The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the importance of an integrated approach to water management and the crucial role played by transboundary water cooperation in supporting recovery and prevention. Timely and sufficient availability of water of adequate quality is a prerequisite for the provision of safe water, sanitation and adequate hygiene. River basin organizations and other mechanisms and tools promoted by the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) serviced by UNECE play an increasingly important role in supporting COVID-19 recovery and prevention. These are among the conclusions of the webinar organised on 26 May 2020 by the Geneva Environment Network and the Water Convention secretariat as part of the Geneva Environment Dialogues series devoted to the impact of COVID-19 on the global environmental agenda.
Water officials from three countries – Hungary, Senegal and Ghana – underscored the importance of the international legal framework, standards and principles provided by the Water Convention for effective transboundary cooperation, especially in time of COVID-19. Péter Kovács, Water Director, Hungary, described how the Convention helps riparian countries to establish joint institutions, strengthen resilience, ensure performant water monitoring and develop early warning and alarm systems, and why these steps are even more relevant in time of the pandemic.
Ben Yaw Ampomah, Executive Secretary of the Water Resources Commission, Ghana, described how Ghana is adjusting its national water management activities and cooperation with other riparians in the Volta River Basin to the new circumstances posed by COVID-19. He stressed that recovery measures aimed at economic development, food and energy security, may increase pressures on transboundary water resources in terms of water quantity, water quality and health. In these circumstances improving information exchange and monitoring of transboundary rivers is essential. Ghana has nearly completed the process of accession to the Water Convention and already applies the Convention’s principles and standards in its efforts to achieve the SDG target 6.5 and implement its key transboundary water project (Pwalugu Multi-Purpose Dam).
Niokhor Ndour, Director for Water Resources Management and Planning from Senegal – a country that acceded to the Water Convention in 2018 – stressed the importance of transboundary water cooperation for his country. Senegal participates in two basin organisations: the Senegal River Development Organization and the Gambia River Development Organization. These basin organizations maintain their field activities which are carried out in compliance with the health measures prescribed by participating governments. Furthermore, they participate in the crisis management efforts, including by providing financial support to the national funds for combating COVID-19.
Sonja Koeppel, Secretary to the Water Convention described the impacts of the crisis on the intergovernmental meetings as well as capacity building and other activities under the Convention. She stressed the convening role of the Convention in facilitating the dialogue among different communities of experts (water, energy, climate change, food) and the crucial role of water not only for prevention, preparedness and recovery but also for all other aspects of human life.
During the Q&A segment of the webinar, participants discussed how to create appetite for transboundary cooperation in time when governments are focused on addressing the water supply and sanitation needs of the population and the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. It was highlighted that the crisis is an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of transboundary cooperation and foster preparedness.
The messages on the crucial role of transboundary water cooperation and the linkages between water, sanitation and climate action were further reinforced at the other webinar, Accelerating implementation of the 2030 Agenda through water, sanitation & climate action, organized on 29 May 2020 by the Permanent Missions of Canada, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, Tajikistan and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs with the support of UN-Water.
More about the webinar on 26 May: https://www.genevaenvironmentnetwork.org/events/geneva-environment-dialogues-transboundary-water-cooperation-and-covid-19-the-role-of-the-water-convention/
Webinar on 26 May on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=2723949957875977&ref=watch_permalink
More about the webinar on 29 May: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?page=view&type=13&nr=3292&menu=1634
See also: http://www.unece.org/environmental-policy/conventions/water/envwater/covid-19-the-role-of-the-water-convention-and-the-protocol-on-water-and-health.html