Transboundary: Water management through multi-level participatory governance and community projects in Volta River Basin (#430)

The Volta River basin remained one of the few unregulated transboundary watercourses in Africa.  Action was taken to improve water governance and water management practices. Although this is still in progress, it has resulted in multi-scale participatory governance frameworks for joint management. From this process, it is evident that building a local knowledge base with good data and information systems is important in deciding the most efficient allocation of resources.  


The Volta River Basin in West Africa has a surface area of approximately 400,000 km2 across six countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and Togo. The basin is divided into four major sub-basins: the Black Volta, the White Volta, the Oti and the Lower Volta. 

The Volta Basin is home to nearly 19 million people. The Volta basin is an important asset for the livelihoods of the people and development of the riparian countries.

The Volta River Basin faces enormous development challenges. Poverty and increasing population pressure have led to the extensive exploitation of natural resources contributing to water scarcity, land degradation and the siltation of river channels.

Despite the fact that most of these challenges call for basin-wide responses, the Volta River remained one of the few transboundary watercourses in Africa without an international treaty and without a basin-wide coordination mechanism.

Limited consultation and coordination between Burkina Faso and Ghana combined with uncoordinated policies and development initiatives were serious threats to the sustainable management of Volta Basin.

The basin had no formal legal and institutional arrangements to manage disputes over resources. Tensions between Burkina Faso and Ghana stemmed from misconceptions about the causes of climate variability and changes in flow patterns of water resources.

Action taken

The Water and Nature Initiative (WANI) and partners have worked with riparian states in the Volta basin to improve water governance and water management practices.

WANI, through a project supported the setting up of local, national, transboundary and regional governance frameworks to improve the management of water resources in the Volta Basin focusing on Burkina Faso and Ghana.

This has resulted in multi-scale participatory governance frameworks for joint management of water resources and improvement of livelihoods through riverbank protection schemes. This has complemented and helped to facilitate large scale government and donor initiatives that have supported the establishment of the Volta Basin Authority. The Volta Basin now has a number of legal tools, knowledge and capacity to sustainably manage its shared water resources at local to transboundary levels.

As a response to development challenges in the Volta Basin, WANI also launched a project “Improving Water Governance in the Volta River Basin” to demonstrate change in water governance and management.

WANI and partners aimed to improve water governance through consensus on key water management principles and to institutionalize coordination mechanisms. If effectively and fully taken into consideration, these policies offered a good basis for reaching an agreement for the equitable and sustainable management of the Volta River.

In both Ghana and Burkina Faso, the adopted legal and institutional frameworks for the management of water resources promoted integrated basin management, equitable access, water for nature and international cooperation.

Lessons learned

  • Although water laws and institutions for managing water resources were in place in both Ghana and Burkina Faso, the implementation of IWRM principles were not fully demonstrated and there is still a lack of regulatory processes or mechanisms to manage the basin water resources.
  • While the willingness to discuss transboundary issues was present, the lack of baseline knowledge of the basin and the absence of major water users in decision-making processes and governance frameworks limited the riparian countries’ ability to manage the water resources sustainably.
  • Alignment of activities with national priorities and linkages with government policy processes are needed for larger-scale impacts. When national interests are positioned with regional initiatives such as basin authorities, which have the political hardware and infrastructure to support transboundary collaboration, water resources governance can become a reality at multiple scales and across national boundaries.
  • Stakeholders and partners are more willing to participate when they see tangible results and improvements in their everyday lives such as income generation schemes, water supply facilitation and conflict reduction. Addressing some of the issues that are important to the community helps considerably in gaining trust and a commitment to engage in wider governance issues and initiatives.
  • Building a local knowledge base with good data and information systems is important in deciding the most efficient allocation of resources. Such a tool is key thorough understanding of the relationships and scenarios within the basin such as water availability, trends, demands and conflicts, and can then lead to better management decision making.