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Basin Level Agreements  

The 1997 UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses provides a set of principles for watercourse sharing. Although not formally in force as not enough countries have ratified the Convention, it is seen as a useful international legal framework and guidance for the creation of local watercourse agreements, and clearly promotes integrated water management. The 1997 Convention was signed and ratified by Namibia but not by Angola (UN 1997).

Kunene River Water Use Agreements

Since 1926, there have been five watercourse (or ‘basin-level’) agreements on the Kunene River, between governments representing what are now the independent states of Namibia and Angola.

First Water Use Agreement (Second Border Agreement), 1926. This agreement between South Africa and Portugal from 1926 concerned the regulation of use of water from the Kunene for power generation and inundation /irrigation in South West Africa.
Second Water Use Agreement, 1964. A subsequent agreement between South Africa and Portugal concerned “rivers of mutual interest” and “the Kunene River Scheme”. The agreement set out general principles for mutually beneficial water management, comprising “best joint utilisation”, technical collaboration including sharing of hydrological and other data, and negotiation on major schemes. In addition this Agreement set out the basis for further work on specific schemes on the Kunene, namely pumping water for use in Ovamboland, more electrical power from Matala for South West Africa and the principle to build a hydroelectric scheme at Ruacana.
Third Water Use Agreement, 1969. South Africa and Portugal signed this more detailed agreement in 1969. It focussed on what was termed “the first phase development of the water resources of the Kunene River basin”. It aimed to achieve:
  • Regulation of the flow of the Kunene;
  • Improvement of power generation at Matala;
  • Irrigation and water supply for humans and animals in the middle Kunene;
  • Water supply to South West Africa for humans and animals, and irrigation for Ovamboland; and
  • finally a new hydroelectric scheme at Ruacana.

The Third Water Agreement set up a Permanent Joint Technical Commission (PJTC) to act in an advisory capacity, and also set out details of the financing arrangements for the various schemes. It detailed works to be carried out in a first phase and these included dams at Gove and Calueque.

The last two agreements followed the independence of Angola in 1975 and Namibia in 1990.

Fourth Water Use Agreement, 1990. This was signed by the governments of the newly independent state of Namibia, and Angola. It endorsed the principles of the previous three agreements with specific aims to:

  • Conclude the Ruacana-Calueque water transfer and hydroelectric scheme;
  • Ensure the maximum beneficial regulation at Gove; and
  • Guarantee the operation and maintenance of the water-pumping works at Calueque and of the diversion weir at Ruacana.
Fifth Water Use Agreement, 1991. This agreement headed in a new direction, and laid the foundations for work on a new hydroelectric scheme on the Kunene River at Epupa. It is the most recent agreement and the one currently in effect.




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