Crossing water borders

How should countries that share rivers manage water resources? That’s the topic of the latest title in the IUCN Water and Nature Toolkit Series.


A woman and children crossing the river at the border between Ghana and Burkina Faso.

SHARE – Managing Water Across Boundaries was launched before an audience of international water policy negotiators at the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Changwon, Korea.

The book serves as a practical guide to transboundary water management. With more than 260 river and lake basins worldwide shared by two or more countries, managing water across borders is a critical challenge.

Country borders are often barriers to managing river basins as a single unit, according to the guide. Decisions made in one part of a basin are made without knowledge of the availability, use or needs for water in another part of the basin. Ecosystems often suffer as a result and tensions between nations emerge.

“Ten countries share the Nile basin,” says Gedion Asfaw, Project Manager for the Nile Transboundary Environmental Action Project. “The river is vital to development in these countries. Yet so far the upstream and downstream countries haven’t found a way to share the river in a way they all consider fair.”

Ethiopia, which harbors the source of the Blue Nile, is seeking increased cooperation between the countries of the basin. It is hoping for more equitable management of the Nile basin, to bolster national development.

“Conventionally, negotiations between countries over management of transboundary waters have focused on how to divide up the available water – who gets how much of the pie,” says Mark Smith, Head of the IUCN Water Programme. “But as SHARE points out, there is another way, which builds on cooperation instead of competition. Rather than focusing only on dividing up the water, states can aim for agreements based on sharing the benefits of water resources.”

Sharing the benefits of rivers means more people will profit from schemes such as hydropower or irrigation development. It also means countries can work together to avoid or reduce damage to the environment, such as wetlands.

“What policymakers and water managers need now is to understand benefit sharing options and approaches, but most of all, they need practical cases that they can learn from,” says Gedion Asfaw.

SHARE aims to do just that. Like all the toolkits in the Water and Nature Series, SHARE combines an explanation of principles with practical cases.

Among the audience on November 3, many were from river basins in Africa, such as the Okavango and the Zambezi, where transboundary cooperation is high on the agenda.

Participants such as Segkowa Motsumui, from Botswana, said SHARE needs to support capacity building in international river basin organizations in Africa to help them become more effective in supporting sustainable development.

About the Ramsar Convention

The international Wetlands Convention signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 under the sponsorship of UNESCO is an intergovernmental treaty that provides a framework for actions by nations and for international cooperation to conserve and make considered use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention presently has 158 signatories, who have placed 1,820 wetland areas totaling 168 million hectares on the List of internationally significant wetlands. For more information visit:

About IUCN

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Water Programme Communications, t. +41 22 999 0188, e.

Sarah Horsley, IUCN Media Relations, t. +41 22 999 0127, e.


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