World Water Day 2022 : The OSS pushes for the integrated management of transboundary water resources and the restoration of land and associated ecosystems


The 2022 World Water Day, comes the day following the start of the 9th World Water Forum which is being held in Dakar from March 21 to 26, 2022.

In order to celebrate this important day, a side-event on the : “Cooperation framework and integrated management approach for transboundary water resources and the restoration of lands and their associated ecosystems” was organized by the Sahara and Sahel Observatory. This side event is one of the key events celebrating the 30th anniversary of the OSS, which has been actively working, over three decades, for the integrated management of water resources. 

Needless to say that Water plays a crucial role in the development of African countries and in the survival of natural ecosystems. It contributes to meeting social, environmental and economic expectations. Nevertheless, the fairly significant water potential of Africa is so badly apportioned. In fact, there is an Africa of potential water shortage in the North, an Africa of lack of water or the Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa and finally, an Africa of water excess, in the equatorial zone. Thus, nearly 60 million people live in a situation of water scarcity, 258 million in water stress, 365 million in water vulnerability and 120 million in water comfort. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, UNICEF estimated in 2015 that 500 children die every day from lack of safe water and poor sanitation.

More rational management of water resources and associated ecosystems requires access to tools, as well as to reliable data and information.

For this to happen, the OSS has been committed, since its creation in 1992, to supporting the efforts of its member countries in securing and sustainably managing their natural resources at several levels. Its contribution to the improvement of knowledge of surface and groundwater resources, to the design and provision of tools for the planning and management of water resources, as well as its support to policies for their sustainable management, are clear examples of such a commitment. 

Thus, promoting and strengthening methods, techniques and tools for the collection and dissemination of information are a core part of the OSS statutory missions. On the one hand, it is called upon to develop surveillance and monitoring tools for the management of water and natural resources, and on the other hand, to build the capacities of its member countries on technologies for the use and exploitation of Earth Observation products and data.

In this context of unequal distribution of water, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, a more rational management of the resource cannot be achieved without reliable tools and regularly updated data. The improvement of knowledge of the Aquifer Systems of the North Western Sahara (NWSAS) and the Iullemeden-Taoudéni/Tanezrouft (ITTAS), and the establishment of a permanent consultation framework for the management of their water resources, the development of a hydro-economic model for the exploitation of water, capacity building for approximately 2,500 stakeholders of the sector and the 80% increase of the incomes of agricultural producers on pilot sites, are some examples of the results achieved.

The multiple approaches developed by the OSS, together with the local key players, are all centered around a « basin awareness » common concept. 

These approaches rely particulary on remote sensing (mapping, dynamic monitoring and evaluation of natural resources and developments based on satellite images), modeling and trans-boundary diagnostic analysis of the aquifer systems.

The example of irrigated perimeters actual cover is really helpful. The contribution of satellite data information to the natural resources monitoring is, at this level, unarguable ; especially when keeping in mind the costly field visits for data collection over large areas. In this regard, the OSS is, first of all, committed to supporting the efforts of member countries through methodological and technical approaches for the mapping and dynamic monitoring of irrigated perimeters, and thus, to estimating water withdrawals for agricultural use from satellite images.
These efforts have made it possible to develop multi-scale maps of irrigated areas that cover large geographical areas (open fields or greenhouses). It is now possible to identify illegal irrigation which puts more pressure on the resource, and to evaluate water withdrawals for agricultural use via indirect approaches based mainly on free satellite images. In addition to the considerable time, human and financial resources saved, the information produced, makes it possible to make water resource managers aware of the vulnerability of this resource and the pressing need to implementing IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management), at all levels to promote a more sustainable management.

The OSS has also worked for good management of ecosystems and land (protection and restoration). It has also helped improve the resilience of populations and ecosystems and provided support to countries in accessing climate funds, in order to promote adaptation to climate change (the AdaptWAP project is a revealing example). It makes it possible to integrate adaptation measures in the consolidated region of the WAP complex, shared by Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. It aims to strengthen the resilience of ecosystems and improve the living conditions of the populations of the WAP complex to face climate change.

One of the approaches developed for the sustainable management of water resources is « Ecosystem Natural Capital Accounting (ENCA) ». In fact, the assessment of economic performance and social progress, based on existing indicators (national accounting and surveys) does not take into account the degradation of ecosystems led by the unsustainable economic development. Similarly, assessing the wealth of nations and international economic exchanges does not take into account the situation of ecosystems, their resilience or their ability to conquer new territories. The ENCA tool can provide answers, to shed more light on the relevance and benefits that can be generated by ecosystem restoration programs. It makes it possible to integrate physical degradation and the hidden costs of using nature in national accounts, and ultimately in macro-economic indicators. The ENCA provides the methodological foundations for the implementation of geo-referenced biophysical accounting on a simplified ecosystem model including in particular the water account 'In addition to the water account, the ENCA includes the land cover account, the bio carbon account, ecological infrastructure services and ecosystem health indices). The Copernicea project illustrates the ENCA approach : the project aims to establish a national and regional network for sharing and exchanging information and data useful and necessary for the Ecosystem Natural Capital Accounting (ENCA). In this context, more than 60 African experts have benefited from online capacity building sessions on the ENCA. Accounts covering the African continent have also been developed.

As of now, and with the effects of climate change, inequalities in the distribution of water resources are exacerbated and the impact on communities is very harmful. The OSS brings responses as to how to improve the availability of water resources in deprived areas while preserving ecosystems, through projects such as the AF-funded EURECCCA project (ENHANCING RESILIENCE OF COMMUNITIES TO CLIMATE CHANGE THROUGH CATCHMENT BASED INTEGRATED MANAGEMENT OF WATER & RELATED RESOURCES IN UGANDA). Over three years, this project has educated and trained more than 2,900 community members in wetland management, shoreline restoration and buffer zone protection. This project bears witness to the OSS efforts in assisting its partners’ efforts to mitigate climate change impacts on water resources and on the living conditions of the communities. 

In addition to the concrete actions undertaken under the various projects it carries out and the approaches and tools it offers, the OSS makes efforts to put water on top of international debates. Its presence at major environmental meetings and its advocacy, have the impact of raising awareness among decision-makers and the different relevant stakeholders about the challenge of sustainable and equitable management of water resources.