Sharing the benefits from the river

From theory to practice

The free-flowing nature of water: a gift and a curse

Rivers provide a range of benefits to people and nature, not least access to water for survival. Early civilisations developed in and around rivers, their role pivotal to the evolution of humankind.

Yet few of the planet's longest rivers remain free-flowing. Water is being diverted and extracted for a myriad of uses such as agriculture, energy and mining, often to highly unsustainable levels.

Rivers provide many benefits, yet some may reap more than others ©Riccardo Mayer/Shutterstock

Rivers provide many benefits, yet some may reap more than others ©Riccardo Mayer/Shutterstock

With a growing population and a changing climate, the challenge to fairly share available freshwater needs to be addressed urgently.

Through the BRIDGE 'Building River Dialogue and Governance' programme, the IUCN Global Water Programme and the IUCN Environmental Law Centre have been working towards improved transboundary water governance for the past ten years. Benefit-sharing of water resources is a major component of this work.

This story focuses on why benefit-sharing in river basins is important, how it can be done in practice and what IUCN and partners have learned and achieved in promoting benefit-sharing practices and knowledge across river basins worldwide.

BRIDGE workshop on benefit-sharing in the Lake Chad Basin, N'Djamene, Chad, November 2019 ©Diego Jara/IUCN

BRIDGE workshop on benefit-sharing in the Lake Chad Basin, N'Djamene, Chad, November 2019 ©Diego Jara/IUCN

Benefit-sharing in river basins: beyond theory

The concept of benefit-sharing represents an alternative approach to the conventional way of negotiation.

"Operationalising benefit-sharing goes beyond negotiating water volumes allocated to different needs. It opens up dialogue to appreciate the range of benefits available in a river basin and how these can be distributed and shared amongst stakeholders"
Rebecca Welling, Natural Infrastructure Advisor, IUCN Global Water Programme

While the term 'benefit-sharing' has gained traction over the past decade in relation to the use of natural resources such as water, application of benefit-sharing in practice is slowed by the lack of practical tools that river or lake basin stakeholders can use to operationalise the concept. 

Rivers provide a wealth of services that deliver significant economic and financial benefits to societies, yet river management rarely prioritizes these values, even as methods have improved to value them (WWF 'Valuing Rivers' 2018) Image ©Melanie Kandelaars/IUCN

Rivers provide a wealth of services that deliver significant economic and financial benefits to societies, yet river management rarely prioritizes these values, even as methods have improved to value them (WWF 'Valuing Rivers' 2018) Image ©Melanie Kandelaars/IUCN

Benefit sharing is a key instrument for good water governance, as users will share water cooperatively if and when they believe it is their best option.

A first Sio-Malaba-Malakisi (SMM) basin stakeholders’ workshop was held in Kenya in 2017 for the initiation of the Benefit Opportunities Assessment Dialogue. The SMM basin is shared between Kenya and Uganda. Read more: Webstory © IUCN East Africa Office

A first Sio-Malaba-Malakisi (SMM) basin stakeholders’ workshop was held in Kenya in 2017 for the initiation of the Benefit Opportunities Assessment Dialogue. The SMM basin is shared between Kenya and Uganda. Read more: Webstory © IUCN East Africa Office

Benefits from improved water management in river basins are vast and cut across many different areas. In addition, benefits from enhanced trust from working collaboratively are also extensive and long-lasting.

Examples of benefits include increased productivity of agriculture and energy, tourism opportunities, reduced economic costs of water-related hazards, improved health of riverine communities, preservation of aquatic biodiversity, increase in cross-border trade, and reduced risk of conflict.

Download infographic 'Benefits from Improved Trust and Management in River Basins'.

"There is no such thing as managing water for a single purpose – all water management is multi-objective and based on navigating competing interests"

James Dalton, Director IUCN Global Water Programme

Synchronised fishing in Teesta River, Bangladesh ©Sinha Vishwaranjan/IUCN

Synchronised fishing in Teesta River, Bangladesh ©Sinha Vishwaranjan/IUCN

The six steps to benefit-sharing: from theory to practice

To help make the concept of benefit sharing more practical, IUCN developed a training package with six steps which function as a roadmap to improved benefit-sharing and can be applied in basins at varying stages of development.

The IUCN training package has been developed to operationalise the six step framework and guide practitioners through benefit-sharing workshop planning and practical exercises. Download PDF: 'Sharing the benefits from the river'

The six steps can be used by local and national stakeholders, as well as in transboundary contexts or when stronger cooperation is necessary between a variety of stakeholders and water users:

  • Step 1: Stakeholder identification, mapping interests and influence
  • Step 2: Identifying the range of benefits (existing and potential)
  • Step 3: Building benefit enhancing scenarios using the 'Benefit Opportunities Assessment Tool' (BOAT)
  • Step 4: Quantifying costs and benefits from future scenarios
  • Step 5: Negotiating benefits with a win-win approach using the 'Legal Assessment on Water Governance Opportunities Tool' (LAGO)
  • Step 6: Setting up institutional arrangements and implementation mechanisms using the 'Transboundary Instruments Development Tool' (TIDE)
"The most interesting part of the benefit-sharing training was working in teams to find solutions to share water benefits among different municipalities. It was interesting because we had to think about different ways to reduce the collateral damages of building a dam. As a consequence, the exercise made us cooperate better in order to share the benefits"
Vanessa Salazar, Project officer, OAS - Organisation of American States (GEF IW:LEARN LAC Regional Workshop, Cartagena 2019)

Advisory group meeting on the Benefit-Sharing Framework for the Meghna Basin, Shillong, India, Jan 2018 ©Singha Vishwajaran/IUCN

Advisory group meeting on the Benefit-Sharing Framework for the Meghna Basin, Shillong, India, Jan 2018 ©Singha Vishwajaran/IUCN

Step 1: Stakeholder identification and mapping interests and influence

Including all relevant stakeholders in decision-making processes encourages motivation to engage in constructive dialogue and changes behaviour towards, for instance, reducing water consumption, better agricultural systems, or accepting economic water valuation frameworks from a hydrological cycle perspective.

Stakeholder identification and mapping interests and influence is a key part of building an equitable cooperation process, as it ensures inclusion of all relevant stakeholders. Reviewing stakeholder groups’ interests and influence is a good way to better understand the power dynamics in the basin and associated challenges and solutions to sharing benefits. This methodology is tailored to build results into Step 3 building benefit-enhancing scenarios using the 'Benefit Opportunities Assessment Tool (BOAT)'.

The Goascorán River basin crosses the borders of Honduras and Guatemala. The BRIDGE project revitalised the existing 'Binational Management Group of the Goascorán River Basin' with a strategy, including a stakeholder identification and mapping process. Based on the results, a committed, multi-sectoral and self-managed agent was identified consisting of local economic development agencies of both countries tasked with catalysing the cooperation with and between the Binational Management Group and other stakeholders involved in the basin’s sustainable development. See Case study: 'The Goascorán River Basin: Honduras and El Salvador - Revitalizing transboundary management integrating new and diverse stakeholders' (PDF)

The Goascorán River basin crosses the borders of Honduras and Guatemala. The BRIDGE project revitalised the existing 'Binational Management Group of the Goascorán River Basin' with a strategy, including a stakeholder identification and mapping process. Based on the results, a committed, multi-sectoral and self-managed agent was identified consisting of local economic development agencies of both countries tasked with catalysing the cooperation with and between the Binational Management Group and other stakeholders involved in the basin’s sustainable development. See Case study: 'The Goascorán River Basin: Honduras and El Salvador - Revitalizing transboundary management integrating new and diverse stakeholders' (PDF)

Step 2: Identifying the range of benefits (existing and potential)

River basins offer different types of benefits that can be shared. This goes much beyond the allocation of volumes of water to riparian parties. Instead, it relies on the full identification of specific economic, social, environmental, political, peace, trade and other benefits that can be derived from water use and from cooperation. 

Identifying benefits provides a more flexible framework and can increase possibilities for collaboration. A range of sectors should be represented in the process of identifying benefits – such as agriculture, environment, forestry, finance, planning, fisheries, tourism, mining, hydropower etc. This methodology is tailored to build results into Step 3 using the Benefit Opportunities Assessment Tool (BOAT)

Report: Opportunities for benefit sharing in the Meghna Basin, Bangladesh and India (PDF)

Report: Opportunities for benefit sharing in the Meghna Basin, Bangladesh and India (PDF)

Step 3: Building benefit enhancing scenarios using the 'Benefit Opportunities Assessment Tool' (BOAT)

Opportunities for enhancing benefits can be identified jointly.  The practical skills associated with this Step involve joint qualitative analysis of benefits and costs from existing and/or proposed new uses of water in a basin, and developing a more in-depth and shared understanding of the trade-offs involved in choosing certain projects over others. 

The workshop helped in improving participants’ understanding of transboundary water governance, the benefits of cooperation and benefit-sharing. Applying approaches from IUCN BRIDGE and the UNECE Water Convention, capacity building modules and exercises supported further learning on benefit-sharing within transboundary basins”, John Owino, IUCN Water Programme Officer Kenya  

In this Step the Benefit Opportunities Assessment Tool (BOAT) is used to facilitate dialogue and joint qualitative analysis of options, to then select preferred stakeholder-validated options. 

Transboundary benefit-sharing: discussing the opportunities for the Sio-Malaba-Malakisi basin (webstory)

Transboundary benefit-sharing: discussing the opportunities for the Sio-Malaba-Malakisi basin (webstory)

Step 4: Quantifying costs and benefits from future scenarios

Based on benefit-enhancing scenarios (BOAT), a quantitative assessment of all identified benefits can be undertaken. Several methods to value and distribute benefits and costs exist, with different data needs. 

