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Ensuring the sustainable use of water resources to satisfy multi-lateral needs

Water resources

Andrew Tanner, Aurecon’s Specialist Consultant for Water Resources Management, discusses how developing Integrated Water and Resource Management (IWRM) strategies and plans are important building blocks towards achieving both national and multi-lateral objectives.

The increasing water requirements of South Africa’s burgeoning population and industrial growth are challenging the sustainable utilisation and management of water resources in the country.

South Africa shares a number of river basins with its neighbours. This requires South Africa to have long-term cooperative arrangements with its neighbours to avoid water availability being a constraint on future growth.

While the needs and objectives of river basin management in neighbouring countries may differ from South Africa’s, water availability is a critical component of their development planning and one of the primary focus areas of their national governance systems.

The unavoidable challenge is: How to ensure that shared water resources are managed effectively and sustainably, while still meeting the diverse, multi-lateral needs of two or more countries?

A different approach required to national water management

At the International Conference on Freshwater Governance for Sustainable Development in South Africa held from 5 to 7 November 2012, Andrew said: “There has to be recognition that managing and developing the water resources of a shared river basin requires a different approach from national water management and hinges on a commitment to cooperative governance”.

“The starting point is to achieve a vision for the river basin that is shared by the governments and populations of the riparian countries, together with common objectives that are measurable and achievable.”

Developing transboundary cooperative governance requires the fostering of trust, mutual understanding and respect for each sharing country’s unique objectives for socio-economic development. Integrated Water and Resource Management (IWRM) strategies and plans are important building blocks towards achieving both national and multi-lateral objectives.

Case study: Incomati and Maputo River Basins

Tanner presented the example of the Incomati and Maputo River Basins, which stretch across parts of South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique.

The necessary political accord was established in 2002, when Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland ratified the Interim IncoMaputo Agreement in terms of which they agreed to cooperate in the sustainable management of the Incomati and Maputo basins for the mutual benefit of the three countries.

Key stakeholders from the three countries developed the following shared vision for the basins:

  • A sustainable riverine environment
  • An improved quality of life and water for economic development
  • Protected and sustainable water resources
  • Development of dams to enhance water availability
  • Agreement on future IWRM scenarios

It was agreed that the Progressive Implementation of the IncoMaputo Agreement (PRIMA) Programme, which defined 12 Implementation Activities and Action Plans (IAAPs), should be implemented.

In essence, the primary objective of PRIMA is to provide all the technical information, including institutional, governance and financial, to facilitate the drafting of one or more comprehensive agreement(s) to replace the 2002 Interim Agreement.

Highlighting some of the challenges in meeting the vision, Tanner explained: “Environmental, social and economic development objectives need to be embraced by a wide range of government departments in each country so that each accepts their responsibilities for the implementation of IWRM plans.

“It is critical to have basic information that is shared, agreed and trusted.”

Extensive investigation

To develop IWRM strategies and plans, Aurecon employed a wide variety of engineering and scientific disciplines.

The first step was to assemble, integrate and correlate baseline information from the three countries to arrive at agreed data sets and maps. This encompassed:

  • Hydrological analysis and calibration of the hydrological model of the basins
  • Assessment of water resources infrastructure, including modelling the yields of sub-catchments and dams
  • Assessment of present-day and historical land use
  • Quantifying present and projected future water use
  • Status of and water requirements for environmental protection
  • Determination of current and future water balances per sub-system
  • Water quality assessment
  • Assessment of opportunities for water conservation and demand management in each water use sector
  • Feasibility assessments of potential new bulk water resource infrastructure

The project enabled the officials of the three countries to share a common understanding of the opportunities, challenges and limitations that the available water resources hold for future developments.

Progress to a vision

“The integrated development scenarios, combining environmental water requirements, proposed socio-economic developments and their associated water use, with future water resource management and infrastructure development plans for each basin, irrespective of the international boundaries, provided an agreed, shared, achievable plan for the future,” comments Tanner.

Aurecon has played an important role in making the achievement of the vision for effective water management in the Incomati and Maputo Basins a reality:

  • The IWRM strategies and plans for each basin provide the authorities in each country with an agreed framework for a wide range of water resource management and development activities
  • Through its leading role in two of the 12 IAAPs and involvement with the other IAAPs, Aurecon has assisted in the creation of an enabling environment for cooperative governance of the Incomati and Maputo River Basins, as well as facilitated the establishment of a River Basin Organisation

Lessons learned

The case study was discussed and debated at the conference, and yielded a number of lessons and recommendations:

  • There is a need for more demand-side management research by water management institutions
  • Greater coordination of efforts from all stakeholders is required
  • Consensus-driven water management should be promoted by broadening the scope of involvement beyond the realm of the water specialists
  • There is a need to identify common areas of research to enable efficiency and continuity to satisfy multi-lateral needs

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