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.
The GEF-6 IW strategy has three objectives to achieve its goal of promoting collective management for transboundary water systems:
- Catalyze sustainable management of transboundary water systems by supporting multi-state cooperation through foundational capacity building, targeted research, and portfolio learning;
- Catalyze investments to balance competing water-uses in the management of transboundary surface and groundwater and enhance multi-state cooperation;
- Enhance multi-state cooperation and catalyze investments to foster sustainable fisheries, restore and protect coastal habitats, and reduce pollution of coasts and LMEs.
Within these objectives seven programs focus GEF's support towards key concerns in international waters, including conjunctive management of surface and groundwater; balancing needs and opportunities within addressing the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus within freshwater systems as well as connecting freshwater and marine systems; and supporting an integrated ecosystems based approach to addressing hypoxic zones, preventing the degradation of coastal habitats, and fostering sustainable fisheries.