Report // Supporting transboundary water cooperation: Learning from water-stressed basins in West Africa
By Alfonso Medinilla and Katja Sergejeff. This paper builds on existing and new analysis on two transboundary basins, namely the Niger river and Senegal river basins to illustrate the challenges and specific opportunities of water resource management in complex regional settings. The paper argues for an alternative approach to supporting transboundary water cooperation in EU external relations. Applying a problem-driven approach to transboundary cooperation can help avoid persistent under-implementation of regional commitments, refocus cooperation on the provision of tangible public goods, creating new opportunities for cross-border management of resources.
Effective and collaborative management of water resources across borders can enable peace, food security and resilience. As water scarcity and water stress are growing worldwide, most river basin organisations seem to acknowledge the need for transboundary water cooperation. Yet the agreements reached therein suffer from persistent under-implementation.
This paper looks at two transboundary basins, namely the Niger and Senegal river basins, which are a priority for the European Union (EU), as the ability to effectively respond to the effects of climate change and water stress in the region is crucial for the credibility of EU external action. It argues for an alternative approach to supporting transboundary water cooperation, compared to more traditional and linear development thinking that usually underpins EU support.
The EU’s fairly principled approach to supporting transboundary water cooperation needs to be more pragmatic and politically smart to understand, promote and support necessary policy change. Transboundary water cooperation needs to be problem-driven to make sure regional commitments are implemented. It also needs to focus on the provision of tangible public goods, creating new opportunities for cross-border management of resources.
The examples from the Niger Basin Authority and the Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Sénégal show that ultimately member states’ political interests define the feasibility of regional agreements on the use of cross-border water resources. These examples highlight the need to manage different sectoral interests both at the national and regional level, and show the limits of a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing water problems.
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