Supporting water cooperation between Kenya and Uganda

The Sio-Malaba-Malakisi Basin

Luagzi, Uganda ©Shutterstock/Adam Jan Figel

Luagzi, Uganda ©Shutterstock/Adam Jan Figel

The Sio-Malaba-Malakisi River Basin

The Sio-Malaba-Malakisi (SMM) basin is a transboundary watershed spanning 3,240 km2 (roughly the size of Cairo) shared between Kenya and Uganda. The basin's landscape consists of lakes, rivers, forests, game reserves and national parks home to a rich variety of flora and fauna. Over 4 million people live in, and depend on, this rich water system in one of Africa's driest regions.

Agricultural irrigation is the largest consumptive water use in the basin, with the area under irrigation - mainly for growing rice, vegetables and sugarcane - being 740.5 ha in Kenya and 39,300 ha in Uganda. Irrigation equirements make up 40.1% of the total consumptive water use. Other important water use sectors are rural industry (32.0%), fisheries/aquaculture (19.3%), domestic water supply (4.6%) and livestock watering (3.9%). Image: Map of the Sio-Malaba-Malakisi Basin WREM

Agricultural irrigation is the largest consumptive water use in the basin, with the area under irrigation - mainly for growing rice, vegetables and sugarcane - being 740.5 ha in Kenya and 39,300 ha in Uganda. Irrigation equirements make up 40.1% of the total consumptive water use. Other important water use sectors are rural industry (32.0%), fisheries/aquaculture (19.3%), domestic water supply (4.6%) and livestock watering (3.9%). Image: Map of the Sio-Malaba-Malakisi Basin WREM

The basin's water is also of critical importance to the countries' economies. It fuels the region’s important agriculture, supports local livelihoods and businesses whilst contributing to the ecological health of downstream lakes Victoria and Kyoga.

There are an estimated 75,000 tobacco farmers in Uganda. In 2011, the government earned Shs87.5bn ($37.7M) in taxes from tobacco, making it one of the country's top 10 revenue sources. Photo: Tobacco plants, Teso, North Busia ©NELSAP

There are an estimated 75,000 tobacco farmers in Uganda. In 2011, the government earned Shs87.5bn ($37.7M) in taxes from tobacco, making it one of the country's top 10 revenue sources. Photo: Tobacco plants, Teso, North Busia ©NELSAP

In recent years, the basin has been facing challenges from deteriorating water quality, and increasingly water scarcity. Poor agricultural practices and sand harvesting have resulted in extensive ecosystem degradation and water quality decline.

Sand mining is an issue in the SMM basin, it consists of the extraction of sand from the river bed. Sand is then used for manufacturing abrasives or concrete. Photo by NELSAP Nile Basin Initiative

Sand mining is an issue in the SMM basin, it consists of the extraction of sand from the river bed. Sand is then used for manufacturing abrasives or concrete. Photo by NELSAP Nile Basin Initiative

The IUCN BRIDGE project in the Sio-Malaba-Malakisi basin supported the joint development and prioritization of intervention projects and is currently supporting Uganda and Kenya in implementing a roadmap for the SMM towards achieving sustainable development in the basin.

It is a multi-partner project launched in 2015 with financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and co-financing (2016-2018) from the US Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) with technical assistance from IUCN and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to IGAD Secretariat and Member States.

Around 80% of the SMM basin population lives in rural areas where food security and social well-being directly depend on the rivers and existing water resources

Lake Victoria fishermen © Shutterstock/Tykhanskyi Viacheslav

Lake Victoria fishermen © Shutterstock/Tykhanskyi Viacheslav

BRIDGE in the horn of Africa

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is one of eight Regional Economic Communities in Africa established to foster regional cooperation and promote peace and stability. In recognition of the great bottleneck to development posed by water challenges in the IGAD region, a growing effort to find solutions resulted in the IGAD Inland Water Resources Management (INWRM) programme.

