary water cooperation in their respective regions and globally, have just embarked on a two-year pilot Twinning Initiative to exchange experiences, build capacity and strengthen bilateral cooperation on transboundary water management. It is the first Twinning of its kind between the two countries.
The Twinning is under the auspices of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Water Courses and International Lakes (UN Water Convention) whose secretariat is serviced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Finland is a long-standing party to the Convention and Namibia is finalizing its accession to soon be a party to the Convention, whereby Namibia aims to be the first Convention party from the Southern African Development Community.
The Twinning Initiative Kick Off Workshop held on 17 and 19 May at UN House in Windhoek, was facilitated by the Water Convention secretariat and hosted by the UN Country Team and UNDP in Namibia, brought together government representatives, relevant state agencies and expert organizations from both Namibia and Finland, Namibia’s Commissioners and other representatives to the River Basin Commissions to which it is a party, UN agencies and academia; demonstrating the usefulness of the Convention, its convening power as a platform, strategic role in bringing together people and increasing capacity as part of a coordinated “One UN” approach. The Workshop also featured participation by the European Union mission in Namibia as the EU financially supports the global outreach of the Convention and transboundary water cooperation more broadly.
Ms Ndiyakupi Nghituwamata, Executive Director of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform of Namibia underscored that: “Namibia and Finland though geographically separated by seas and shared watercourses, enjoy a long history of good relations dating back to the late 18th century. Our two beautiful countries wish to strengthen this cooperation under the framework of transboundary water management and; water cooperation and water diplomacy through engaging in a ‘Twinning Initiative’ between an ‘Experienced Party’ to the Water Convention (Finland) and an ‘Incoming/New Party’ (Namibia). Therefore, it is my sincere hope that this twinning initiative will be of mutual beneficial to us all (Finland and Namibia) as we strive towards finalizing Namibia’s accession process to the Water Convention.”
Namibia shares all her perennial rivers with neighboring countries, as well as several significant transboundary groundwater reserves. Transboundary water cooperation is therefore crucial for Namibia’s water security, sustainable, and socio-economic development; hence why Namibia has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to transboundary water cooperation. It 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. The third exercise is currently underway.
Finland shares significant transboundary waters with its neighboring countries Russia, Sweden and Norway and also has a long-standing commitment to advancing transboundary water cooperation. The International Law Association adopted the so-called “Helsinki Rules” on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers in 1966. Finland has ratified the two UN global water conventions, namely the Water Convention, also known as the “Helsinki Convention” having been adopted in the Finnish capital in 1992, and the 1997 Watercourses Convention, to which Namibia is already also a Party.
Ms Eveliina Anteroinen, Programme Coordinator at the Embassy of Finland in Namibia, announced: “We warmly welcome that Namibia is in process of acceding to the UN 1992 Water Convention. We are happy to be able to share, firstly, our experiences in transboundary water cooperation and the work done under the UN Helsinki Water Convention, and, secondly, our technical monitoring and management expertise. Equally, to learn also from the experiences of Namibia on water management and cooperation with your neighbours.”
Now both countries have proactively come together under the Water Convention framework to further strengthen their ties, specifically on their shared expertise and needs to improve transboundary water cooperation with a focus on three key topics identified by both countries as joint priorities: transboundary water allocation; monitoring and assessment and hydro-diplomacy.
The Twinning Initiative aims to enable the transfer of practical experience and lessons learned between ‘Experienced Parties’ to the Convention and ‘Incoming/New Parties’ who have initiated their formal accession process and/or in the process of developing a national implementation plan. The main objective is to increase the capacity of, and support for, ‘Incoming/New Parties’ to undertake the necessary legal, technical, and other actions to accede to and implement the Water Convention successfully and to develop stronger cooperation with ‘Experienced Parties’ as part of these processes for potential ongoing or future cooperation on transboundary water management issues. Countries involved can also identify specific activities to jointly undertake towards this aim.
Ms Sonja Koeppel, Secretary to the Water Convention, highlighted that “Both Namibia and Finland are active in promoting transboundary cooperation and in encouraging other States to join the growing Water Convention community. Indeed, Namibia’s impending accession is eagerly anticipated by the current parties. Today’s workshop thus represents another important opportunity for thoroughly discussing the added value of implementing the Convention, the practical tools it offers to support countries' efforts on transboundary cooperation. I trust this twinning will be successful and also inspire other new and existing Parties to come together in similar twinning initiatives.”
Ms Hopolang Phororo, UN Resident Coordinator in Namibia, underscored that “The bilateral pairing initiative between Finland and Namibia on this journey is commendable, as a platform for learning and sharing lessons on the implementation of the Convention, which certainly will contribute to capacity development at national level. You can count on my support and that of the UN Country Team going forward.”
At the workshop, various Namibian authorities shared their views, contributing to shaping the scope of the Twinning and its work plan for the coming two years, including, for example, capacity building activities and learning visits.
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 2016, the Convention currently counts 49 parties and has welcomed two new Parties in 2023: Iraq – being the first Middle Eastern Party to the Convention, and Nigeria. At present, more than 20 countries around the world are in various stages of the accession processes, predominantly from across Africa and Latin America.