On the 15th - 16th of February 2022, a national workshop for the secretariat of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) was organized in Uganda at Protea Hotel, Entebbe. This follows a prior meeting that was conducted on 15 November 2019 in Kampala by the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment and the Water Convention Secretariat which is hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to increase awareness and understanding of the Convention with officials, including those from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.
The overall objective was to inform stakeholders about the Water Convention, to share the processes initiated by Government of Uganda to become a party to the Water Convention and to discuss the next steps in the accession process.
What the Water convention means for Uganda.
Uganda, which has 98% of its water resources in the Nile River Basin, has taken numerous measures to promote cooperation with neighboring States in the management and development of its shared waters, in accordance with the provisions of international law. Uganda has ratified the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) and hosts the secretariat of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) in Entebbe. Additionally, Uganda is party to the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Kenya regarding the Sio-Malaba-Malakisi (SMM) transboundary basin is in its final stages.
The secretariat of the Water Convention was directly involved in supporting the development of the SMM Basin Investment Framework which led to the development of the SMM MoU. Adopted on 17 March 1992 in Helsinki, Finland, the Water Convention aims to strengthen cooperation in the field of transboundary waters and to promote protection and sustainable use of transboundary surface waters and groundwaters. Initially limited to the UNECE pan-European region, the Water Convention has been opened for accession by all United Nations Member States, since 1 March 2016. Five African countries have already acceded to it (Chad, Senegal, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau and Togo) and many others are in various stages of the process of accession.
The Water Convention, and the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (Watercourses Convention) – together known as the “United Nations global water conventions” – provide unique global legal frameworks to support cooperative development and prevent conflicts related to shared waters. Furthermore, the Water Convention has a dynamic institutional framework which acts as an essential intergovernmental platform within the United Nations system for promoting transboundary water cooperation at the global level. Both conventions are mutually complementary, and the United Nations Secretary-General encourages countries to accede to and implement them.
Let’s hear from the key speakers of the workshop.
As the chief guest, Hon. Sam Cheptoris while giving remarks aired out how Uganda has since 1960s acted as a moderator of downstream-upstream dialogue and played a key role in the finalization and signing of the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) and has been engaging other countries in the basin to resolve the disagreements over CFA.
“I wish to take this opportunity to welcome you all for this national workshop, where issues of transboundary water cooperation will be discussed, and justification as to why Uganda should accede to the Water Convention will be presented leading to a road map for accession.” he said during the workshop.
Ms. Sonja Koeppel, highlighted the great step taken to integrate a dedicated goal on water (SDG indicator 6.5.2) which was included in the Sustainable development goals (SDGs) but also is a requirement for countries to implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation.
“Today's workshop represents an important step and unique opportunity for thoroughly analyzing the obligations of the Convention, the practical tools it offers to support countries' efforts, and the benefits and risks, if any, associated with its accession. It is important that this workshop results in a clear commitment and roadmap for accession.” She said, during the national workshop at Protea Hotel in Entebbe.
On her part, Ms. Caroline Adriaensen, emphasized how the national workshop will help bring all parties to a common level of perspective on the cooperation framework of the Water Convention.
“I believe that for Uganda to join the UNECE Water Convention would come with many benefits. Apart from providing international principles, standards and practises necessary for the sound management of international watercourses, it would send an unmistakable signal to international water actors that Uganda is keen on cooperation, thus ultimately helping unlock and share the many benefits accruing from water.” She said while making her speech at Protea Hotel in Entebbe, Uganda.
Mr. Harry Liiv, Special Envoy for Transboundary Waters at the Ministry of the Environment in Estonia and Chair of the Bureau of the Water Convention disclosed that the Convention will enable better management for water resources and will also promote bilateral cooperation with neighboring countries.
Mr. Alfred Okot Okidi, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water and Environment, said that the preparatory meetings are going on to help address the challenges ahead of the accession process and that once the convention is ratified Uganda will enjoy great benefits on various water sources and international lakes.
UNDP’S Water and Ocean Governance programme.
“The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) projects and programmes bring a diverse suite of actors together to jointly protect ecosystems and ensure the sustainable use of water and ocean resources to build equitable, inclusive, and sustainable societies. Supporting transboundary resources’ management is part of that effort.” Ms. Elsie Attafuah
Ms. Attafuah also re-echoed the call to action by the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Ms. Amina Mohammed, at the Africa Water and Sanitation Week in November 2021. Ms. Mohammed set out three immediate priorities to urgently accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 on clean water and sanitation for all.
At a global level, the UNDP Water and Ocean Governance Programme (WOGP) helps countries achieve integrated, climate-resilient, sustainable, and equitable management of water and ocean resources, and universal access to safe water supply and sanitation. Addressing the triple crisis of climate change, waste, and landscape degradation to save surface and ground waters requires an integrated approach and a good framework for multi-stakeholder engagement.
At the regional level, UNDP supports sustainable management of transboundary waters. For example, UNDP is working with the NBI together with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) in seven countries to enhance collaborative management of surface and ground water resources in selected transboundary aquifers in seven countries of the Nile Basin.
At the national level, and in the case of Uganda, current work on landscape and wetland restoration is a clear testimony of our commitment to support the protection and sustainable management of Uganda’s freshwater ecosystems. Recognizing that wetlands are the natural filters and purifiers of ground water system, UNDP has partnered with the Government of Uganda, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Austrian Development Agency on an ambitious programme to restore over 70,000 Hectares of wetlands in 24 districts in Eastern and Southwestern Uganda.
We also recognize that land use and landcover change, including urbanization, is exerting pressure on water resources and aquatic ecosystems. This ranges from poor waste management, pollution, and destruction of important water catchment which are impacting both surface and underground water systems.
Supporting international frameworks and treaties on transboundary water resources will therefore be critical to Uganda’s efforts on conservation and enjoyment of her water resources and associated biodiversity. The 1992 Water Convention and the 1997 Watercourses Convention together provide the global platforms for transboundary cooperation to support Uganda in its shared water management, including enhancing existing, or supporting new, bilateral and basin agreements and institutions.