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WATER-SOUTHERN AFRICA: Strengthening River Basin Management

IPS Correspondent

GABORONE, Apr 21 2009 (IPS) - Many of the adverse effects of floods which swamped northwest Botswana in early March could have been avoided if the Okavango River Basin Commission (OKACOM) had an early warning system in place.

Better river management needed: Manuel Fanso was among 300,000 Mozambicans displaced by flooding in 2008. Credit:  Tomas de Mul/IRIN

Better river management needed: Manuel Fanso was among 300,000 Mozambicans displaced by flooding in 2008. Credit: Tomas de Mul/IRIN

"I just returned from northwest Botswana where I was inspecting damage from the recent flooding – the largest on record," Gabaake Gabaake, Permanent Secretary in Botswana’s Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources told delegates at the opening of a two-day regional conference in Gaborone on strengthening trans-boundary water management.

"We could have minimised the adverse impacts of this event if OKACOM had used its flow and water level data to develop and implement an early warning system," Gabaake said. "Those of us from OKACOM sitting here, and maybe even SADC, should be asking ourselves why it is that we have so many workshops like these, and Commission Meetings, and yet we cannot not even deal with relatively simple issues like the one I have just mentioned."

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) region has 15 major river basins which are shared by two or more nations. Co-operation on trans-boundary water management is considered essential for development of the region’s manufacturing, energy, mining and transportation sectors.

The workshop under way in Gaborone provides an opportunity for river basin organisations (RBOs) to consider proposed guidelines for the management of over 70 percent of the region’s surface water resources. This is expected to strengthen regional information sharing, strategic thinking, co-operation and co-ordination among RBOs, SADC, technical experts and international co-operating partners (ICP).

"While there are a number of the river basins with some form of institutional framework, we are still faced with a number of challenges. These include the effective implementation of the basin agreements which have been signed – some over a number of years – and the subsequent strengthening of the institutions once established," said Remigious Makumbe, Director of Infrastructure and Services, SADC secretariat.

"We also have agreements which still need to be ratified by the respective riparian states in order to come into legal force and begin to be implemented. For example, Limpopo River Commission (LIMCOM) and Zambezi River Commission (ZAMCOM)."

The region faces a number of challenges around water management, among which climate change and variability are the most important. Evidence of this is found in the high frequency and intensity of both floods and droughts, such as those that have recently hit the Cuvelai, Okavango and Zambezi River basins.

U.N. country teams report more than 600,000 people were affected by floods this year in Zambia with 31 killed. In Angola, 24 deaths have been reported, 78,000 people displaced and hundreds of thousands of hectares of plantations destroyed.

"It doesn’t take much to collaborate. All it takes is the recognition that working together pays. And when two or more partners are working together they become something greater than they were individually, something more substantial," said Dr. Horst Michael Vogel, programme coordinator with GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit), the German agency for technical cooperation.

More than 120 professionals from SADC member states are currently meeting in Gaborone for the third annual workshop on the strengthening river basin organisations, hosted by the SADC secretariat and jointly funded by GTZ and the United States Agency for International Development.

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