Ministers highlight the urgent need to ensure the financial sustainability of transboundary basin cooperation and development

About 3 billion people, over 40% of the global population, live within transboundary basins and rely on the good management of transboundary waters to secure drinking water supplies, support economic activities such as agricultural and energy production, and promote peace and stability. The benefits from transboundary basin cooperation and development are difficult to calculate but are very real and tangible. Too often those benefits are lost because the resources to finance development projects in transboundary basins as well as the transboundary cooperation processes that will enable them are nowhere to be seen.

While transboundary water cooperation has been gathering momentum in the international agenda, its financial dimensions remain sorely under-discussed. Under the leadership of Kazakhstan and Switzerland and with political support from the Netherlands, Ministers and other high-level officials from 35 countries gathered on 9th October in Astana (Kazakhstan) ahead of the Eighth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Water Convention to better understand the challenges and to plot a way forward – the first time that this topic has been discussed at this level. Given importance of the issue, a number of international organizations – including the UNECE Secretariat of the Water Convention, Asian Development Bank, European Investment Bank, World Bank, and GEF/IW:LEARN – came together to support this High Level Workshop, in a still too rare joint effort that the ministers praised and of which they expected to see more in the future.

As highlighted by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, Mr. Shukeyev, who opened the workshop “the urgency of effectively solving the problems of financing and coordinating actions for the development of transboundary river basins, interstate basin organizations and other joint bodies is beyond doubt.”

That is why the workshop took place through thematic ministerial roundtables to enable interactions between the participants on how to address this financial emergency. Numerous case studies from around the world were discussed in order to explore different financing sources, how to bring them together, and how to match financing sources to financing needs. They included the example of the Senegal river basin, where countries have jointly developed and financed infrastructure, or the Mekong river basin, where countries are working together towards the sustainable financing of their basin cooperation and development process.

Ministers found that different types of financing are needed for the different stages of the cooperation and development process and agreed that funding for the core functions of transboundary basin institutions should be provided by domestic public resources. They also agreed that they need to lead the development of basin investment plans and financing strategies that would provide guidance for different actors and financing sources to play their part. They called for this workshop to be the starting point of a more thorough dialogue on the financing of transboundary basin cooperation and development, which should have a higher place in the international processes related to water, climate and development.

UNECE Executive Secretary Ms. Olga Algayerova highlighted that “global financing needs for water-related investments to achieve SDG 6 are estimated to range from $6.7 trillion by 2030 to $22.6 trillion by 2050. Investments are needed not only to build new infrastructure but also to maintain and operate existing facilities.” 

She also recalled that legal frameworks such as the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Water Courses and International Lakes Convention (Water Convention), serviced by UNECE, help to improve the enabling environment for investments by reducing investment risks, owing to the legally binding long-term commitments made by Parties and to the continuous support for cooperation offered by the Water Convention’s framework.

The outcomes of the High Level Workshop were captured in a Co-Chairs’ Summary and its main messages relayed the following day to the 80 countries represented at the historic 8th Meeting of the Parties to the Water Convention (10-12 October), which for the first time included African countries as Parties to the Convention. In order to influence the global discussion on financing, UNECE will include financing transboundary water cooperation in the Water Convention’s programme of work for 2019-2021. The co-chair countries will work to ensure that the outcomes captured in the Co-Chairs’ Summary will be integrated in other relevant international processes.