Transboundary Water Management in SADC: Protecting a scarce resource in Southern Africa

Project description

Title: Transboundary Water Management in the SADC region, phase 5
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Co-funded by: European Union (EU)
Country: SADC Member States
Lead executing agency: SADC Secretariat
Overall term: 2020 to 2023


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 has become its second-largest consumer.

According to United Nations data, 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 protect and manage the scarce and unequally distributed water resources. The SADC Member States have agreed on the principles of shared and integrated water resource management through international conventions and regional protocols. Numerous regional, basin-wide and national policies, strategies and action plans have been drafted to this effect, but they have not yet been put fully into practice. Integrated approaches for the protection and sustainable use of water resources are not yet adequately established.


Transboundary water resources in the SADC region, especially in the Orange-Senqu river basin, are protected and utilised sustainably through integrated approaches for catchment management.


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 support provided by the project is directly aligned to the Regional Strategic Action Plan on Integrated Water Resources Development and Management (RSAP) as well as relevant basin-level and national frameworks with a focus on promoting integrated water resource management approaches. Together with the SADC Water Division, the project supports regional dialogue among the Member States.

The major thrust of the current project phase is a large programme for Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) in Lesotho, which is co-financed with 27.6 million Euros. Lesotho is the “water tower” of Southern Africa, and all water-related challenges and interventions have an immediate effect downstream in the Orange-Senqu river basin. Stakeholders in Lesotho will be supported in learning from experience in the region while the project promotes avenues for Lesotho stakeholders to contribute to the regional agenda. 

The project builds the capacities of stakeholders at different levels. Regional and national policy frameworks need to be updated and harmonised. Strong coordinating institutions for ICM at the national and local levels need to be established and resourced, including data and monitoring systems. Knowledge and skills must also be strengthened. At the same time, the project supports the implementation of concrete measures for land rehabilitation and prevention of degradation in sub-catchments, including small-scale infrastructure and community-based approaches that enhance the livelihoods of local farmers. This also includes demonstration projects for the nexus water, energy and food security. Gender equality, human rights and climate change will be mainstreamed throughout all project activities.

Implementation harnesses existing in-country capacity and the scaling-up of ongoing initiatives. To this end, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH will partner with international, regional and local organisations such as FAO, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Global Water Partnership (GWP) and Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN).