World Water Week: Transboundary water management and capacity development

Written by Bhavna Bhasin, on 26 August 2022

As climate change intensifies and exacerbates water challenges, there is a growing need for effective transboundary water management. However, despite its key role in securing transboundary peace and ensuring sustainable development, commitments and financial investments to support transboundary water cooperation and basin development remain too rare. 

This was highlighted at a  23 August Stockholm World Water Week session on the Cost of inaction in transboundary water management. This online session, and a separate online session on  Accelerating SDG6 achievement through capacity development of people and organizations, kickstarted IHE Delft engagement at the World Water Week. 

The session on transboundary water management brought together shared concerns yet diverging views on how to define the benefits of transboundary cooperation, and quantify costs of inaction. Panelists from United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the World Bank, the Orange-Senqu River Commission and IHE Delft shared their perspectives on the process.

Missed benefits for local communities

Leading the discussion on analysis of local impact to justify and enhance cooperation, IHE Delft PhD Candidate Alyssa Offutt noted that 52% of the world’s population resides in transboundary basins. 

“When we think of transboundary water management, it is quite common to think of governments, but it is important to remember that water systems have a direct impact on health, livelihood and quality of life of local actors,” she said.

Offutt, whose research focuses on transboundary water management, added:

“Inaction can stem from both absent transboundary management as well as ineffective management, where cooperation occurs but is not necessarily implemented or backed by substantive efforts. And when this occurs, this can cause both irreversible damage like the loss of endemic species as well as compounding issues like increasing contaminate loads that not only complicate future interventions but prolong the cost for local communities.”
Alyssa Offutt

At the capacity development event, speakers highlighted that water financing must be devoted not only to infrastructure, but also to ensuring that organizations and people have the capacity they need to manage water effectively. 

Discussing the UN-Water SDG6 Capacity Development Initiative, a joint effort by several UN system and other partners – including IHE Delft -  that aim to enable them to jointly support countries in need, Alice Aureli, Chief Groundwater Resources and Aquifer Systems at UNESCO, said the initiative was launching a call for countries to express interest in support for water-related action across all sectors. 

“When we talk about water capacity development, we are not only talking about, per se, water supply or sanitation sectors,” she said. “Water is agriculture, water is industry, water is tourism - water is very much related to the social and economic development of a country,” she said, noting that efforts would be aligned with the partner country’s development goals and its ecosystem needs. 

World Water Week 2022 takes place from 23 August to 1 September online and in Stockholm, Sweden. The theme this year is Seeing the Unseen: The Value of Water, with a focus on topics ranging from food security and health to agriculture, technology, biodiversity, and the climate crisis. 

Recording of the session

Watch the recording of the session hosted during the World water Week in Stockholm, 2022, that aimed to mobilize support from governments and financial institutions to the Capacity Development Initiative, through which UN-Water members and partners will support countries in developing capacities to accelerate implementation of water related SDG’s. The Initiative will respond to specific country’s capacity development needs, building on their current strengths.

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