International panel of river basin experts discuss pressing issues for developing countries at ZEF

November 24, 2008.  

On the panel were Barry Boubacar from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and regional officer of the GLOWA Volta Project in Ghana, Ben van de Wetering from the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR), Mohamed Tawfik from World Meteorology Organization (WMO), and Winfried Zarges from the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). The panel discussion was facilitated by Rainer Müssner from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The panel discussion was organized and prepared by Eva Youkhana and Constanze Leemhuis, both senior researchers at ZEF.




The following three basic questions posed for discussion were: What are the most important factors for establishing successful sustainable hydrological monitoring systems; which successes have been achieved and challenges faced; and what makes trans-boundary water management successful; and what role do institutions play?.



Boubacar from IWMI argued that the key element in water management is the availability of long time series data. Many countries in the world do not have the data they need, or they are scattered in many places. But it is not only collecting data that can be troublesome, but also keeping them updated and making them available to users.


“A problem in many developing countries is the lack and the poor performance of institutions, or a lack of coordination among them. For instance, in the same country you will find five or more institutions collecting the same data but with different standards. So one of the big elements is how to put all these things together, and to build a system from which we can handle and manage the resources”, explained Boubacar.


Zarges from GTZ stated that in the trans-boundary context the big issue is how to make a country release their data and make it available. This comes to the question of how to create trust among water using countries in the basin. Regarding institutions, the river commissions are supposed to facilitate all negotiation processes around water quality and water quantity. They need data for a successful facilitation.


Institutionalizing trust

Van de Wetering from the Rhine Commission confirmed that the basic requirement for that setting up a monitoring system in a national or international context is building up mutual trust. In an international context we go one step further and harmonize. An example of harmonization between countries is for instance the Rhine River crossing the German - Dutch border. “In the past the discharge was measured at both sides but with different monitoring systems”, told van de Wetering. “Thus, the data for both sides did not fit together. Now there is only one joint Dutch-German monitoring station. This is the only way in which we can compare the data, and use them in an international context”, he adds.


Tawfik mentioned that water is now being recognized as the main key player in sustainable development. “The availability of meta data and raw data is a basic requirement for trans-boundary water management. The meta data give us some information about the location where to get this data and also about the context of information whom we shall approach to get this kind of data.

The other type of data is the raw data such as water measurement, water level and water quality” he explained. “We have to analyze and process the data to convince people to cooperate using this data for monitoring systems. We need to have reliable data, and validate them. The most important thing is to identify the users and their needs, for instance information for flood forecasting, building dams or some research scheme”, Tawfik added.


According to Zarges, mutual interest is just as important a reason as trust for countries to cooperate. He pointed out that if we can identify the mutual interest of the countries then we can find cooperation. Van de Wetering used the term “shared problem” as a way to find common solutions. He quoted the Rhine as an example: Here, drinking water was polluted and 27 million people living in the Rhine basin were affected. Since the source was polluted everybody had the same problem, which could only be solved by working together.

While Tawfik stressed that national institutions are mainly responsible for collecting data, van de Wetering argued that it is also very essential that the people who need to use the guidance should participate in developing harmonizing standards because they should be able to build ownership.



Another issue addressed by Boubacar was the funding: Some projects are 80% funded by international donor agencies and only to a limited extent by national budgets. According to Boubacar, some hydrological service departments are capable to run the program but do not have sufficient resources from the national budget to support the ongoing process of data collection.


Politics and communication

Although the panelists agreed that political and economic interests have a direct impact on negation processes, they also emphasized the importance of communication between riparian countries, especially in the case of river basin management. Thus, every party involved is obliged to inform neighboring countries about new projects and plans. It is also important to inform or warn downstream countries in time on floods or the opening of dam spillways. These best practice examples of communication will contribute to building trust between the countries and therefore improve trans-boundary water management.



Alma van der Veen