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Green Cities – Blue Solutions: The importance of transboundary cooperation

Muzaffargarh, Pakistan

Where urban infrastructure is based on water sources that cross national borders, the efficiency, sustainability and security of the water infrastructure depend on transboundary cooperation. This needs to be taken into account in planning water supply, sanitation and risk management. To explore these issues, adelphi, in cooperation with the German Federal Foreign Office, organized the event “Green Cities – Blue Solutions: the importance of transboundary cooperation” on 26 March 2015 as part of the Blue Planet Forum 2015. Experts exchanged experiences and ideas relating to the Danube, Dniester, Lake Victoria and Elbe River Basins.

The discussion focused on the relevance of transboundary cooperation for the planning and security of urban infrastructure, specific examples in this regard and lessons learnt. Transboundary cooperation is a crucial instrument for addressing existing challenges in a more efficient way. Participants agreed that joint financial management or complementing technical expertise ensure considerable benefits for all partners. The transfer of good practices and knowledge is relevant not only for stakeholders within one river basin, but also between different basins.

Cooperation between downstream and upstream countries in transboundary river basins, for instance through exchanging knowledge and information for dam construction, is a decisive factor for infrastructure planning. The water and energy nexus is of utmost importance. Large amounts of electricity are required for water collection and treatment, particularly in urban areas. Thus, effective allocation and distribution of water resources across borders potentially reduce overall energy consumption. The discussion highlighted examples of transboundary cooperation regarding urban (water) infrastructure among cities and other levels of administration.

Knowledge of potential risks in the catchment is crucial for water suppliers. One good example is the Danube Utility Benchmarking and Information Sharing platform or DANUBIS, an online repository of data for and about water and sanitation utilities in the Danube region. Additionally, the development of a monitoring system to safeguard water supply along the Danube River and stronger cooperation with other basin organisations is planned.

In the Dniester River Basin, the cities Chisinau and Odessa have established a continuous exchange of best practices, however the actual exchange of data is limited – possibly due to the absence of adequate platforms. This form of cooperation can be supported by creating more platforms for information exchange.

The Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) benefits from bilateral and multilateral partnerships for capacity building of municipal authorities in urban planning. This well-established regional cooperation initiative around Lake Victoria has been able to attract international financial support for many projects. However, investment for water supply and sanitation needs further promotion. It is essential to develop sustainable financing instruments to support the development of transboundary water resources and to secure water quality.

Flood risk management encompasses various elements, ranging from reducing flood occurrence to reducing the potential damage caused. The concept of flood partnerships, for example within the Rhine River Basin, was established to facilitate exchanges between different actors in a transboundary basin. Flood partnerships are partnerships among communities, local authorities, emergency services, water management departments and other stakeholders in a common river basin, which contribute to the Flood Risk Management Plans of the EU Floods Directive.

Moreover, the discussion focused on prevailing challenges and lessons learnt from the different basins. Challenges exist in supporting preventive and adaptive capacities, protecting and improving water quality and supporting local populations in participating in decision-making.

Climate change effects were perceived as a major challenge for water security and economic development. Climate change-related extreme weather events pose a significant challenge for managers of services and utilities. In this regard, technical cooperation between stakeholders of different countries, for example in the Elbe River Basin, is necessary and, moreover, provides an opportunity to broaden political cooperation across borders.

Politicians need to pick up on new challenges and opportunities arising in a changing environment. Therefore, the discussion centred on transparent and well-functioning water supply and wastewater management systems, which should rely on a political framework to be a rational platform for urban and rural areas.

Integrated transboundary river basin management should be anchored at an appropriate institutional level to trigger forward-looking planning. An effective interplay across various levels of governance involved in river basin management offers opportunities to facilitate the development and protection of (urban) water infrastructure.