By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – The East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) regions have come together to exchange knowledge and expertise to explore collaborative efforts for effective transboundary water resources management.

The meeting that began on Monday this week in Maseru is expected to pool experiences and best practices within the EAC-SADC regions for effective management of the water resources.

The Deputy Executive Secretary at the East African Community (EAC)–Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) and also a Head of the Mission Coletha Ruhamya said sharing experiences and fostering partnership is key.

The Lake Victoria Basin extends within the territories of the five partner states of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

“Managing our water resources requires thinking out of the box; to explore ideas that can be creative and unusual sometimes and not limited or controlled by rules or tradition. We are here to learn from your experience, we are here to learn from the challenges you have encountered and still meet but also sharing ours too and most important we are here to foster partnership with institutions of similar mandate (ORASECOM-Orange-Senqu River Commission, SADC water division, OKACOM, ZAMCOM-Zambezi Watercourse Commission).”

She underscored that partnerships are critical in managing our water resources in that it; helps to drive delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); it helps showcasing one another’s work and harness one another’s networks and platforms; brings together experts and practitioners working to achieve similar goals.

The Head of Mission further added that collaboration helps to generate new ideas and policy proposals; we are going to learn a lot from you people as well as support common goals and strengthen dialogue.

“Time for action is now and not tomorrow. Who should act?  [It] is me and you,” she said.

“Integrated Water Resource Management and Development (IWRM&D) in the Lake Victoria Basin aims to promote and facilitate the implementation of sustainable development, management and equitable utilization of water resources. To achieve this goal, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission has embarked on the implementation of different strategic interventions among which: (i) supporting the preparation and implementation of IWRM investments (including water supply and sanitation); (ii) coordinating and facilitating basin-wide water data and information generation and dissemination; and (iii) strengthening the capacity of the relevant institutions (Water Resources Management Authorities, Water utilities, National Environmental Management Authorities) on water resources management, operation and maintenance of water infrastructure.

“In combined development partner support, German Development Cooperation is also supporting the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and the East African Community in the integrated management of transboundary water resources through two Projects aiming to deliver on the above strategic interventions: (i) the LVB Integrated Water Resources Management Programme (LVB IWRMP) co-funded by the KfW and the EU aiming to improve the water quality in the Lake Victoria Basin through strategic IWRM investments; and (ii) the GIZ Technical Cooperation (TC) support to strengthen LVBC in IWRM. The GIZ support addresses water management and institutional framework development at the EAC-Secretariat,” reads the press statement.

For his part, the Senior Programme Officer in the SADC’s Water Division, Dr. Patrice Kabeya said that after the Covid- 19 pandemic the landscape has changed.

“Within the water management paradigm, water resources are shared unequally among regions. This is where the SADC protocol comes in to guide Member States to manage transboundary water management. Diplomacy is very important when trying to manage transboundary water resources. Water cooperation can be sustainable, our role is to support Member States to manage water effectively,” he said.

Lenka Thamae, Executive Secretary at ORASECOM, said the gathering provides an opportunity to shed light on water management to audiences who are not water experts about water management.

He added: “In 2000 SADC countries adopted a framework working together and cooperating on the management of water shared by more than one country. Entities such as ORASECOM were established as a result of the implementation of the SADC protocol for shared watercourse. We have a lot of things in common in Africa – best practices in southern Africa and also in the Nile Basin, of which the Lake Victoria basin is a sub-basin.”

Thamae highlighted how SADC has learned how to empower women in decision making platforms in water cooperation from the Nile Basin.

He noted that they opted for the model laid out by the Women in Water Diplomacy Network on the River Nile.

He however pointed out that more work needs to be done on gender mainstreaming. How to empower women and mainstream gender more effectively is of key importance saying they are formulating a strategy guide for women in the water diplomacy network.

“An important lesson learned today is that joint planning is also very important in terms of transboundary water cooperation, this includes planning water infrastructure and considering water pollution and climate change together. Some of the challenges have to do with capacity building, countries are at different levels of capacity,” he said.

Lesotho’s Director of Water Affairs in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Motoho Maseatile also applauded the initiative saying the exercise is about exchanging ideas and learning from each other.

“You will witness ladies and gentlemen some of our national initiatives that are of national importance [include] Lesotho Integrated Catchment Management Programme [Renoka] and transboundary water transfer project, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project,” he said.

Maseatile promised that the lessons Lesotho will draw from this study tour will improve their efforts on the national transboundary project.

Ms. Anne-Marie Ran, representative of KfW, the German Development Bank, based in Nairobi, Kenya expressed enthusiasm over the study tour.

“The Lake Victoria Basin Commission Integrated Water Resources Management Programme is a KfW supported programme, co-financed by the German Federal Republic and the European Union. Apart from investing in infrastructure to reduce pollution of the Lake, the programme also financed this study trip together with GIZ.

“The funding of the trip was inspired by the huge impact the EU Water Framework Directive has on the status of the lakes, rivers and groundwater in Europe.  It is possible to transform a polluted system to a healthy one and it doesn’t take that long. Shared water resources management is key to managing this impact,” she said.

Ran stated that the EU countries have a common goal and interest adding that the transboundary water resources management on the African continent can also have this aim.

She highlighted the need to “draft our own way forward to protect our African water bodies, national and transboundary in order to operate in the EAC as well”.