Protecting and valuing water across borders yields many benefits

March 22, 2021

Environmental Specialist


Panoramic view of the Dniester river
GEF-financed projects enable developing countries to work together to build trust and foster transboundary cooperation, including along the Dniester river basin. Photo: Creative Travel Projects/Shutterstock

This year’s World Water Day is focused on valuing water and illustrating how water means different things to different people. Indeed, there is a constant running through the Global Environment Facility’s three decades of work in geographies around the world: water is fundamental to all of the issues we work in, supporting sustainable cities, energy systems, agriculture, and addressing ecological degradation and pollution.

Managing water across these contexts can be challenging, and especially so with climate change resulting in heat waves and extended droughts, affecting the availability, distribution, uses, and quality of water. Where compounded by weak governance and social instability, over-exploitation, droughts, and desertification can have detrimental effects on the most vulnerable people and ecosystems. To complicate matters further, more often than not, water is not just the business of any one state or sector. Several nations share common groundwater aquifers, lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Globally, more than 300 watersheds and over 360 aquifers cross the political boundaries of two or more countries. These watersheds, which cover about half of the Earth’s land surfaces, are home to about 40 percent of the global population. 

Indeed, water resource management is an important part of each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In order to make headway on our acute environmental and development challenges, we need to support collaboration and progress toward a water-secure world. Cooperation on issues related to water is both critical and sensitive, with important social, environmental, and cultural dimensions – we know that including all stakeholders in water evaluations and decisions is important to ensure solutions are enduring and successful.

This is one of the major goals of the GEF’s International Waters Focal Area. We are working to build trust and foster transboundary cooperation and synergies at all levels, including in areas where there are complex and long-lasting tensions over water use. In our experience, cross-border, multi-stakeholder processes can empower nations to recognize the role they each play within shared water basins, and to see the many benefits that come from working together to protect their ecological integrity. To this aim, the GEF provides incremental cost financing to enable developing countries to work together with their neighbors and at a regional level to build trust and foster transboundary cooperation. To date, the GEF has provided more than $900 million in grant financing for projects in nearly 60 transboundary rivers, 14 aquifers, and 16 lakes straddling two or more developing countries. It is also supporting transboundary marine projects where economic evaluation is integrated into ecosystem management regimes.

For details of this work, as well as other initiatives to support integrated solutions linking water management and other environmental challenges, please see a new publication from the GEF-supported IW:LEARN knowledge management platform on enhancing water security in shared freshwater ecosystems. To celebrate World Water Day, IW:LEARN is also featuring a series of projects demonstrating the importance and power of valuing water, available here.