African Basin Management Organizations: Contribution to Pollution Prevention of Transboundary Water Resources

The following essay by Dr. Komlan Sangbana is a summary of his recently published monograph (under the same title), which appears in Vol. 5 (1) 2020, pp. 1-76, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law.  Dr. Sangbana is a Legal Officer at the Secretariat of the Convention on Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (UNECE) and a Research Fellow at the Platform for International Water Law housed by the Faculty of Law at the University of Geneva. He can be reached at komlan.sangbana@un.org

Shortly after their emergence as independent states, African countries established basin organizations and commissions. Some basin organizations, such as the Inter-State Committee established by states sharing the Senegal River basin, namely Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal, were already established in the 1960’s. The Lake Chad Basin Commission and the River Niger Commission were both established in 1964. While economic integration justified this initial impetus of African countries towards the establishment of basin organizations, several challenges, such as transboundary freshwater pollution and low water quality due to the multiplication of development projects, have become a growing concern in the recent decade. The chief concerns of African countries in this respect were to avoid the dramatic consequences of water pollution for the quality of life of populations, the aquatic ecosystems, and biological diversity. Poor or unilateral management of transboundary water basins may cause these negative consequences for local communities living near international watercourses.

This monograph examines the important role that basin organizations play in the protection of water resources in Africa and offers suggestions to enhance their efficiency by looking at their normative and institutional frameworks. It is divided in four sections.

The first part is an introduction that provides an overview of the existing basin organizations in Africa, their different goals and multiple objectives. It offers an analytical framework for understanding the proliferation of basin organizations in Africa, as well as their legal typology.

The second part of the monograph discusses the contribution of basin organizations in the elaboration of pollution control standards. Focusing on the standard-setting role of these bodies, it unveils how basin organizations foster cooperation among member states and assists them in preventing transboundary pollution. In that respect, it reviews the processes and norm-based arrangements that inform the adoption of pollution control standards. Furthermore, it explores the various normative tools used by African basin organizations to regulate the conduct of their member states and their nationals, while taking into account the increasing involvement of non-state actors in the exploitation and management of transboundary water resources.

The third part of the monograph examines the contribution of African basin organizations to the implementation of pollution control standards. In this regard, it critically analyses the procedural and institutional tools that African basin organizations use to ensure the respect for the rule of law. Noting that the support that African basin organizations provide to their member states is as diverse as the organizations themselves, this study chooses to focus on the most analytical relevant aspects of their mandates. Thus, it addresses the scope and features of their control and monitoring activities and their mandates as far as the settlement of dispute is concerned.

The fourth part, which is a general conclusion, provides concrete suggestions derived from African practices of transboundary water management for the prevention of the pollution of transboundary water resources, as well as for enhancing cooperation and strengthening the role of basin management organizations.

From this study, it is clear that over time, the protection of water resources and their ecosystems has become a key focus of basin organizations in Africa. The development, adoption and implementation of pollution control standards by basin organizations have widened the remit and greatly strengthened the role of these institutions. As such, basin organizations have become central actors in the domain of African regional law for the protection of freshwater resources and the environment more generally.

The monograph is dedicated to the memory of Professor Kader Asmal (1934–2011) for his steadfast intellectual efforts to promote environmental protection in water governance.

The full article can be accessed here.

Leave a Reply