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African governments tipped on laws governing transboundary water resources

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) has entered a partnership with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Network for Basin Organizations (ANBO) to train government officials across the continent in international water law over the next five years.

While launching the pilot programme on Aug. 3 in the Uganda lakeside town of Entebbe, Fred Mwango, a regional water expert based at the IGAD headquarters in Djibouti said the programme is intended for practitioners and professionals from regional basin organizations and government agencies who have a role in negotiating, drafting or reforming treaties and legislations, planning, and decision making on transboundary waters.

Mwango said most countries share water resources which cross borders. Yet, despite this reality, most countries; including those within IGAD do not have governing principles for transboundary water resources.

The training is thus aimed at strengthening capacities of institutions of countries and basin organizations in Africa to address these issues through enhancing knowledge and skills necessary for promoting cooperation among countries.

Mwango said the idea is for the participants to understand international water law and be able to domesticate the principles of these laws.

“Water is everything; its scarcity can easily cause war if we don’t handle it properly.

“All the elements of development are anchored on proper use of water.  Understanding international water law will contribute to good water governance; that is why it is important to develop instruments of sharing these resources,” he said, “Ultimately; the idea is to use water in Africa in a peaceful manner to spur development.”

Makerere University and the University of Dundee have partnered to deliver the course, thanks to their wide-ranging research and specialty in international water law as well as their long-term cooperation with governments and basin organizations in Africa.

Experts on water say the scale of freshwater challenge is enormous, especially with climate change making water availability more unpredictable and causing more frequent, widespread droughts and floods.

Therefore, in order to succeed in providing water security for all, people will not only depend on water bodies located entirely within one state’s territory, but also on freshwater systems [rivers, lakes and aquifers] that mark or cross international boundaries.

Climate change which is already having an enormous adverse effect on water resources has been identified as a future source of serious conflict between countries that share transboundary water resources.

That is already happening on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the Semliki river system eroding more Ugandan territory to the Congolese side.

“Understanding international water law is important if we are to avoid those conflicts that are being anticipated,” said James Kenge Gunya, a knowledge management officer at the Stockholm-based Global Water Partnership.

Gunya said with climate change already happening coupled with the ever-growing need for hydro-electricity across the continent, conflicts are most likely to occur in some of the major river basins on the continent in the near future.

Africa hosts most of the world’s major transboundary watercourses, which cover more than half of its surface area and 90% of its surface water resources. But despite this abundant water wealth, Africa uses less than 4% of the water available and less than 10% of its hydropower potential.

The most important shared watercourses that traverse the continent include the Congo, Limpopo, Niger, the Nile, Okavango, Orange, Senegal, Volta and the Zambezi.

But while many transboundary rivers are governed by multilateral agreements, such as the Nile basin’s Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), there still exist regulatory gaps.

For example, despite the need for more active cooperation in the River Nile basin, it has reached an impasse, mostly because the affected countries are taking differing positions over the agreement— especially its key ‘water security’ provision.

The CFA defines water security as the right of all Nile Basin states to reliable access and use of the Nile River system for health, agriculture, livelihoods, production and environment, and provides, “that the cooperation, management and development of waters of the Nile river system will facilitate achievement of water security and other benefits.

This provision has been the main sticking point with regard to the creation of an all-inclusive and effective legal framework in the basin.

In June, 2013, the former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi stopped short of declaring war on Ethiopia following the latter’s unanimous decision to build a multi-billion dollar 6,000 MW dam—the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Prof. Emmanuel Kasimbazi, an expert on environmental law at Makerere University said international water law is about understanding one another despite the discrepancy in water demand.

He said since capacity in knowledge on use of transboundary water resources is uneven between countries, understanding the rights and obligations of the affected countries which share these resources is critical.

Gunya told The Independent that the experiences and lessons learnt from the four day training would be used to develop a more comprehensive five year course (2016-2020) on international water law for participants on the continent.

The participants in the pilot programme came from Lesotho, Malawi, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Chad, Benin, Senegal, The Gambia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

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