Water Currents: Transboundary Waters

According to the United Nations (UN), transboundary waters—the aquifers and lake and river basins shared by two or more countries—account for an estimated 60 percent of global freshwater flow and are home to more than 40 percent of the world’s population. Depleted and degraded transboundary water supplies have the potential to cause social unrest and spark conflict among countries.

A main objective of the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy (GWS) is to promote cooperation on shared—or transboundary—waters and to diffuse potential conflicts over water between countries. A key development result in USAID’s Water and Development Plan (appended to the GWS) is to improve the management of water resources in water-stressed basins that are the source of important drinking water supplies.

Under the GWS and the USAID Water and Development Plan, the U.S. Government works to prevent transboundary water conflict and to improve the management of water resources in shared river basins by promoting the development of agreements and other approaches that support the cooperative management of shared water resources that are critical to the health and livelihoods of millions of people, and to the economies of many nations.

Governance for Transboundary Freshwater SecurityIW Learn, 2019. This massive open online course will cover transboundary governance as it relates to law, negotiations, management, geographical and biophysical constraints, and sustainable financing mechanisms. The course will launch at the end of 2019. Those interested in participating can receive an email alert when the course is active.

Blue Peace IndexEconomist Intelligence Unit, 2019. The Blue Peace Index assesses management of shared water resources across five pillars: policy & legal frameworks, institutional arrangements & participation, water management instruments, infrastructure & financing, and cooperation. The inaugural 2019 index measures 24 countries around five basins: Amazon, Mekong, Sava, Senegal, and Tigris-Euphrates.
Transboundary Waters FactsheetUN, August 2018. This factsheet highlights the benefits of transboundary water management to international trade, climate change adaptation, economic growth, food security, improved governance, and regional integration.
Transboundary Waters: Cooperation from Source to SeaStockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), October 2018. Evidence of the linkages among terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments suggests the need to strengthen source-to-sea connections in transboundary water cooperation.
Promoting Development in Shared River Basins: Tools for Enhancing Transboundary Basin ManagementWorld Bank, 2018. Transboundary freshwater systems create inevitable linkages and interdependencies between countries. This report identifies a series of tools to help realize and/or increase mutual benefits for riparian countries; mitigate transboundary harm; and promote cross-border coordination to reduce the risk of tensions and conflict that may occur.
Identifying, Assessing and Communicating the Benefits of Transboundary Water Cooperation: Lessons Learned and RecommendationsUNECE, August 2018. Experience has shown that identifying, assessing, and communicating the benefits of transboundary water cooperation is highly relevant to promoting such cooperation; and benefit assessments can be conducted in transboundary basins with different governance, socio-economic, and environmental profiles.

Gender Issues 
Tapping Our Potential: Women’s Water Leadership in the Nile BasinSIWI, August 2019. In the Nile Basin, SIWI and partners established a growing network of women water professionals active in transboundary water management under the Women and Water Diplomacy in the Nile platform to enhance the collective capacity of women throughout the basin and to support their engagement in decision-making and peace-building processes in the basin.
Exploring Gender Dimensions of Water Insecurity and Governance in the Lower Mekong Region (LMR)Stockholm Environment Institute, January 2019. This policy brief identifies how experiences of water insecurity in the LMR are gendered. It then scopes out the current trends and policy landscape of water governance in the LMR from a gender equality perspective.
How Important is Gender in Transboundary Groundwater Governance? A Question for the Ramotswa Aquifer in Southern AfricawH2O: The Journal of Gender and Water, March 2019. The paper assesses how legal instruments on gender and transboundary water resources influence equality for women and men in terms of reach of water access, benefits of water use, and empowerment.
Sharing Experience on Gender Mainstreaming in Transboundary Water BodiesUNESCO World Water Assessment Program, March 2019. Panelists in this webinar discuss different experiences with gender mainstreaming and analyze how transboundary water projects in particular benefit from a focus and investment on gender.

Gender and Water Governance in the Mekong RegionOxfam, February 2019. This report is an assessment of current water governance policies and institutional arrangements in the Mekong region from a gender equality perspective. Based on this assessment, the report identifies strategic opportunities for gender-responsive actions to address current gender gaps.

