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transboundary water
resource management

In the Shire river basin

Welcome to the Homepage of the Shire river basin project

The potential benefits that can be derived from international water cooperation are often limited by separate management of ground and surface water. Globally, over 300 treaties have been crafted for freshwater river basins while dedicated groundwater treaties are still less than 10. Similarly, numerous river basin organisations (RBOs) exist, which are primarily oriented toward surface water management. However, joint groundwater institutions are scant. Failure to apply greater focus to groundwater – and more importantly, integrated approaches to surface and groundwater – may mask key opportunities for improving the management of water across borders.

Surface water and groundwater systems are connected in most landscapes. The interconnectedness between and among water sources calls for conjunctive management of those sources to encourage their optimal use. Conjunctive management refers to the simultaneous management of ground and surface water resources, to achieve security of water supply and environmental sustainability.

The conjunctive management of water resources can bring a range of benefits including contribution to vulnerability reduction, climate resilience and protection of aquatic and terrestrial life, as well as optimising water productivity and environmental sustainability. This is more so the case in shared river-aquifer systems where increasing and often conflicting water demand has to be addressed. Within SADC, where more than 15 river basins are shared, and 25 shared aquifers have been identified to date, primarily in arid and semi-arid and climate-sensitive regions, conjunctive management of shared water systems is even more urgent. Good progress is seen on developing joint agreements and institutions related to transboundary river basins and increasingly also on aquifers. However, little coordination of the work on surface and groundwater exists to date. Yet, up to 60% of the populations in this region is reliant on groundwater, while focus of international work has traditionally been on surface water.

As part of fulfilling the vision of the Southern Africa Development Community’s Groundwater Management Institute (SADC-GMI) to ensure the equitable and sustainable use and protection of groundwater in the SADC region, important work is being undertaken on shared aquifers. The lessons learnt from the ongoing work related to the Transboundary Aquifers (TBA) of Ramotswa (Botswana and South Africa) and Stampriet (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) inspired the decision to broaden research and stakeholder engagement on the management of TBAs in the region. As such, research into shared groundwater aquifers is growing with the aim of assisting RBOs and other institutions in integrating groundwater and surface water management. The Shire Basin (Malawi, Mozambique) has been identified as an important pilot case to develop comprehensive assessment tools and joint stakeholder processes, which will inform conjunctive transboundary water management in the basin and more broadly in the region.

Implementation of conjunctive water management requires objective research to enhance technical capacity and build relevant institutions. The Shire Conjunctive Water Management Project (Shire ConWat) focuses on the Shire River-Aquifer system, a transboundary water management area shared between Malawi and Mozambique.The Shire ConWat is part of the SADC-GMI ongoing project (The Sustainable Groundwater Management in SADC Member States), funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Multi-Donor Trust Fund Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) through the World Bank.

The Shire System was identified as an ideal research area to investigate the conjunctive management of water resources because of the close coincidence between the geographic boundaries of the transboundary surface water and aquifer systems. The project recognizes that optimal transboundary water management results from taking conjunctive approaches that optimise water use across a diversity of water resources and scales. Supporting conjunctive cross-border water management in the Shire will be pursued through three key task areas: a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA), a Joint Strategic Action Plan (JSAP) and Knowledge Management of Research Results. The choice of the Shire Basin was approved by the SADC Member States as part of the SADC-GMI’s work plan that went through its extra-ordinary Steering Committee meeting in June 2017.

The work is framed within ZAMCOM (Zambezi Watercourse Commission) and other existing national and international organizations with a key role in managing water resources sustainably in the Shire Basin.These include the ARA Zambeze and the National Directorate of Water Resources Management (DNGRH) in Mozambique, and the Shire River Basin Management Program and the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development in Malawi.The project will establish an extended network to enable discussion and dissemination of findings. This network will include SADC, AMCOW, the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), and the African Network of Basin Organizations (ANBO).

The overarching objective of the project is to contribute to the sustainable water management in SADC. The specific objective is to identify and develop joint strategic conjunctive management of the shared surface and groundwater resources of the Shire River basin and aquifer systems. Shire ConWat seeks to develop and apply an approach for conjunctive water management in the Shire transboundary river-aquifer system particularly through:

  • Compiling, synthesizing and disseminating surface and groundwater data and information (including on their dynamic interaction) in the Shire river-aquifer system
  • Participatory identification of cross-border water issues requiring shared management approaches and development of institutional mechanisms that support the achievement of equitable and sustainable resilience-strengthening water use approaches based on conjunctive management
  • Documenting and disseminating regionally relevant principles and guidelines for promotion of transboundary conjunctive management of river/aquifer systems based on the Shire river/aquifer system study.
Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) to gather the state of knowledge in the system to facilitate identification of priority issues and key ways forward.
Joint Strategic Action Plan (JSAP) to identify priority actions and investments for enhanced national and transboundary water management.
Knowledge Management of the Research Results to compile, synthesize and share the experiences for conjunctive water resources in the SADC region using the Shire river/aquifer system as the pilot study.

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