Freshwater resources are essential for producing food, power industry, quench our thirst and support ecosystems. Likewise marine ecosystems provide food resources, protect our shorelines, provide recreation, and support essential biodiversity.
Water resources do not respect national borders; more often than not, several nations are sharing a common water ecosystem, such as a groundwater aquifer, a lake, river, wetland, or marine ecosystem. Consequently, ensuring sustainability of these common resources requires close collaboration across governments and across sectors. Read more+
The importance of transboundary cooperation on water is clear, not only in terms of action at the intergovernmental level, but also at the community level. Balancing competing uses of water, fisheries, oceans, and habitat improves local food security, livelihoods, water quality protection, and human health for the world’s most vulnerable people.
Today the main water source for over 2 billion people is aquifers — 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.
The opportunities and challenges facing freshwater extend to the sea where marine ecosystems provide over US$1 trillion annually to the world economy in market goods and services — from food security and tourism to coastal protection and carbon sequestration. Yet our oceans are under threat from unsustainable practices, including overfishing and destructive fishing, land-based sources of pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.
Cooperation across political boundaries, at multiple scales is required to address these varying threats to our valuable freshwater and marine resources.
What We Do
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 marine resource and/or freshwater-use conflicts. Through the International Waters (IW) focal area, the GEF helps countries jointly manage their transboundary surface water basins, groundwater basins, and coastal and marine systems. Working collectively, countries can better use and share benefits from these water systems, and implement the policy, legal and institutional reforms and investments needed for sustainable use and maintenance of ecosystem services. Read more+
One key factor behind the long-term success of the IW focal area has been its consistent overall goal and strategic approach. This includes joint fact-finding, multi-country strategic planning and implementation of governance reforms and investments. This process is known as the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis/Strategic Action Programme+.
International waters not only cross boundaries; water bodies also influence a number of sectors in affected countries. As a result, the GEF tends to invest in multifaceted efforts to address issues. For that reason, investments that touch on transboundary waters will often source funding from a number of GEF focal areas, as well as other sources.
Over 25 years, GEF support within the IW focal area has generated a range of experiences, innovations and lessons. The GEF shares this knowledge and experiences through IW:LEARN — an interactive tool that promotes learning across the portfolio and South-South sharing of experience. In this way, IW:LEARN enhances the impact of GEF-funded interventions.
Through the IW focal area, the GEF fosters transboundary cooperation and building of trust between states. Watch how here.
The GEF is the largest funding mechanism for multi-country collaboration on water and oceans with 156 GEF recipient countries and 24 non-recipient countries working together to manage their transboundary water resources. Countries participating in GEF International Waters (IW) projects have negotiated and agreed on numerous regional cooperation frameworks, treaties, or protocols, ranging from cooperation on shared freshwater resources to agreements on marine resources.
The GEF IW investments facilitate integrated cross-sectoral approaches that engage the private sector, non-governmental organizations and multilateral institutions. They are designed to work at multiple scales — from village chiefs to cabinet ministers — and across the entire watershed from ridge to reef. Read more+
In doing so, these projects take innovative approaches that show how regionally agreed frameworks may produce global environmental benefits. At the same time, they incorporate the market value of marine resources into national economies, resulting in sustainable economic benefits, the creation and application of new technologies, or a shared aquifer or river, among other benefits. These integrated projects demonstrate the transformative social and economic impact that sustainable management of transboundary fresh and marine water resources can have on national economies.