International Water

The boundaries between countries are political constructs which often do not take into consideration the distribution of natural resources. For example, rivers have been used as international boundaries for centuries and, although rivers may form logical barriers between people, they by definition fall in the centre of drainage basins. Political boundaries therefore divide water courses, river basins and groundwater aquifers. Where ever this happens the water course, river basin or aquifer becomes international. This complicates the management of water resources enormously. A good example of this is in Southern Africa where all rivers of size are shared between at least two countries and every country has at least 1 international river, with Mozambique has 9. (See the tables below)

International water resources management is a complex process. Whilst it may lead to tension and stress between countries, it also provides opportunities for co-operation to maximize the mutual benefits of the resources. International water resources management requires both political and technical process which usually needs a legal basis through which to function. In many instances the institution which manages the process is a river or basin Commission. The establishment of all of the necessary elements often requires many years of negotiation and planning and is subject to many disruptions and hurdles which often have nothing to do with water.

Countries regulate their relationships with regards to shared water courses through treaties, protocols, agreements and other legal instruments. These usually address such issues as water quality, water utilisation and abstraction, the construction of hydraulic structures such as dams and weirs for irrigation, hydro-power generation and flood management, notification and conflict resolution. For more detail see the International Water Law section of The Water Page.

 

SADC states sharing international river basins

Basin State

Number of Basins

Name of River Basin Covered

Angola

5

Cunene, Cuvelai, Okavango, Zaire, Zambezi

Botswana

5

Limpopo, Nata, Okavango, Orange, Zambezi

Lesotho

1

Orange

Malawi

2

Rovuma, Zambezi

Mozambique

9

Buzi, Incomati, Limpopo, Rovuma, Save, Maputo, Pungue, Umbeluzi, Zambezi

Namibia

5

Cunene, Cuvelai, Okavango, Orange

South Africa

4

Incomati, Limpopo, Maputo, Orange

Swaziland

3

Incomati, Maputo, Umbeluzi

Tanzania

2

Rovuma, Zambezi

Zambia

1

Zambezi

Zimbabwe

6

Buzi, Limpopo, Nata, Pungue, Save, Zambezi

Major River basins and flows in southern Africa

River

Countries

Zaire

Angola, Zaire, Zambia

Zambezi

Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Buzi

Zimbabwe, Mozambique

Cuvelai

Angola, Namibia

Nata

Zimbabwe, Botswana

Orange

Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa

Pungue

Zimbabwe, Mozambique

Incomati

South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique

Shire

Malawi, Mozambique

Luangwa

Mozambique, Zambia

Okavango

Angola, Botswana, Namibia

Cunene

Angola, Namibia

Limpopo

Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe

Save

Mozambique, Zimbabwe