Four West African countries unite for joint water management

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Since the years 1980, the water sector has been the subject of increasing attention on the part of international institutions, as evidenced by the numerous international conferences, which have been widely publicized, which have been taking place periodically since then.

In the West African subregion, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal have decided to initiate a discussion for the joint management of a shared aquifer system, indispensable for the economic and social development of this region of 24 million people.  

Sharing the senegalo-Mauritanian aquifer, the techno-science.net information site, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal met on 6 and 7 February 2019 in Geneva as part of a roundtable discussion on the theme of cross-border collaboration of this strategic water resource today threatened by salinization, pollution and climate change. Organized jointly by the Geneva water hub, a hydrodiplomacy centre attached to the University of Geneva (UNIGE), and the Secretariat of the Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes of UNECE, this diplomatic meeting allowed representatives of the water ministries of the four countries to have a first Exchange on the State of knowledge of this complex system of aquifers largely dependent on the water supply of cities such as Dakar or Bissau.

With an area of about 350 ' 000 km2, the senegalo-Mauritanian aquifer is the largest basin of the Atlantic margin of Northwestern Africa. The groundwater contained therein is a strategic resource for the four aquifer States-the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal-whose populations, which have more than 24 million people, depend in a wide access to drinking water and various sectoral uses. Some of the major cities in the region, such as Bissau and Dakar, find an essential part of their water supply. However, States are now confronted with several challenges such as the risks associated with salinization, various sources of pollution or the impact of climate change on the variability of precipitation required to recharge Tablecloths. This is a situation that is all the more worrying in the absence of a framework for cooperation at regional level and with regard to the need to develop knowledge about these aquifer systems.

A first step towards enhanced cooperation

From 6 to 7 February 2019, the round table on cross-border collaboration around the senegalo-Mauritanian aquifer system brought together the four aquifer States and the main transboundary basin bodies in the region: the Organization for the development of the Senegal River and the Organization for the development of the river Gambia. The participation of the latter allowed to explore avenues of institutional innovation aimed at their potential involvement in groundwater management, in addition to their surface water management mandate.

The round table thus provided an Exchange platform for the four States and basin organizations, with active contributions from experts and technical and financial partners. Discussions have made it possible to make an update on the aquifer's current knowledge, to discuss the issues of its management and to identify possible options for cooperation in order to promote sustainable management and use of the aquifer. Based in particular on the guidance note on the benefits of cooperation in the transboundary waters area, developed within the framework of the Water Convention, States have identified a wide range of benefits that a strengthened cooperation on the senegalo-Mauritanian basin could generate, both in economic, social and environmental terms (e.g. the possible increase in incomes in small irrigated agriculture projects and the reduction of the costs of production and exploitation for drinking water supply), as well as benefits related to regional economic cooperation and peace and security (regional stability conducive to investment and combating rural exodus).

Towards informed, resilient and sustainable concerted management

Among the main recommendations of the meeting, States agreed to establish a working group with a view to carrying out a comprehensive inventory of existing knowledge of the basin and outlining a common project of resilient governance of the sustainable and peaceful development of the region. This project could be supported by a consortium of partners, including the technical and financial partners who contributed to the round table (IAEA, AfDB, BGR, Canton of Geneva, SDC, GWH, IGRAC, UNECE and UNESCO).

The round table was organized jointly by the Secretariat of the Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) under the auspices of the UNECE and the Geneva water hub, a centre of excellence on hydropolitic and hydrodiplomacy attached to UNIGE, which hosts the Secretariat of the high-level World Panel on water and peace. The issue of this round table is part of the Panel's recommendations, which the Geneva water hub contributes to implement, including the importance of increasing cross-border and cross-sectoral cooperation on water Underground. It also responds to the activities of the Water Convention, whose mandate is to strengthen cooperation through the development of joint agreements and arrangements for the management of transboundary waters, both surface waters and water Underground. Senegal's recent accession to the Water Convention and the interest shown by other riparian States in acceding to it reflect the increased importance accorded to the Water Convention as a universal instrument for water diplomacy.

Moctar FICOU/VivAfrik                 

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