Zimbabwe holds historic national workshop for the accession to UN water conventions

By Ndawana Norest, National Focal Point of the Water Convention in Zimbabwe

26 Jun 2024 by The Water Diplomat

Attendants of the workshop in Zimbabwe

A national workshop for the accession to global water conventions was held on the 17th and 18th of June 2024 at Rainbow Towers Conference Centre in Zimbabwe as the country inches closer to complete the accession process. These global water conventions are: the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (the Water Convention) and the 1997 Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (the 1997 Watercourses Convention). Participants of the oversubscribed workshop were drawn from various government departments, UN agencies, the Water Convention Secretariat, the diplomatic community, international organisations, civic society, academia and foreign governments.

The general objective of the workshop was to inform stakeholders about the global water conventions, to share the processes initiated by the Government of Zimbabwe to become party to the global water conventions, to obtain input from stakeholders and to discuss the next steps in the accession process.

In his keynote address which was delivered by the Deputy Minister Hon V.P. Haritatos, the  Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Dr Anxious Jongwe Masuka stated that; “This workshop is very important as it seeks to move forward the process towards Zimbabwe’s accession to the UN Water Conventions which will enable Zimbabwe to accrue multiple benefits in as far as transboundary water resources management is concerned.”

Minister Masuka explained the transboundary water context of Zimbabwe and listed the benefits of cooperation; “Transboundary water cooperation is inevitable for ensuring peace and security, maintaining international water relations, building mutual cooperation, sustainable development and increasing climate change resilience among the peoples of the concerned countries.” He added that the workshop came at a time when Zimbabwe has not been spared by the adverse effects of climate change like floods and droughts like cyclone Idai and El Nino and emphasised that transboundary water cooperation is an essential tool for humanity to deal with the increasing water challenges of today and those in the future. “Joining global conventions is one of the cooperation interventions,” said Minister Masuka. The Minister informed the stakeholders that Zimbabwe is already cooperating in the area of transboundary waters. Zimbabwe is Party to the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) and the 2000 SADC Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses, at bi-national level, Zimbabwe has three commissions specifically dealing with water with South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia. “Zimbabwe is Party to a total of eleven transboundary water agreements at basin level” added Minister Masuka.

Minister Masuka invited other States in the SADC region to consider joining to the global water conventions and reassured stakeholders of the Government’s readiness and commitment to the accession of the global water conventions.

Solidarity speeches were also made by various stakeholders notably the EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr. Jobst von Kirchmann who recognised the step as “significant milestone in Zimbabwe's journey towards sustainable water management.” He added that; “The EU recognizes the critical importance of transboundary water cooperation in achieving universal access to water and sanitation, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6), and advocating for legal and intergovernmental frameworks such as the Water Convention.”  

Mr. Edward Kallon, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Zimbabwe weighed in; “I am pleased to represent the UN system in Zimbabwe at this important workshop and wish to thank the Government of Zimbabwe for taking this important step towards its accession to the Water Convention, given the importance of water to Zimbabwe.” He added that Accession to the Convention will enable support from the Community of Parties, facilitate sharing of experiences with basins and other countries, financing access, and raise the international country profile on transboundary waters. He applauded the Government of Zimbabwe’s commitment and long record of transboundary water cooperation for the sustainable management of its shared freshwater resources.

The ongoing projects include the Zambezi River UNESCO Victoria Falls / Mosi oa Tunya UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Global Environment Fund - supported project for the Mid-to lower Zambezi project and the Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve initiative, the Buzi, Save, Pungwe or BuPuSa Community Resilience project and The GEF funded Limpopo Basin Transboundary River Basin Management project. All these projects and programmes benefit from UN interagency cooperation as well as partnership with SADC. At the country level, FAO and UNESCO are working together on a programme that is to helping communities living in Binga and Buhera to adapt to erratic rainfall due to climate change and helping them with sustainable groundwater management practices to improve crop production. 

The Secretary to the Water Convention Secretariat, represented by Mr Remy Kina, assured Zimbabwe of the unwavering support of the Secretariat during and beyond the accession.

After opening the workshop, critical presentations and discussion followed. The deliberations focussed on the two conventions; their key provisions, similarities, differences, complementarities and benefits, Zimbabwe’s laws and obligations under international law particularly as regards transboundary water cooperation, the relevance of the water conventions to Zimbabwe’s transboundary legal framework, perspectives from various river basin organisations to which Zimbabwe is Party to. Botswana, Estonia, Namibia, and Zambia also shared their accession journey. The next steps left before Zimbabwe becomes a full member were also shared. These are pending approval by Parliament. The Conventions will be debated in Parliament on 3 and 4 July 2024. If approved the President will sign the instruments of accession and the same will be deposited with the UN Secretary-General.

The key unanimous resolutions that came out of the two-day discussions are that Zimbabwe must accede to the global water conventions, the need for legislation to be well aligned to international treaties which we are signatories to, the need for investment in the area of groundwater, as this is an area that is not well researched especially in the transboundary context on shared aquifers, the need for collaborative research between academia, government and river basin organisations, the need for member states to invest in robust hydrological and hydrometeorological equipment to increase coverage and quality of data that is shared between member states, need for gender and social inclusion and the need to strengthen information management and sharing at transboundary level.

Zimbabwe is determined to complete the accession process before the 10th Meeting of Parties to the Water Convention to be held in October this year.

There is notable momentum towards joining the two conventions in Southern Africa. Namibia is the first Party in the SADC region to join both conventions, South Africa having joined the 1997 Watercourses Convention, Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia currently in accession process to the 1992 Water Convention. Malawi formally expressed interest to join the 1992 Water Convention in 2024 and Lesotho has started discussions with the Water Convention Secretariat.