As water scarcity intensifies so does the reliance of states on shared water resources which increase interdependencies between riparian states. Overexploitation, contamination, difference of interests, lack of strategic cooperation and mismanagement of transboundary waters lead to poor access to sufficient and good quality water as well as to decreased ecosystem services.
In this sense, disagreements or conflicts between states can be aggravated, especially in water-scarce regions where riparian countries are prone to divide water resources instead of sharing them and be endowed with the benefits of strategic allocation. In many cases, countries need to cooperate to manage floods or droughts. That is why effective and coordinated management of the shared resources and effective cooperation across borders are among the major challenges that national governments and regional organisations face nowadays.
Transboundary water resources management (TWRM) requires shared responsibilities and cooperation. The main problems in managing transboundary water resources are rooted in the differences among the riparian countries, in terms of socio-economic development, interests and objectives for water use, political orientation, administrative and management capacities to nationally manage water. The joint resource management at transboundary level must have and consider special features among which equity, ethics, transparency, mutual respect and trust and justice play an important role. Some of the challenges that TWRM brings are:
- Conflicting agendas and lack of trust and political willingness among countries. This includes competing interests in development and encountered environmental and economic interests between neighbours.
- Emerging issues such as climate change, population growth, water-ecosystems, water-energy and water-food nexus (See Critical Challenges).
- Up to date information and development plans are hardly shared among the riparian states.
- In water-scarce regions, where the quantity of water is in centre, the riparian countries tend to have difficulties on focusing on the benefits from water’s shared use.
- Investments and measures in water –related projects taken in one country will most likely affect the quality and quantity of water in neighbouring countries which may result in conflicts among riparian countries.
There are tools crucial for developing integrated transboundary water management:
- Strong institutional arrangements with well-defined implementing procedures, supported by agreements and clear regulations.
- Up to date information systems and inventories are necessary to inform regional dialog and debate regarding the management. On one hand, updated data on water policies, development plans and environmental management help improving the robustness of models and policy design. On the other hand, hydrological data facilitates the assessment of water availability and demand, important for estimations of water as a resource for fishing, navigation and hydroelectric power, among others.
- Joint research between riparian countries to develop Early Warning Systems and to maintain the quality and quantity of the resource. (Tools B.1.2 and B.1.11)
- Guidelines and joint plans to approach the new emerging issues such as climate change, water-energy, water-ecosystems and water-food nexus are required.
- Knowledge sharing on sustainability performance and on how the resources are being consumed.
- Knowledge sharing on how IWRM approach is being implemented or has been implemented in other basins to learn from experiences, and trained staff and capacity building programmes to support the implementation of IWRM.