International Waters

The GEF International Waters focal area targets transboundary water systems, such as river basins where water flows from one country to another, multi-country lake basins, groundwater resources shared by several countries, or large marine ecosystems (LME) bounded by more than one nation. The GEF helps countries work with their neighbors to modify human activities – including agriculture, industry, mining, water and other resource extraction, fishing and wastewater management – that place ecological stress on the water systems and degrade them, often affecting downstream use by another country or community. In this way, water and marine resource use conflicts can be prevented, security and livelihoods improved, habitats protected, health risks minimized and water and marine resources used sustainably for the benefit of all.

UNDP's Role
UNDP-GEF International Waters projects target priority global transboundary environmental and water resources concerns including nutrient overenrichment, overuse and conflicting uses of water resources in surface and groundwater systems, degradation of physical habitats in coastal and near-shore marine areas, lakes and watercourses, the introduction of aquatic alien species, and excessive exploitation of living aquatic resources and associated biodiversity. Using the well-established strategic approach of joint ‘fact finding’ (Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis, TDA) and multi-country commitment to governance reforms (Strategic Action Programme, SAP), UNDP-GEF plays a catalytic role in helping nations better understand and prioritize transboundary problems, agree upon and implement policy, legal, and institutional reforms to address these issues, and make full use of funding and investment opportunities.

UNDP implements a large portfolio of GEF International Waters projects cumulatively valued at nearly $2 billion including $412 million in GEF grants, plus co-financing from governments, intergovernmental organizations, UNDP and other UN agencies, bilaterals, financial institutions, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. The portfolio is composed of four signature Programmes and a Global Programme:

Through its International Waters portfolio, UNDP-GEF is providing support to over 120 countries and over 20 existing or emerging regional waterbody institutions.

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Delivering Results – Strengthening Regional Water & Oceans Governance

Key outcomes from UNDP-GEF International Waters portfolio include the completion of 17 Transboundary Diagnostic Analyses, 17 Strategic Action Programmes or equivalent completed with most already adopted at ministerial level, four new regional legal frameworks adopted (Caspian, Dnipro, Tanganyika, Pacific Fisheries) and one at the global level (Ballast Water). To date, 20 multi-country management institutions have been created and/or strengthened – eleven regional freshwater, eight regional marine/coastal, and one at the global level on invasive species in ship ballast water.

Delivering Results – Reducing Stress on Shared Aquatic Ecosystems

Projects implementing stress reduction measures in major transboundary waterbodies are completed or underway in the Danube and Dnipro Rivers, Lake Tanganyika, Black Sea, East Asian Seas, Benguela Current LME, Caspian Sea and the Pacific SIDS. Through UNDP-GEF’s PEMSEA Programme, over 20 integrated coastal management sites are operational in 12 countries in East Asia, which are being extensively replicated. Stress reduction results include measurable reductions in pollution loads and tangible evidence of ecosystem recovery, such as in the Danube/Black Sea basin. UNDP has also worked to ensure that mechanisms for sustainable, ecosystem-based management are in place for nearly half of the world’s tuna stocks in the western Pacific; that as many as 40 countries have adopted and are implementing ballast water management reforms to counter the threat of invasive species transfer through ship’s ballast water; and that six countries with large artisanal mining sectors are reforming mining policies, transferring sustainable technologies, and introducing sustainable livelihood options to reduce mercury pollution from artisanal gold mining.

Portfolio Learning

UNDP, in cooperation with UNEP, the World Bank and the GEF Secretariat, initiated a special learning project - IW:LEARN – designed to stimulate and facilitate exchange of experiences and lessons learned among different GEF and other international waters projects. Now in its third phase, IW:LEARN also organizes the GEF Biennial International Waters Conferences every two years to bring together country, project and partner representatives from across the GEF portfolio to share lessons, experience and good practices in transboundary waters management. IW:LEARN is one of several projects UNDP-GEF is implementing under its Portfolio Learning programme.

Local Action on International Waters

UNDP also implements actions to protect and restore freshwater and marine transboundary waters systems at the local level through the GEF Small Grants Programme. To date, nearly 750 small grants totaling nearly $15 million have been awarded and projects implemented in participating SGP countries. Increasingly, SGP projects target the agreed transboundary environmental and water resource priorities committed to by countries through UNDP-GEF supported Strategic Action Programmes (SAP). For more information, see SGP International Waters.