BRIDGE joined and supported the initial implementation of the IGAD Regional Water Resources Policy through capacity building in hydro-diplomacy, international water law, benefit-sharing and the negotiation process for the IGAD Regional Water Resources Protocol (webstory).

Senior government officials and legal experts providing inputs and recommendations on the draft IGAD Regional Water Resources Protocol, July 2015, Naivasha, Kenya ©IUCN

Senior government officials and legal experts providing inputs and recommendations on the draft IGAD Regional Water Resources Protocol, July 2015, Naivasha, Kenya ©IUCN

IGAD comprises eight members: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. Four of the IGAD countries – Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia – occupy a part of the African continent known as the Horn of Africa. Of the remaining four member countries, two are from the Nile Valley (South Sudan and Sudan) and two from the African Great Lakes Region (Kenya and Uganda). This region has a land area of 5.2 million km2 and a population of 227 million people © Map of the IGAD Region

IGAD comprises eight members: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. Four of the IGAD countries – Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia – occupy a part of the African continent known as the Horn of Africa. Of the remaining four member countries, two are from the Nile Valley (South Sudan and Sudan) and two from the African Great Lakes Region (Kenya and Uganda). This region has a land area of 5.2 million km2 and a population of 227 million people © Map of the IGAD Region

IUCN, UNECE and IGAD: Learning, Sharing and Way Forward

At the onset in 2015 a thorough SMM Situation Analysis recommended key intervention areas for BRIDGE in the basin, these were focused on leadership, learning and dialogue.

Inception Workshop: Launch of the BRIDGE-IGAD Regional Water Project, Nairobi, Kenya, Dec 2016 ©IUCN

Inception Workshop: Launch of the BRIDGE-IGAD Regional Water Project, Nairobi, Kenya, Dec 2016 ©IUCN

In 2016, IGAD requested support from the Secretariat of the Water Convention hosted by UNECE, to pilot the use of the Policy Guidance on the Benefits of Transboundary Water Cooperation in a transboundary basin of the IGAD region. In parallel, IGAD invited continued support from IUCN, as such both organizations decided to partner. Prompted by Kenya and Uganda, IGAD requested in June 2016 to focus on the Sio-Malaba-Malakisi River Basin.

Progress and impacts of the benefit work in the SMM were reported to the global community during the 8th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Water Convention and the Global workshop “Moving forward transboundary water cooperation: Building on its benefits” in 2018.

UBC Television Uganda broadcast on BRIDGE Meeting, May 2015

IGAD-IUCN Study Tour: Experiences from the Sava and Rhine River Basins

In September 2017, IGAD members and SMM representatives visited the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) in Croatia, the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR) and the IUCN Environmental Law Centre (ELC) in Germany, to strengthen their understanding of the legal frameworks and cooperative mechanisms for the governance and management of an international river basin. The Study Tour also created an opportunity to share experiences on the need for upstream and downstream countries to cooperate. To build cooperation, understanding the inter-dependencies between countries is key as their increasing reliance on decreasing water quality and quantity requires joint strategies to adapt to climate change impacts.

The IGAD-IUCN study tour was conceived as a platform for learning and discussing the challenges, lessons and experiences from two of the most iconic river basin organisations in Europe, in order to reflect on the institutional and legal frameworks supporting effective transboundary water cooperation, peace and sustainable development in the IGAD region.

“Transboundary water cooperation and governance is a must and not optional because it affects all the riparian countries of the Nile Basin” 
Dr Callist Tindimugaya, SMM Riparian State Representative and Commissioner of Water Resources Planning and Regulation, Uganda.

