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Strengthening cooperation between the Water Convention serviced by UNECE and the World Bank can improve sustainability of investments in transboundary basins

Strong cooperation between the World Bank and UNECE, which services the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and international Lakes (Water Convention), can bring many benefits: the Convention can increase the sustainability of regional and basin cooperation projects and reduce investment risks owing to the legally binding long-term commitments made by countries and thanks to the continuous support the Convention offers to cooperation.

These were some of the conclusions of the meetings between UNECE and the World Bank on 21 March 2019 in Washington D.C. which included several bilateral discussions, with the water department senior director, senior officials of the legal department and regional staff members.

“The Water Convention, which aims to promote the sustainable management of transboundary waters through cooperation, and its activities are consistent with the World Bank’s vision of “A Water-Secure World for All”, explained Francesca Bernardini, the secretary to the Convention, “in particular with the World Bank’s priorities to ensure sustainability of water resources, strengthening institutions to prevent conflicts and enhance sustainability of investments, and increasing resilience to climate change. “

“Transboundary water cooperation poses many challenges, and is often a long-term process, but can potentially generate significant economic, environmental, and political benefits”, stated Greg Browder, global lead on water security at the World Bank. “For these reasons it is strategically important for the World Bank to share the Convention principles and implementation experience with its clients and in partnership with the Convention Secretariat.”

The World Bank and the Water Convention have been cooperating since the Convention’s entry into force in the 1990s, with a focus in the pan-European region, in particular in Central Asia and especially in the Drin, Pyanj and Sava basins. In the Pyanj basin, the World Bank builds on the previous UNECE implemented project between Afghanistan and Tajikistan to strengthen relationships between these two countries in cooperation with other development partners. Donor coordination was already fostered by UNECE in the framework of the National Policy Dialogues in Central Asia. In the Okavango basin, work supported by UNECE on assessing the benefits of transboundary water cooperation complemented the Multi Sectoral Investment Opportunities Assessment carried out by the World Bank in the basin.

Cooperation between the World Bank and the Convention has increased over the last years in the field of financing climate change adaptation in transboundary basins. Two joint workshops on this topic were organized in 2016 and 2017 together with others, and a publication was prepared jointly by the World Bank, in cooperation with AfDB, INBO, UNECE, the Netherlands and Switzerland in 2018. Subsequently, the scope of cooperation broadened in 2018 to address the wider topic of financing transboundary basin development. A joint high-level workshop on this topic was organized back-to-back to the eighth session of the Meeting of the Parties in Astana on 9 October 2018. The process of universalization of the Convention and its growing global relevance offer opportunities to strengthen cooperation both thematically and geographically, as agreed in Washington. Future cooperation discussed includes joint capacity-building activities, preparation of joint knowledge products or mutual promotion of existing knowledge products and increased cooperation in specific projects.