More often than not, water knows no political boundaries. Globally, more than 280 watersheds and over 300 aquifers cross the political boundaries of two or more countries. These watersheds cover about one-half of the earth's land surfaces and are home to about 40% of the global population. The majority of the world's Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) are shared by two or more countries. LMEs are responsible for over 85% of the world's fish catch and provide a suite of ecosystem services such as essential spawning habitats, natural coastal protection, and carbon sequestration and storage.
The GEF International Waters focal area was established to support countries to jointly manage their transboundary surface water basins, groundwater basins, and coastal and marine systems to enable the sharing of benefits from their utilization. Through the IW focal area, the GEF attends to a unique demand in the global water agenda: fostering transboundary cooperation and building trust between states that often find themselves locked in complex and long-lasting water-use conflicts.
The goal of the IW focal area is to promote collective management for transboundary water systems and subsequent implementation of the full range of policy, legal, and institutional reforms and investments contributing to sustainable use and maintenance of ecosystem services. One of the key factors behind the long-term success of the IW focal area has been its consistent overall goal and strategic approach, including joint fact-finding, multi-country strategic planning, and implementation of governance reforms and investments.
GEF IW: LEARN aims to strengthen International Waters management by facilitating structured learning and information sharing among stakeholders. In pursuit of this global objective, IW: LEARN improves GEF IW projects’ information base, replication efficiency, transparency, stakeholder ownership, and sustainability of benefits.
To further increase the South-to-South exchange of experiences, an international waters conference is organized every two years to bring together country representatives from all GEF international waters projects.