Transboundary cooperation: for better water management and protection against drought and floods

Project description

Title: Transboundary water management 
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: SADC Member States
Lead executing agency: Southern African Development Community (SADC)
Overall term: 2016 to 2019


Renewable water resources in southern Africa amount to around 2,300 cubic kilometres annually, but these are distributed very unevenly across low-precipitation, arid areas and tropical zones. Around 70 per cent of this water comes from transboundary rivers, and the remainder from lakes and groundwater. The majority of the annual resources are used for agricultural irrigation; however, demand from the industrial sector is growing constantly and it is now the second-largest user.

According to data from the United Nations, only 62 per cent of the population in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have access to safe drinking water, and only one person in three has access to adequate sanitation facilities. The impacts of climate change make it even more difficult to manage the scarce and unequally distributed water resources. This means that the development of water infrastructure, particularly dams to store water and regulate levels, is particularly important. The SADC Member States have agreed on the principles of shared and integrated water resource management through international conventions and regional protocols. Numerous policies, plans and strategies have been drafted to this effect, but they have not yet been put into practice adequately.


The implementation of selected harmonised policies and strategies for transboundary cooperation in the water sector in the SADC region has improved.


The project supports SADC in implementing harmonised policies, strategies, guidelines and instruments agreed between the Member States for transboundary cooperation in the water sector. The objectives and activities are derived directly from the SADC Regional Integration Strategy as well as the associated regional plan of action. 

The project focuses on establishing the necessary institutional and organisational framework and also on strengthening the technical and planning capacities of the partners. Together with the SADC Water Division, it is supporting regional dialogue among the Member States as well as the development of competent institutions in the states along river basins. In addition, it is building up the national resources for planning and implementing infrastructure measures in the water sector.

The project is working across three fields of activity: 

Infrastructure support: The project is developing plans to mobilise funding for water resource management and infrastructure development. The excellent experiences with development partnerships with the private sector in South Africa, Lesotho and Botswana are to be rolled out across the entire region.

Development of river basin organisations: The project aims to build the capacity of river basin organisations. It tests sustainable, economically sound financing models in practice.

Adapting to the impacts of climate change: The introduction of disaster risk management instruments and measures is being planned to provide better protection for the population. This includes establishing a basis for effective flood prevention by collecting reliable information on water volumes and water quality. Prompt exchange between the key decision-makers and the population is also of particular importance.

Too few women are involved in decision-making processes concerning transboundary water management. This remains a major hurdle that needs to be overcome on the road to achieving gender equality. The project is therefore advising the SADC Water Division and the river basin organisations on implementing measures that directly include women in processes for shaping opinions and making decisions.

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has a 50 per cent share in the implementation of the programme as a cofinancier.


  • More than 1,600,000 people have access to cleaner, safer water thanks to various infrastructure and pilot projects. The Kunene Transboundary Water Supply Project provides access to a safe and reliable drinking water supply in the north of Namibia and in the south of Angola. 
  • Thanks to a regional water fund, 700,000 people will benefit from access to water and hygiene facilities in the long term. 
  • A measure to protect the wetlands at the source of the Orange River is improving the water supply of up to 45,000 people in the Johannesburg metropolitan area in South Africa. 
  • More than EUR 45,000,000 of private and public funds have been mobilised through pilot projects in partnership with private businesses and feasibility studies for infrastructure projects. 
  • The SADC region benefits from improved disaster preparedness: flood risk maps and early warning systems have been developed to ensure that the SADC Member States are better prepared for floods. Over 900,000 people along the Limpopo River can now be warned about floods at an early stage. In the villages, committees of volunteers have been set up to provide initial disaster relief and to bring people and animals to safety in an emergency.

Further information