Rivers do not respect international borders. Across the globe, 261 major river systems are shared by two or more nations. In these transboundary river basins, water use and development decisions by one nation are often made at the expense of the other riparian states and their stakeholders, especially those downstream. As water becomes scarcer, the potential for conflict – some even predict warfare – are expected to also increase. Aquatic ecosystems and those who depend on river-based livelihoods usually suffer the greatest repercussions from these conflicts.
In an increasing number of transboundary watersheds, river basin commissions have been formed. These commissions create a forum for deliberation and negotiation of joint management agreements, seeking to alleviate tensions among riparian stakeholders and between nations. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a process of bringing all of the interested parties and decision-makers to the negotiating table and guiding deliberations towards an informed understanding of the optimal water management choices. IWRM encourages participants to develop water management strategies that integrate supply and demand considerations as well as both human and environmental needs.
NHI has significant experience in promoting, organizing and advancing IWRM processes in the transboundary context. Indeed, we often play a uniquely valuable role by assembling the non-governmental centers of technical excellence in the basin to evaluate sustainable management strategies that require a degree of transboundary cooperation that the nations themselves and the river basin commissions are politically disabled from proposing. We do this by creating and advancing analytical tools that better illuminate optimal water management outcomes and by working with stakeholders to identify and assess the range of plausible and promising future management scenarios and design the legal and institutional frameworks necessary to implement innovative solutions. Our hypothesis is that this work at the non-governmental level – but with the concurrence of the government agencies – will illuminate the hydrologically-, economically-, and institutionally-feasible pathways toward a better future for all riparian stakeholders in all of the basin nations. So far, this expectation appears to be validated.
We have ongoing projects on the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S.-Canada border in the Great Lakes region, and Southern Africa’s Okavango River Basin. We are also in the process of identifying other regions where our involvement is likely to advance IWRM processes.
NHI helps facilitate IWRM processes through our relationships with regional and international water management organizations such as the International Water Management Institute, intergovernmental organizations such as the World Bank, and the international development assistance community. We will continue to build these networks to gain access to promising river basin planning processes such as the shared river systems in West Africa (Senegal, Volta and Niger Rivers), Southern Africa (Orange, Limpopo and Zambesi Rivers) and Southeast Asia (Mekong and Indus Rivers).