Transboundary Water Assessments and Monitoring  
Mapping Monthly Water Scarcity in Global Transboundary Basins at Country-Basin Mesh Based Spatial ResolutionScientific Reports, February 2018. Results showed that around 1.6 billion people living within the 328 country-basin units out of the 560 assessed in this study endure severe water scarcity at least one month a year, while a billion people in 175 country-basin units go through severe water scarcity at least three months each year.
Transboundary Aquifers of Africa: Review of the Current State of Knowledge and Progress towards Sustainable Development and ManagementJournal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, December 2018. This knowledge review of work on transboundary aquifers in Africa also includes an overview of assessments and management efforts that have taken place over the last half century.
The Nile Basin Waters and the West African Rainforest: Rethinking the BoundariesWIREs Water, September 2018. This focus article presents the state of the West African rainforest, its role in atmospheric moisture transport to the Nile Basin, and the potential impact of its deforestation on the Nile Basin's water regime, as well as options for improving transboundary water governance.
Monitoring of Transboundary Water Cooperation: Review of Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 6.5.2 MethodologyJournal of Hydrology, August 2018. Researchers analyze the methodology for assessing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicator 6.5.2, examine the defining of operational cooperative arrangements, and identify the strengths and limitations of the method for measuring transboundary water cooperation.

Progress on Transboundary Water Cooperation: Global Baseline for SDG Indicator 6.5.2UN Water, August 2018. This publication highlights the current status and trends in transboundary water cooperation and considers whether the international community is on track to implement integrated water resources management at all levels, especially transboundary, by 2030.

Other Studies and Reports  
New Beginnings in Transboundary Water CooperationUSAID Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP), 2018. The Mara River Basin is becoming a model case study of approaches and tools that foster effective transboundary water cooperation. In this webinar, SWP staff discuss transboundary water governance frameworks, water allocation planning, stakeholder participation and ownership, and on-the-ground implementation to improve water security.
Stagnant Rivers: Transboundary Water Security in South and Southeast AsiaWater, December 2018. In developing countries, a decision-making group often comprised of politicians, bureaucrats, and engineers dominate the management and governance of rivers. These groups perpetuate a technocratic paradigm toward the management of transboundary water, with limited genuine international cooperation.
Transboundary Water Conflict Resolution Mechanisms: Substitutes or ComplementsWater, June 2019. This paper examines various transboundary water conflict resolution mechanisms, revealing how they complement each other. The complementarity permits researchers and practitioners to develop more comprehensive mechanisms to analyze the different elements of the transboundary water conflict resolution process.
Advancing Integrated Water Resource Management Across the Kura River Basin through Implementation of the Transboundary Agreed Actions and National PlansUN Development Program, July 2019. This report examines links between human activities and environmental degradation, as well as potential impacts of such global threats as climate change and disasters on water resources in the Kura River Basin.
Hydro-Economic Modelling for Basin Management of the Senegal RiverFood and Agriculture Organization of the UN, 2018. Hydro-economic models have emerged as an effective tool for studying various water resources management problems around the globe, such as reservoir operation, transboundary water management, water-food-energy nexus, climate change adaptation, investment planning, etc.

USAID Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP) - SWP is a five-year cooperative agreement that supports USAID thought leadership, innovation, and action in global water security by integrating water security issues into overseas mission programming through relevant, mission-specific initiatives. SWP has also published toolkits that discuss various aspects of water security planning and implementation.
USAID Regional Water Management Forum – The forum improves regional transboundary water management and promotes sustainable management practices in Central Asia through two activities: the Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) and Smart Waters. PEER established a university-led forum to improve management of shared water resources. Smart Waters is building a cadre of water managers to share best practices, collaborate, and manage water resources sustainably.
Conjunctive Surface-Groundwater Management of Shared Waters: A New USAID Project – The project is working simultaneously in three shared watercourse/aquifer systems in Africa: the Ngotwane River/Ramotswa system (Botswana and South Africa); the Limpopo River/Tuli-Karoo system (Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe); and the Shire River system (Malawi and Mozambique).
International Centre for Water Cooperation (ICWC)  – ICWC is the first UNESCO Category II Centre in Sweden, and the first in the world to focus on transboundary water management in connection with peace, conflict, and regional development. Such centers are established and funded by member states to contribute to the achievement of UNESCO’s objectives.
Global Water Partnership (GWP) Transboundary Water Cooperation – Transboundary water cooperation/management is critical to GWP’s mission to advance governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development.
Transboundary Water Management Organizations – This webpage from the International Water Law Project contains links to more than 20 organizations involved in the management of shared waters.


Water Currents
Publication Date: 
5 Sep 2019
Produced By: 
USAID Water Team