This year’s World Water Day (March 22) focuses on cooperation around water, so it’s a good time to reflect on lessons that those of us working on cooperation in international waters can learn from the experiences and accomplishments in water cooperation in the Nile Basin.
1 basin, 9 countries, 1 vision was in a brochure of one of the Council of Ministers meeting of the Niger Basin. The first time I saw that brochure I smiled as I right away thought about 9-1-1, the emergency telephone number used to respond to emergency circumstances in North America. It made me think about the numerous challenges that the Niger Basin faces.
This large Basin of 2 million square kilometers with a complex hydrology, running through nine countries, including its central part in the Sahel, has significantly untapped potential (agriculture, energy, etc.) that represents high stakes for large groups of communities, environmental degradation, and frequent water shocks (drought and floods). The Basin territory is also home to numerous political challenges, including instability and terrorism activities as highlighted by the ongoing events in Mali. Quite daunting when you look at it from this perspective, and it does give a sense of urgency.
Africa’s development agenda is inherently regional due to the large number of landlocked countries (15) and trans-boundary rivers (63 basins), as well as an uneven distribution of energy resources and load centers. Though Africa is endowed with a generous supply of water resources, most of its rivers, lakes and aquifers cross country borders - the Nile crosses 10, the Niger 9, the Senegal 4, and the Zambezi 8. This therefore calls for cooperative water resource management and coordinated investments to increase basin yields of food, power, and other economic opportunities, while strengthening environmental sustainability and mitigating the effects of droughts and floods.