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Water Convention’s future directions on monitoring and data exchange in transboundary basins ‎outlined based on experience and needs of over 70 countries ‎

The exchange of data and information on water resources in shared basins – which are home to over 40 per cent of the world’s population – is crucial for effective cooperation between countries in this critical area for sustainable development.

Over 70 countries from Latin America, the Pan-European region, Africa and Asia and as many other organizations and actors gathered last week for the Global workshop on exchange of data and information exchange in transboundary basins (4-5 December, 2019) and the Fifteenth meeting of the Working Group on Monitoring and Assessment (6 December, 2019), organised under auspices of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention). The workshop was co-organised by the Water Convention together with different partners, such as the International Network of Basin Organizations, World Meteorological Organization, World Bank, UN Environment, the European Union Water Initiative Plus for the Eastern Partnership and the International Water Assessment Centre (IWAC) hosted by Kazakhstan.

UNECE’s Executive Secretary Ms. Olga Algayerova opened the workshop with strong messages on  how data and information exchange “is a precondition for developing a common understanding about the status of shared waters and, later on, for developing jointly agreed measures” and on the link between water management and climate change adaptation, she reinforced that “we need to build stronger resilience together,  act on evidence and science-based targets”.

Supporting this effort, the Water Convention is a unique global framework and platform to exchange experience about transboundary water cooperation. The increasingly global participation in its activities was demonstrated by the workshop, providing an occasion for the riparian countries as well as cooperation and civil society initiatives of the Nile Basin to reach out to each other and to share their views on how to strengthen information exchange in the basin. It was also an opportunity for four countries sharing the Senegalo-Mauritanian aquifer to benefit from international support and transboundary groundwater management models for their on-going development of a road map for reinforcing cooperation.

In the global workshop, the participants jointly identified the main challenges preventing effective data and information exchange in transboundary basins, to focus the work on addressing concrete issues. Among the financial obstacles raised, it was underlined that funding for monitoring and the exchange of data and information is often insufficient and is rarely the political priority in budget allocations. As for the technical challenges, participants noted the lack of appropriate infrastructure, such as monitoring and measuring equipment, but also of related standardization of procedures for harmonization. The main political challenges mentioned were the lack of trust and political instability. Finally, administrative challenges such as insufficient inter-agency and cross-cutting institutional coordination, besides lack of material and human resources, were mentioned as main obstacles.

Another highlight was the panel discussion on sustainability of monitoring as well as data and information exchange, including financing. The panel brought together diverse actors’ views, including those of international development finance, a country representative, NGO and a river basin organization (RBO) representatives to share their unique perspectives and suggestions on how to strengthen sustainability of collecting and exchanging data and information in transboundary settings. Even if panellists raised the importance of looking into cost-efficient ways of data collection and integration in monitoring systems, including opportunities from remote sensing data, the importance of an appropriate institutional framework such as RBOs to ensure the sustainability of data and information exchange was underlined to have a fundamental importance. Besides the role of joint bodies, the role of civil society was also pointed out as crucial in raising awareness and initiating cooperation even in contexts where political will to cooperate is low.

Building on the fruitful discussions during the workshop, the Working Group on Monitoring and Assessment engaged in strategic discussions by region to refine proposals for possible future activities. Among the main outcomes of the meeting, the Working Group recognised the need to update the strategic guidelines on monitoring and assessment and decided to work towards integrating technological advances and experiences from different regions. The Working Group elected Mr. Niokhor Ndour from Senegal as its new co-chair, joining Ms. Lea Kauppi from Finland, now together leading the work to address the challenges brought up at the workshop. Senegal is making history as the first non-UNECE Member State co-leading a work area under the Water Convention.  Various African countries are in advanced stages of national accession processes to join the Water Convention, contributing with their tradition of strong river basin organizations.