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Introduction to Transboundary Water Resources Management  

Many of the world’s freshwater reserves are shared by several countries. There are over 263 transboundary river basins in the world, a third of which are shared by more than two countries (Giordano & Wolf 2003). Transboundary basin catchments represent 47 % of the earth’s land and 40 % of the world’s population (Wolf et al.1999). Over 145 countries share these basins; the territories of many countries lie exclusively within the hydrological boundaries of basins. Within Africa alone, there are 63 transboundary river basins.

Much of the Lower Kunene forms the border between Angola and Namibia.
Source: © Ostby 2007
( click to enlarge )

A river basin represents a unified hydrologic and geographic unit, which supports a holistic perspective on river basin management. River Basin Organisations (RBOs) have been promoted as the most appropriate means to manage water resources under some form of supranational authority (Johnston 2009). This supports the approach of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), which has been proposed under international water law.

Transboundary river basin organisations provide a framework for managing water resources across national boundaries. Other critical institutional responses to address some present-day water challenges include commitment to international treaties, effective national water laws and regulations governing access and use of water, and creation of a knowledge-base for basin managers to make informed decisions.

At the International level, the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN Convention) provides a framework and principles to guide transboundary or international water management. The Revised SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses (Revised Protocol) is an example of a legal instrument at the regional level stipulating rules and regulations for members of SADC (Böge 2006). At the basin level, the Kunene Permanent Joint Technical Commission (PJTC) is established within the framework of  this Revised Protocol.

Transboundary Rivers within SADC

There are 12 continental member states* in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which share 15 international rivers. Some of the biggest river basins are the Congo Basin with a catchment area of 3 680 000 km², the Zambezi Basin with 1 300 000 km², the Orange-Senqu Basin with 973 000 km², the Okavango Basin with 586 000 km² and the Limpopo Basin with 408 000 km². The five rivers have a total mean annual runoff (MAR) of 364 000 million m³ (Savenije / Zaag 2000), but the availability of water is under increasing pressure due to increasing developmental demands in each of the basin states.

Besides the Kunene Basin Namibia shares the Okavango-Epukiro, the Cuvelai-Etosha, the Orange-Senqu, the Kalahari-Karoo and the Caprivi Strip Basin with its neighbouring countries.

Angola shares the Congo, the Zambezi, the Cuvelai, the Kunene and the Kuvango-Okavango Basin with neighbouring countries.

Source: Savenije and van der Zaag 2000

*N.B.: SADC comprises in total 15 member states.




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

Video Interviews about the integrated and transboundary management of the Kunene River basin

Explore the principles of Integrated Water Resource Management applied to the Kunene