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Shared watercourses key to African development and peace

Water is a source of life that cuts across both international and local boundaries in an effort to give life to humankind, animals and plants, hence it is referred to as life.

Transboundary waters can serve as a key focal point for collaboration, thereby diminishing tensions between countries while promoting regional integration and development, both within a basin and in a wider region.

The South African National Water Act of 1998 recognises the need to share transboundary water resources with neighbouring countries.

This provision has also been confirmed in South Africa’s National Water Resources Strategy.

Transboundary water management creates benefits for everyone to share international trade, economic growth, food security, better governance and regional integration.

Cooperation is of the essence in areas exposed to the impact of climate change and where water is scarce.

Wetlands around lakes and floodplains that overlap national boundaries provide essential ecosystem services to the surrounding populations, such as food provision, barriers against flooding and the natural processing of pollution.

South Africa shares four major rivers – Incomati, Limpopo, Maputo and Orange-Senqu – with six neighbouring countries, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, with a long history of water sharing arrangements.

The Orange/Senqu River shares water between South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia under the banner of Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM), with a clear mandate to provide coordination between the riparian states to promote integrated water resources management and development within the basin.

The Orange-Sinqu River Commission is also known as “One River, Four Nations” because of the number of countries the river passes through.

The basin incorporates the central part of South Africa, which represents nearly half of the surface area of the country.

Among others, the ORASECOM mandate is to determine the requirements for flow monitoring and flood management.

In 1986, South Africa signed with Lesotho a treaty on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) leading to establishment of the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission to implement the scheme.

The objective of the LHWP is to export water from Lesotho to the north of South Africa.

The Lesotho highlands deliver water to the Vaal river basin – another sub-basin of the Orange River basin – to secure water supplies in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging area.

The Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority was then established in 1986 to manage the LHWP.

The Limpopo River shares water between South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe under the Limpopo Watercourse Commission.

In addition, South Africa also shares a number of aquifers with neighbouring countries.

The Komati Basin Water Authority (KOBWA) is a bi-national entity that was formed in 1993 through the Treaty on the Development and Utilisation of the Water Resources of the KOMATI River Basin which was signed in 1992.

The agreement was between the Kingdom of eSwatini and the Republic of South Africa.

The purpose of KOBWA was to implement Phase 1 of the Komati River Basin Development Project.

As each country strives to generate economic growth and provide water for urban and rural residents, pressures on these shared systems are increasing due to climate change.

It is for this reason that a clarion call to people living around trans-boundary river banks to be water-wise and stop river pollution.

Against this backdrop, the Department of Water and Sanitation encourages community participation in clear river campaigns across the country, including communities in neighbouring countries.

  • Marcus Monyakeni is a communications specialist in the Department of Water and Sanitation, Free State

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