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Managing Transboundary Aquifers for Peace — Global Issues

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Transparent, fair policies and agreements tailored to the equitable sharing of groundwater can mitigate potential conflicts. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS
Transparent, fair policies and agreements tailored to the equitable sharing of groundwater can mitigate potential conflicts. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS
  • Opinion by Thokozani Dlamini (pretoria, south africa)
  • Inter Press Service

Effectively managed transboundary aquifers have the potential to nurture goodwill and collective action among nations, whereas mismanagement could lead to conflicts and negatively affect the sustainable utilization of these water reserves.

Therefore, it is crucial to have robust governance strategies in place for fair and sustainable resource distribution. Open and transparent communication among nations, coupled with cooperative initiatives such as mutual monitoring and knowledge exchange, is essential to alleviate tensions and ensure the responsible use of groundwater.

By embracing such collaborative measures, states can move towards a more peaceful and cooperative management of shared groundwater resources.

In the Southern African region, groundwater is a lifeline for most of the population. Estimates suggest that over 70% of roughly 350 million inhabitants depend on it as their primary water source.

UNESCO’s data reveal a stark reliance on groundwater, with 60% of the rural populace and 40% of their urban counterparts turning to subterranean supplies for daily water needs.

These figures not only illuminate the fundamental role of groundwater in sustaining livelihoods but also underscore the need for its judicious management, especially when it comes to shared resources across borders.

The high dependency on groundwater for such a large population mandates a collaborative and sustainable management approach to prevent disputes and ensure water security for both present and future generations in Southern Africa.

Indeed, fostering peace among nations sharing groundwater resources calls for proactive and Integrated strategies. Key among these is the creation of robust governance mechanisms designed to manage these resources fairly and sustainably.

Transparent, fair policies and agreements tailored to the equitable sharing of groundwater can mitigate potential conflicts. Additionally, maintaining open and participatory communication channels between member states is instrumental in addressing issues and negotiating solutions that benefit all parties involved.

This dialogue should aim to build a consensus and trust, which is vital for cooperation and long-term peace. Implementing such measures can promote a collaborative environment where shared groundwater resources are a bond rather than a barrier between states.

The Southern African Development Community has taken proactive steps to address the challenges associated with the transboundary nature of groundwater resources.

The SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses is a key instrument designed to foster cooperation and sustainable management of shared watercourses, including surface water and groundwater. The protocol’s objectives are to promote the equitable and reasonable utilization of water resources, the sustainable development of those resources, and coordinated water resources management, including the protection of the environment.

Furthermore, establishing the SADC Groundwater Management Institute by Member States as a Centre of Excellence for sustainable groundwater management signifies a strong regional commitment to addressing groundwater issues.

The institute aims to enhance the capacity of Member States in the sustainable development and management of groundwater resources, to reduce the vulnerability of SADC Member States to impacts of climate variability, and to improve groundwater governance in the region.

This is achieved through promoting information sharing, providing training and research opportunities, and supporting the implementation of groundwater management policies and strategies across the SADC region. These efforts reduce potential conflicts and enhance peace among Member States by ensuring that groundwater resources are managed effectively and equitably.

In the SADC region, there are approximately 30 Transboundary Aquifers. The Eastern Kalahari Basin Transboundary Aquifer stretches across Botswana and Zimbabwe and is a prime example of transboundary aquifer collaboration.

To effectively govern this essential shared resource, these countries have established cooperative frameworks and crafted pivotal agreements.

Pioneering these efforts is the ‘Joint Aquifer Management Strategy, ‘ an initiative headed by the SADC Groundwater Management Institute. This strategic framework is dedicated to fostering sustainable practices in groundwater management, ensuring equitable access, and underpinning cooperation between bordering nations.

It provides comprehensive guidelines for systematic groundwater monitoring, equitable resource allocation, and robust conflict resolution mechanisms, setting a precedent for transboundary water cooperation.

The SADC Groundwater Management Institute marked another significant achievement in advancing cooperation among nations sharing transboundary aquifers with the initiation of the Conjunctive Transboundary Water Resource Management Project in the Shire River Basin, a vital watercourse traversing Malawi and Mozambique.

This groundbreaking project yielded two pivotal documents: the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis Report and the Joint Action Plan. These frameworks are instrumental in charting a course for both countries towards the sustainable stewardship of the Transboundary Aquifer.

Transboundary aquifers epitomize vital water reserves and are a peace and international cooperation conduit. Through joint stewardship and equitable utilization of these groundwater resources, nations chart a course towards stability and shared affluence.

As we observe World Water Day, we celebrate these subterranean reserves that stitch together the fabric of nations, underscoring their pivotal role in fostering harmony, resilience, and sustainable progression across boundaries.

In honouring our interconnected water heritage, let us renew our dedication to a future where water serves as a bridge to concord and flourishing for all individuals. United in our efforts, we can elevate transboundary aquifers to beacons of hope and symbols in our collective journey towards a secure, water-sustained world.

Thokozani Dlamini is SADC-GMI Communication and Knowledge Management Specialist

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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