Transboundary waters—which support the socioeconomic wellbeing of more than 40 percent of the global population, as well as the ecosystems on which they depend—were a regular discussion topic in special sessions and high-level panel events at the Forum. This is not surprising given the complex blend of human, environmental and agricultural water stresses that is putting a number of the world’s 286 transboundary river basins on a trajectory toward high risk of water scarcity, and several toward closure—where water demand exceeds supply seasonally or throughout the year—by 2030. The below map, depicting the relative risk of environmental water stress projected for 2030, illustrates the potentially dire future of the world’s transboundary freshwater basins.
Countries are relying more and more on transboundary water resources to meet their growing water demands; yet, because transboundary basins create inevitable linkages and interdependencies among neighboring countries, actions to this end may have cross-border impact. For example, the unilateral use of shared waters by one country may affect water availability for use in another co-riparian country—seasonally (e.g., flow changes through storage or other flow management infrastructure), quantitatively (e.g., consumptive use), qualitatively (e.g., pollution), and over time (e.g., downstream development of water resources, which may foreclose future use upstream). Tension and conflict over competing water use may also emerge.
With a growing number of transboundary basins in which water use and demand permanently or temporarily exceed the amount of renewable water available, along with uncertainty from climate change, coordinated basin management and planning of new interventions (both “hard” solutions, such as infrastructure investments, and “soft” solutions, such as coordination of flow regulation) will become increasingly important to secure water availability and create resilience in these systems.
In many basins, riparian countries have successfully addressed water challenges through coordinated action. They and their development partners have developed and tested various tools that can be employed to harness the benefits that can be derived from shared freshwater systems and to achieve more water security in the long term.
The World Bank has brought together these experiences from the various basins in a comprehensive overview report that guides practitioners and decision makers in the process of identifying appropriate tools to address the unique transboundary water challenges they are dealing with. The report, Promoting Development in Shared River Basins: Tools for Enhancing Transboundary Basin Management, was launched at the World Water Forum in Brasilia.
“It presents a non-prescriptive, interactive toolkit comprising 101 tools derived from the international experience [with corresponding real-world examples and associated web links] that can be employed by countries and development partners in their efforts to develop more water-secure economies and societies by harnessing the freshwater resources of shared basins”, said Jennifer Sara, Director for the World Bank Water Global Practice, at the launch event. The report offers a simple guidance framework that helps the reader find appropriate tools at the various stages in the basin development process. A companion report explains the application of the framework and the use of select tools through case studies on the Kura-Araks, Columbia, Chu and Talas, Vuoksi, Douro, and Rhône basins.
Together, the reports aim to contribute relevant knowledge toward optimizing basin development and achieving mutual benefits, and to preventing or mitigating transboundary harm, in accordance with the transboundary cooperation elements in SDG6 and the World Water Forum Declaration.