Dr Callist Tindimugaya ©UNECE

Dr Callist Tindimugaya ©UNECE

Rose Ogara, Regional Manager of the Water Resources Authority of Lake Victoria North Basin, at Stockholm World Water Week, 2018 © IUCN

Rose Ogara, Regional Manager of the Water Resources Authority of Lake Victoria North Basin, at Stockholm World Water Week, 2018 © IUCN

Cotilda Nakyeyune, IUCN Uganda Country Office, Jaymee Silva, The Mountain Institute, Peru, and Mr. John Owino, IUCN Water Programme Officer, at the Uganda Water and Environment Week, March 2019. Photo ©IUCN

Cotilda Nakyeyune, IUCN Uganda Country Office, Jaymee Silva, The Mountain Institute, Peru, and Mr. John Owino, IUCN Water Programme Officer, at the Uganda Water and Environment Week, March 2019. Photo ©IUCN

"Progress made thus far, at both the IGAD and the SMM basin level, in transboundary water governance is thanks to the collective responsibility towards the implementation of the IGAD Regional Water Resources Policy"

Fred Mwango, IGAD Regional Water Expert

Malaba River ©NELSAP

Malaba River ©NELSAP

Benefit-Sharing: Insights from the SMM basin

Benefits from transboundary water governance can be categorized into five areas: economic benefits; social benefits; ecosystem benefits; regional benefits; and geopolitical benefits (peace and security).

"IUCN’s approach of promoting benefit-sharing in transboundary basins helps ensure a balance of investment in built and natural infrastructure as natural infrastructure plays a critical role in sustaining built infrastructure" John Owino, Water Programme Officer, IUCN East Africa Office

John Owino, IUCN Water Programme Officer for East and Southern Africa, presents the SMM work at the Uganda Water and Environment Week in 2019. Photo ©IUCN

John Owino, IUCN Water Programme Officer for East and Southern Africa, presents the SMM work at the Uganda Water and Environment Week in 2019. Photo ©IUCN

The Benefit-Opportunity Assessment Dialogue took place through a tailored process (see case study). From this exercise, IUCN BRIDGE and partners developed a roadmap for the SMM consisting of:

  • The Sio-Malaba-Malakisi (SMM) Basin Investment Framework (PDF)
  • The Sio-Malaba-Malakisi 4 clusters of prioritized investment projects (PDF)

IUCN is currently mobilizing the necessary resources to implement the prioritized investment projects through the Global Environment Facility and the African Development Bank.

Sio-Malaba-Malakisi (SMM) Basin Investment Framework PDF & Sio-Malaba-Malakisi 4 clusters of prioritized investment projects PDF

Sio-Malaba-Malakisi (SMM) Basin Investment Framework PDF & Sio-Malaba-Malakisi 4 clusters of prioritized investment projects PDF

"Cooperation is a pre-condition to sustainable development in transboundary basins. In the SMM Basin, the joint identification, assessment and communication of the benefits of transboundary water cooperation, as promoted by the Water Convention, highlighted the evolving needs and priorities in the basin and confirmed the necessity to strengthen cooperation"
Chantal Demilecamps, Environmental Affairs Officer, Water Convention Secretariat, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Chantal Demilecamps ©UNECE

Chantal Demilecamps ©UNECE

'Policy Guidance Note on the Benefits of Transboundary Water Cooperation: Identification, Assessment and Communication' PDF & 'Identifying, assessing and communicating the benefits of transboundary water cooperation' PDF

'Policy Guidance Note on the Benefits of Transboundary Water Cooperation: Identification, Assessment and Communication' PDF & 'Identifying, assessing and communicating the benefits of transboundary water cooperation' PDF

Transboundary cooperation is only possible when there is trust. Riparian countries are interdependent and rely on one another. To strengthen transboundary water cooperation, it is essential to understand interdependencies and connectedness between countries and their increasing reliance on water and the need for joint strategies.  

Gladys Wekesa, Director, Transboundary Water Division, Ministry of Water & Sanitation and Irrigation, Kenya

Read More

  • The BRIDGE programme: overview
  • BRIDGE in the SMM: IUCN website
  • United Nations Economic Convention for Europe (UNECE)
  • Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
  • BRIDGE Benefit-Sharing: overview
  • IUCN Environmental Law (ELC)
  • IUCN Global Water Programme (GWP)

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Produced by Claire Warmenbol, John Owinp and Diego Jara with contributions from IUCN colleagues and partners. Published June 2020