Transboundary Water Cooperation for Sustainable Development in African Basins and Globally Facilitated through the Water Convention
Transboundary Water Cooperation for Sustainable Development in African Basins and Globally Facilitated through the Water Convention
Supporting cooperation and integrated basin management in Central and Western Africa to drive regional integration, sustainable development, peace and security


With 60 percent of the world’s freshwater shared by two or more countries, transboundary cooperation to manage these basins is crucial for preventing conflicts and ensuring peacesecurity and human well-being. However, transboundary water cooperation within many regions is frequently weak, partial or fragmented. In 2020, for its eighth consecutive year, the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report listed water crises among the top five risks in terms of impact. With growing populations and economic development, demand for water increases, further complicating the political, institutional, economic, environmental and financial challenges that many countries face as they manage and develop their transboundary rivers, lakes and aquifers. Cooperation in the management of shared water resources is also key to reducing water-related risks such as floods and droughts, and to increase climate change resilience. A critical challenge for African basins is thus how to strengthen legal and institutional platforms facilitating water cooperation to further promote regional stability and sustainable development. In this regard, the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), whose secretariat is serviced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), provides a global intergovernmental platform for supporting cooperative development, preventing conflict over shared waters and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Towards a Solution

Transboundary cooperation, as required by SDG target 6.5 on integrated water resources management, is crucial for ensuring water and sanitation for all (SDG 6) and for achieving other SDGs on climate action, sustainable energy, ecosystem protection, poverty, food security and peace. To respond to the challenges of weak transboundary water cooperation, the Water Convention adopts a multi-pronged approach. 


Global and regional workshops under the Convention, for example, on transboundary water cooperation in Africa, support a South-South capacity-building approach to accelerate progress towards the SDGs, particularly target 6.5, among basin states and from basin to basin, both in terms of riparian states and basin organizations. For example, the 2019 ‘Practitioner to Practitioner:  Regional Training on Promoting Implementation to Two Global Water Conventions’ workshop, organized by UNECE together with partners targeting experts active in Francophone countries in West, North and Central Africa, fostered a common understanding on the practical benefits of both the Water Convention and the Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (commonly referred to as the Watercourses Convention), collectively known as the United Nations global water conventions. As another example, in 2017, in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank and the Senegal River Basin Development Organization, the Convention secretariat organized a training in Dakar on preparing bankable project proposals for climate change adaptation in transboundary basins, where experts from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe exchanged experiences. 


Outcomes achieved in relations to the SDG targets: 


The first report on the global baseline for SDG indicator 6.5.2 published in 2018 demonstrated that the highest level of cooperation can be found in the Pan-European region, largely facilitated by the Water Convention, followed by West and Southern Africa, including, for example, the Senegal, Gambia, Volta and Niger Rivers. The water charters of the Niger, Volta and Lake Chad Basins refer to the Water Convention. Moreover, since its global opening in 2016, there has been a very promising trend within Africa, particularly Central and Western Africa, towards accession to the Water Convention. In 2018, Chad and Senegal were the first countries outside the UNECE region to accede to the Water Convention and Ghana joined both United Nations global water conventions in June 2020. 


This initiative has been sustainable through the following:  

  • Facilitating regional consultation for improved transboundary basin cooperationAddressing the lack of cooperation on the Senegalo-Mauritanian aquifer basin (SMAB) was one of the motivations for Senegal to accede to the Water Convention. Based on a request by Senegal at the Water Convention’s Meeting of the Parties in 2018, UNECE, together with the Geneva Water Hub, initiated a dialogue in 2019 on the SMAB between the Republic of the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal, which aims to strengthen cooperation and sustainable use of the aquifer and is still ongoing. 
  • Supporting development of agreements for regional stability and sustainable developmentThe Convention secretariat provided support to the development of a regional agreement for water cooperation in Central Africa. The project led by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) aims at providing the region with a legal framework to ensure the sustainable management of water resources on transboundary water resources. In December 2017, the ECCAS Convention was approved by the 11 members’ water ministers 

Replicability by promoting accession to the United Nations global water conventions as a driver of effective implementation: 


The United Nations global water conventions are the only two legal instruments focused specifically on transboundary water cooperation at the global level. They are powerful tools to promote and advance transboundary water cooperation. They provide guiding principles for transboundary water management in the absence of basin level agreements and can support countries in the negotiation of new or the revising of existing cooperative arrangements. Through institutional frameworks such as that offered by the Water Convention, they also assist countries in the implementation of basin agreements to address growing water challenges, and thereby promote sustainable development and peace. Experience from the Parties demonstrates that these two instruments help to innovate good practices in transboundary water cooperation, for example, by supporting the design, development and implementation of basin agreements. Accession can thus offer Parties support in strengthening their legal, technical and institutional basis for cooperation, as well as national water governance.  


The centrality of transboundary water cooperation for peace and sustainable development and for accelerating progress towards the SDGs has been reiterated at global and regional levels. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres encourages countries to accede to and implement the United Nations global water conventions. The Water Convention Secretariat is actively engaged with global and regional partners such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW), ECCAS and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and African river basin organizations to support accession to, and implementation of, the United Nations global water conventions, fostering transboundary cooperation in these regions and globally. 

Contact Information

Name: Ms Sonja Koeppel, Title: Secretary, Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention); Co-Secretary, Protocol on Water and Health, Organization: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Countries involved


Supported by

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Implementing Entities

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Project Status


Project Period


URL of the practice

Primary SDG

06 - Clean Water and Sanitation

Secondary SDGs

01 - No Poverty, 07 - Affordable and Clean Energy, 08 - Decent Work and Economic Growth, 09 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production, 13 - Climate Action, 14 - Life Below Water, 15 - Life on Land, 16 - Peace and Justice Strong Institutions, 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

Similar Solutions

NAME OF SOLUTION Countries SDG Project Status

100% Online Electronic Apostille and Legalization Sharing Colombia’s effective e-government system with other countries in the region

Global 16 - Peace and Justice Strong Institutions Completed View Details

360-Degree Awareness Tool to Fight COVID-19 Raising awareness and ensuring public wellbeing through a one-stop platform for fighting COVID-19 in Bangladesh

Global 16 - Peace and Justice Strong Institutions Ongoing View Details

A Billion Brains: Smarter Children, Healthier Economies High Level Meeting on South-South Cooperation for Child Rights

Global 17 - Partnerships for the Goals Completed View Details

Accelerating the Transformational Shift to a Low-Carbon Economy in Mauritius Towards supplying 35 percent of the country’s energy needs with renewables by 2025

Global 05 - Gender Equality 09 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 13 - Climate Action Ongoing View Details

Accelerator Labs Network Following collective intelligence methods to address emerging sustainability challenges and the growing demand for local solutions

Global 08 - Decent Work and Economic Growth 13 - Climate Action Ongoing View Details