Main Issue

As national economies develop, often river basin water resources are progressively diverted, channeled, dammed, and consumed.  Many countries use 70 to 90% of water withdrawals for irrigation. At the same time, the drive to produce food and generate foreign exchange from agricultural exports or to produce and sell hydropower can outweigh environmental and health concerns. 

With mounting pressures on water resources, increasing pressures from climate variability and change, and increasing globalization of supply chains, cooperation across sectors and countries in the management of surface and groundwater is the only sustainable path. Drastic changes are needed in how we view such water systems. We need more integrated approaches that work across sectors to respect and balance the multiple uses of water in catchments and floodplains. These approaches need to include accounting for ecosystems values, increasing the efficiency of water uses, reduction of water pollution from toxic substances that impair human and ecosystem health, as well as advancing information exchange and early warning systems to foster improved responses to disasters such as floods and droughts.

What We Do

GEF support focuses on interventions in shared basins where water stress creates a challenge but also can be a driver and opportunity for cooperation. GEF Interventions prioritize preventative actions in transboundary basins facing multiple stressors and hence potential for conflict on national and regional levels. GEF takes an integrated water resource management approach to the challenge of shared river and lake basins. The GEF brings stakeholders together to balance competing water uses and secure local benefits for their communities. Whether it is the Niger River Basin or the Amazon River Basin, GEF projects are helping governments to work together on these important regional issues.

GEF targets legal, policy, and institutional reforms to address priority threats. It supports regional institutional development, provides technical assistance, and supports agreed priority investments. The GEF also provides support for nations to discuss and resolve conflicting views in a transparent manner.


The cumulative IW portfolio consists of more than 360 projects, with about US$1.9 billion of GEF grants and $12.9 billion in co-finance from countries, donors, NGOs, and the private sector invested in more than 170 GEF recipient countries. The IW portfolio has delivered substantive results and replicable experiences that can be scaled up and mainstreamed globally.

The GEF and its partners already support GEF eligible countries on four continents to improve their understanding and shared management of 47 rivers, 13 aquifers, 15 lakes and 34 large marine ecosystems.  Among early GEF support to countries, for example, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal launched a basin-wide cooperation program that resulted in a Senegal River Water Charter. The Charter outlines agreed principles for water management and allocation. GEF support played a catalytic role in strengthening the joint institutional structure of the   Senegal River Basin Development Authority (OMVS) by bringing Guinea — an upstream country — into the fold. The project helped mainstream considerations of the water environment into countries’ water sector operations and produced more participatory processes for joint basin management. Micro-grants to protect watersheds and improve water use, for example, generated income in communities, and specifically targeted women’s groups. Similarly, the GEF supports cooperation in other river and lake basins in Africa, including, for example, the Niger Basin, Okavango Basin, Orange Basin, and the Volta Basin, and Lakes Chad, Edward, and Albert, and Victoria.

The GEF International Waters Learning network provides an overview of past and ongoing GEF interventions.

Looking Ahead

In GEF-7, the GEF will focus on supporting enhanced regional and national cooperation processes on shared freshwater surface and groundwater basins. Among the areas the GEF will invest in are:

  • Common, participatory fact-finding and agreement on cooperative opportunities and shared constraints and a vision for a shared future (such as via the formulation of a common TDA/SAPs);
  • Capacity building efforts to level the playing field across countries, including for example negotiation skills and international water law;
  • Processes to formulate and formalize cooperative legal and institutional frameworks;
  • Identify and leverage resources for investments addressing SAP identified priorities;
  • National reform of policies, strategies, and regulations in accordance with regional agreements and MEA commitments;
  • Improved policy formulation processes and conjunctive management of surface and groundwater resources on national and regional levels;
  • Periodical update of existing TDA/SAPS or their equivalents; and
  • Engagement with national, regional and global stakeholders to increase collaboration and cross support to investments and processes, through IW-LEARN.

GEF-7 support will also enhance the availability of sound data and information for science-based policies and decisions. On the regional level this will build the science base and dialogue for informed prioritization of investments, as well as support early warning systems to enhance resilience and improve disaster risk management; on a global level this effort will make it possible to predict future hotspots and basins at risk.

The GEF will support the following types of investments to advance information exchange and early warnings:

  • Flood and drought early warning systems and disaster risk management plans;
  • Nature based efforts for disaster risk management, including floods, droughts, and coastline protection;
  • Enhanced quality, coverage, and free availability of sound information on surface and groundwater availability and use, natural resources, and related grey and green infrastructure assets and adaptation deficits;
  • Increased capacity to gather, distill and process global and regionally increasingly available traditional and innovative data sources into policy relevant analysis, including the economic evaluations of ecosystem services; and
  • Enhanced capacity on country level and dialogue among countries to draw conclusions from increasingly complex and innovative information sources to support decision making and to identify joint opportunities for action.