Zimbabwe on the road to acceding to global water conventions

by Norest Ndawana, environmental lawyer under the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development in his official capacity as the National Focal Point to the Water Convention

22 May 2024 by The Water Diplomat

Zimbabwe shares a total of five river basins with her riparian neighbours, namely the Buzi, Limpopo, Pungwe, Save and Zambezi Rivers and one international lake, i.e. Kariba dam. To foster closer cooperation for the sustainable, joint and co-ordinated management, protection and utilisation of shared water resources, Zimbabwe is party to a total of eleven (11) bilateral and multilateral water agreements.

This is in line with the two key global water conventions, namely; the 1997 Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (the Watercourses Convention), the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses, and International Lakes (the global water conventions) as well as regional instruments like the 2 000 SADC’s Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses, which implores riparian States to cooperate and set up joint mechanisms to manage transboundary waters.

The global water conventions establish principles and rules that form the basis for countries working together to protect and sustainably use their shared water resources. The general principles that govern shared water resources are the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation of shared water resources, the duty to cooperate, the obligation not to cause significant harm and preservation and protection of the environment.

The global water conventions bring a lot of prospects  for shared benefits which include but is not limited to; improved water resources governance at national and transboundary levels, prevention of significant harm to water bodies, protection of the environment and ecosystems, equitable and reasonable utilisation of transboundary water resources, climate change adaptation and decreased risk of disasters like droughts and floods, the establishment of joint mechanisms to manage the water resources, the regular exchange of data and information on shared watercourses, peace, stability, economic development and regional economic integration.

 Despite Zimbabwe having a long record of transboundary water cooperation, the country is currently not Party to the global water conventions. Now, however, the country has taken a giant step to join the global water conventions. The approach is to accede to both conventions because of their compatibility and complementary role. The Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development approved the proposal to study or assess potential accession for Zimbabwe to join the global water conventions on 28 July 2023. A formal expression of interest letter was sent to the United Nations Water Convention Secretariat on 11 August 2023. “Zimbabwe is hereby expressing her interest to accede to the Convention” read part of the letter to the Water Convention Secretariat signed by the Secretary for Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development. 

The Water Convention Secretariat responded to the same on 06 September 2023. “I would like to confirm that the Secretariat of the Water Convention stands ready to support Zimbabwe in the process of accession” reads part of the letter signed by the Water Convention Secretary; Sonja Koeppel. Subsequently, Zimbabwe nominated a focal point to the Water Convention. The main responsibility of the national focal point is to serve as a channel for all communications with the Secretariat and other countries on Convention related matters.

The accession roadmap has already been put in place. Key milestones of the include clearance by the Attorney General’s Office, the Public Agreements Advisory Committee, and Cabinet Committee on Legislation, approval by Cabinet and Parliament, holding of a national consultative workshop, signing of the instruments of accession by the President and depositing of same with the depository: Secretary General of the United Nations.

The Cabinet approved the accession to the global water conventions on 09 April 2024.  The approval by Cabinet paves way for the national stakeholder consultative workshop, which will be supported by the UN Water Convention Secretariat. The Permanent Secretary, Professor O. Jiri advised the Water Convention Secretary on 22 April 2024; “I am pleased to advise that the national workshop has been cleared for the 17th and 18th of June 2024.”

The goal is to complete the accession process before the 10th Session of the Meeting of Parties of the Water Convention to be held in Slovenia in October 2024.