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Water Management: Regional prescriptions are needed 0

The Orange-Senqu River has a one million square kilometre basin that covers Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. The water it provides is crucial to industry in South Africa, but is also relied on by farmers and domestic users.

In 2000, the Orange-Senqu River Commission – ORASECOM – was established to advise member states on the shared use of water resources. ORASECOM executive secretary Lenka Thamae spoke to IPS during a field trip along the length of the river to answer questions.

IPS: What are some of the common problems across the four member countries when it comes to water?

LENKA THAMAE: The principal one is water scarcity – the fact that the river system is already very heavily developed and supplies the economic heartland of South Africa. The rainfall region of the system reflects very limited input over a very large area.

The other element is to do with water quality. Limitations are brought about by a system that is highly developed. This relates to trying to maintain a respectable level of good quality water while supplying a variety of users.

But there are also other elements: infrastructures’ problems and environmental requirements. The river has been extensively developed and to maintain environmental integrity you need to release water through a natural system.

IPS: South Africa is the largest water user in the basin: What concerns do the other countries have about access to water?

LT: Essentially the context is that South Africa under the apartheid system was an isolated economy. In that regard they developed natural resources to the extent that they could be resilient to isolation. However, it’s inevitable that as one moves to a more regional approach to economic development we need to find ways to utilise water resources more equitably. ORASECOM provides a platform with which the countries can discuss and consult on the best way of addressing disparities.

IPS: Since it was formed in 2000, what work has ORASECOM been engaged in?

LT: One of the first areas of work ORASECOM had to focus on was to agree on policies and procedures for its structure. The next area was to agree on working areas that were related to the agreement itself. One of these areas is to develop the institution, another to conduct studies that generate sufficient information for ORASECOM to be able to advise states and the other to come up with a basin-wide management system.

IPS: So moving forward, what is ORASECOM aiming to do?

LT: We have been focused on the establishment of a secretariat, but ORASECOM also decided to set as a target the formulation of a basin-wide water resources management plan by 2012. One of the key elements is to develop some level of common understanding in the development and management of the system.

IPS: ORASECOM has been engaged in a variety of studies related to water. What are some of the most important areas being looked at?

LT: All the studies are made to establish a common understanding of the river system. We have done studies on groundwater potential, especially looking at where Namibia, Botswana and South Africa meet, to understand the potential. The outcome is that there is limited development potential because of water quality (salinity), the state of some of the aquifers and because of the fact that some of the communities are quite sparse so development in terms of large-scale projects might be limited. We worked on the rehabilitation of wetlands in the Lesotho Highlands too, where the issue is that Lesotho has been experiencing extensive degradation of areas in the river system.

IPS: How does ORASECOM relate to other river basin organisations in the region?

LT: We relate very closely to river basin organisations that involve member countries of ORASECOM (such as) the Limpopo basin, the Okavango, and the Zambezi. Lessons learnt get transferred.

The other level of relationship is with all the other basins that fall under the SADC who have signed the Protocol on Shared Watercourses, and a third level of relationship is through membership of the African Network of Basin Organisations (ANBO), an organisation which tries to promote best practice in river basin management in Africa.

By Patrick Burnett IPS

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi