Today the main water source for over 2 billion people is groundwater — underground stores of freshwater that also fill up rivers and lakes, supporting a myriad of services for humans and nature. Globally, more than 280 watersheds and over 300 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. As income levels have risen globally, so has the demand for water. Many industries use extensive amounts of water, including manufacturing and food. The pressure on freshwater is immense, especially with the added complications of climate change. Read more+
In recent decades, our planet’s freshwater sources have been rapidly degraded by a range of global pressures such as population growth, food shortages and a changing climate. Wasteful crop irrigation practices from surface water and aquifers deplete available water resources, for example, while excessive run-off leads to water quality degradation that impoverishes downstream communities.
Sound management of freshwater basins and aquifers is largely about balancing the needs of different sectors for water to avoid conflict. Ultimately, people need to feed their families and make a living. Communities need housing and shelter, and don’t want to be constantly threatened by floods or droughts. And countries need effective ways to address conflicts from competing use for water in basins or aquifers among environment, water, food and energy sectors. The international community needs to work harder to protect and properly manage our transboundary aquifers.
What We Do
The GEF International Waters focal area is about creating a common understanding on competing water needs on the one hand and the gains from cooperation for each country on the other. Sustainable, integrated management of water resources requires cross-sector collaboration and sector reforms in each country to avoid conflicts in river basins or aquifers. Countries have to act nationally, but if they also take similar collective action, they have a much greater chance of avoiding or resolving water conflicts. Read more+
It often takes at least a decade to deal with multiple stresses across large-scale water systems and the complex history and processes of multi-county dialogue. In many cases, it takes five years just to help different governments understand the water situation and agree to work together. It then takes another five years to undertake local demonstration projects and start building stronger institutions and undertaking sector reforms.
To speed up this process and to overcome shorter political timeframes, the GEF tries to involve the science community at the earliest stage. The shared technical process of developing a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis allows countries to analyze the real water situation across sectors and countries.
GEF support requires a transparent participation process that allows different ministries and civil society stakeholders to understand issues that will be critical to them — not only at present, but 10 or 20 years down the road. This is the foundation for a Strategic Action Program that is designed to address such long-term issues.
Buy-in and adoption at the ministerial level of a long-term vision and a Strategic Action Program is a necessary prerequisite for requesting additional GEF funds. Once such actions are agreed upon at the regional and national levels, the GEF will be ready to provide further support.
The GEF International Waters focal area has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to help countries balance water uses in strategic transboundary basins and aquifers. The GEF’s work has shown that countries collaborate successfully when they realize the benefits of working together are greater than only pursuing national goals for water resources development. Read more+
The GEF in Action: Bringing the Black Sea Dead Zone Back to Life
Disruption of the global nitrogen cycle and excessive loading of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agriculture, human sewerage, and industry have created more than one hundred “Dead Zones” across the planet, resulting in reduced coastal water quality, environmental degradation and severe impacts to human health, local livelihoods and food security. In the case of the Black Sea, growing levels of nutrient and organic pollution from agriculture fertilizer, livestock waste and human sewage, discharged to the Danube basin, reached a peak in 1990 when a lack of dissolved oxygen resulted in a massive loss of aquatic life in about 40,000 km2 of the Black Sea.
Through a series of targeted investments 16 Danube basin countries worked together with the GEF, UNDP, WB and the European Union to sustain regional collaboration and undertake a series of cross-sectoral nutrient pilot demonstrations, including trapping nutrients in restored flood plains. With the GEF increment being crucial towards facilitating regional collaboration, and unlocking finance from finance institutions, outcomes have been favorable in terms of on-site nutrient loading reduction and sustained regional cooperation under the umbrella of a sustained River Basin Approach. The Black Sea environment is responding with rapidly improved water quality, less oxygen depletion, and improved biodiversity and fisheries to support local communities.