Windhoek – Water experts from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member countries convened in Windhoek this week to share experiences and formulate a strategy that would help the region secure funding to develop water infrastructure.
Water in the southern African region is increasingly becoming scarce aggravated by the El Nino drought – the worst in 35 years – that has riveted the region in recent years. The situation has been escalating and can no longer be ignored. There are 15 shared river basins in southern Africa but the majority are not fully functional, with only six fully operational or in the process of being operationalised.
These are the Orange, Zambezi, Limpopo, Okavango, Incomati-Maputo and the Kunene-Cuvelai River basins. The rest are yet to be developed due to a lack of funding.
According to the SADC Secretariat, only 60% of 280 million people in the region have access to safe drinking water. Experts met from May 8 to 9 for the 8th SADC River Basin Organisations (RBOs) workshop held under the theme “Securing Strategic Investments to Realise the Benefits of Transboundary Water Cooperation”.
Speaking at the opening of the workshop on Tuesday, Namibia’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Percy Misika, said investing in extensive water supply infrastructure is needed to ensure industrialisation and economic development.
All SADC member states with the exception of Oceanic members share one or more river basins.
Misika said these are resources (water) available to transform the region’s economies to the level of industrialised and developed nations.
“It, however, requires financial commitment if we are to realise such dreams. Such financial commitments must be at all levels be it at continental, national, regional, water utility or RBO level,” he said.
The regional SADC RBO workshop is a biennial platform aimed at using RBOs as a vehicle for strengthening regional integration and cooperation.
But despite these workshops and widely available literature regarding the benefits derived from transboundary water cooperation, there has been little work done to demonstrate the benefits of transboundary water cooperation using empirical evidence.
SADC Director for Infrastructure Water Division, Phera Ramoeli, said despite being assessed, documented and understood, the benefits of transboundary water cooperation have not been communicated well in the region.
“Empirical evidence to support the extensive existing literature on the benefits derived from transboundary water cooperation is still lacking. There is need, therefore, to take further steps towards ensuring that the benefits are not only understood but are also realised within the region,” he said.
Ramoeli said stakeholders are expected, through the workshop, to gain a better understanding of how the benefits of transboundary water cooperation can be identified, assessed and communicated to foster cooperation.
He said this can be done while at the same time, sharing experiences on basin-wide investment planning and implementation processes that can contribute to the realisation of benefits of transboundary water cooperation. “In addition, the workshop proceedings are expected to lead stakeholders to a consensus on the priority arguments and examples of compelling evidence for cooperating in order to ensure the much-needed political support and funding for the cooperation process,” he said.
The RBOs workshop was attended by SADC member states, RBO Secretariats, the SADC Nexus project regional steering committee, regional institutions, international cooperating partners and experts, among other participants.
Deputy permanent secretary in Namibia’s agriculture, water and forestry ministry, Abraham Nehemia, said securing investments in transboundary water infrastructure has become crucial for a water-scarce country like Namibia, which is equally the same for other water-deficient countries in SADC.
“Most of the options available for us are pointing at tapping the shared water courses, which are mostly lying at our borders and are shared with riparian states,” he said.
He added that it is, therefore, in the best interest of all riparian states and in the spirit of true transboundary water cooperation through the region’s River Basin Organisations that SADC’s Protocol on Shared Water Courses must be taken seriously.