Many – but not all – benefits can undergo a quantitative assessment depending on the ambition of the cooperation process and the available budget and expertise. Quantifying the costs enables relevant stakeholders to hold the knowledge and tools to better understand and discuss the links between economics and water governance.

"Applying the Water-Food-Energy Security Nexus approach and conducting a nexus assessment are powerful tools for negotiation and quantification of benefit sharing" Vishwaranjan Sinha, IUCN Water Programme Officer Asia

Step 5: Negotiating benefits with a win-win approach using the LAGO tool

Benefit sharing agreements are about achieving an equitable distribution of benefits through consensus and participatory negotiation. Principles of international water law such as equitable and reasonable utilisation, ‘no significant harm’, environmental sustainability and compensation mechanisms such as Payments for Ecosystem Services, are useful tools for negotiation.

"I am planning to include the lessons learned from the Benefit-Sharing workshop in my project where we will have to deal with the polluted waters of the Motagua River entering the Bahia of Omoa, shared between Guatemala and Honduras." Pedro Moreo Mir, Consultant Inter-American Development Bank (GEF IW:LEARN LAC Regional Workshop, Cartagena 2019)

The Legal Assessment on Water Governance Opportunities (LAGO) tool is a rapid assessment tool that enables its users to understand the characteristics of a State’s water governance regime and to identify any gaps in a State’s national legislation, policy and institutions. This enables its users to develop country-specific action plans to improve the quality of water governance.

BRIDGE Champions Network ©IUCN/La Pecera

Step 6: Setting up institutional arrangements and implementation mechanisms using the TIDE tool

Implementation of benefit-sharing agreements requires functional institutions. Once an agreement between countries and stakeholders has been developed, an institutional arrangement should be envisioned to implement it. Water governance institutions exist at multiple levels and a functional institutional setup is needed to take full advantage of opportunities identified through the negotiation process and any benefit sharing agreement.

The Transboundary Instruments Development (TIDE) tool is a guidance tool for the preparation of water cooperation arrangements, which enables its users to identify the type of agreement that would work best, given the context, and what content needs to be included in the text of this arrangement, for discussion among stakeholders. An important part of any agreement are also the implementation mechanisms, which the TIDE tool supports the stakeholders to identify during the agreement preparation and sign-off process.

"The long term implementation of benefit sharing approaches depends on a solid legal and institutional framework. For that it is essential to understand how the wide range of governance arrangements such as laws, agreements, regulations as well as basin organisations can contribute to implementing this approach in an effective and meaningful way for all stakeholders and users, including the environment" Alejandro Iza, Director IUCN Environmental Law Centre

High-Level Dialogue on Global Instruments for the Governance of Transboundary Waters, Ecuadorian National Water Secretary, Quito, Ecuador, 1 August 2019  ©IUCN/Diego Jara

Supporting the six steps to benefit-sharing

The management of (shared) river basins is complex, requiring adaptation and adjustment to multiple levels of governance. Basins are dynamic, and so are the benefits and costs from using water.

GEF IW-LEARN Workshop Cartagena, Colombia 2019 ©Maria Carillo

GEF IW-LEARN Workshop Cartagena, Colombia 2019 ©Maria Carillo

"The workshop was really useful, I understood what the different benefits are, who they can be for, and most of all, how to apply this concept in the demonstration project of our Ridge to Reef programme" 
Mario Arturo Escobedo López, Project Manager GEF-WWF Integrated Transboundary Ridge to Reef Management of the Mesoamerican Reef project (GEF IW:LEARN LAC Regional Workshop, Cartagena 2019)

In IUCN’s experience, while conceptual frameworks and methodologies are useful to orient thinking of practitioners and policy-makers, they must be augmented with practical tools that are easy to tailor to specific basin contexts and will support stakeholders in dialogue and decision making. Practical tools are key for action.

Practitioner guides and powerpoint decks support the application of the manual 'Six Steps to Benefit Sharing' in workshops and trainings (See link)

Practitioner guides and powerpoint decks support the application of the manual 'Six Steps to Benefit Sharing' in workshops and trainings (See link)

The consultation copy of IUCN's Training Package and Steps to operationalise 'Sharing the benefits from the river' is available online via this link. Comments or feedback on the training and steps are welcome: water@iucn.org

FURTHER READING

FURTHER READING

E-mail water@iucn.org - Web www.iucn.org/water - Twitter IUCN_Water - Facebook IUCN.Water

Produced by Claire Warmenbol with contributions from IUCN colleagues and partners. Cover image 'Floating market in Soc Trang, Vietnam' ©Shutterstock/Huy Thoai, Scrollmation photos six steps ©IUCN. Published 2020.


The Global Environment Facility International Waters Learning Exchange and Resources Network (GEF IW:LEARN) is a global project that promotes experience sharing, learning, information management and partnership-building among projects in the GEF International Waters focal area.

The Global Environment Facility International Waters Learning Exchange and Resources Network (GEF IW:LEARN) is a global project that promotes experience sharing, learning, information management and partnership-building among projects in the GEF International Waters focal area.