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Transboundary Water Cooperation Helps Build Climate Resilience

Jacqueline Tront's picture
The World Bank at World Water Week 2015

Water does not respect geopolitical boundaries. Hydrological systems are completely oblivious of international relations. This makes life complicated for the water managers, financiers, diplomats, and most of all – the water users around the world’s approximately 276 transboundary river basins, 63 of which are in Africa. Sixty percent of the world’s freshwater flows are in transboundary rivers, and 40% of the world’s population lives in their river basins. When water cuts across borders, it poses economic, financial, logistical and political challenges for people trying to manage and develop the resource.​

Climate change is
The Zambezi River Basin in Africa is shared
by eight countries: Angola, Botswana, Malawi,
Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia,
and Zimbabwe.
Photo Credit: CIWA / World Bank
increasing uncertainty about where and​ when water will​ be available. It is affecting billions of people living in transboundary basins, and as​ often happens, the poor are the hardest hit.​ There is a long list of potential problems people will face – supply in water-stressed regions will diminish; some regions are likely to have more water than they can handle; most challenging is the fact that​ the timing and amounts of future water availability are impossible to predict with certainty. Other risks - the increasing intensity of droughts, floods, typhoons, and monsoons; uncertainties around waterborne disease; glacier melt and decreased storage in snow-pack; glacial-lake outburst floods; sea-level rise and salt-water intrusion - all pose the highest risk to poor communities that are least able to cope.

1 River Basin, 9 Countries, 1 Vision

Amal Talbi's picture

World Water Day 2013 Logo

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.