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Aqueduct Partnership to Map Water Risks in Africa's Orange-Senqu Basin

Snaking across multiple international boundaries and supporting everything from villages and farms to industry and cities, the Orange-Senqu River is one of the most important natural resources in southern Africa. The complexity and significance of the Orange-Senqu basin made it a clear focus for the Aqueduct project, which aims to measure and map physical, reputational, and regulatory water risks in economically important river basins around the world.

With a prototype map for the Yellow River basin in China and global water stress maps completed, the World Resources Institute (WRI) is in the process of expanding its basin-level mapping into other basins around the world, including the Orange-Senqu. The Orange-Senqu river basin is home to over 14 million people and extends across four countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa. The basin is characterized by high geographic and climatic variability, large agricultural and industrial demands, and historic inequities in supply. Further complicating the basin is an extremely intricate network of inter- and intra-basin water transfers put in place to help ensure that water is available where and when it is needed.

Freshwater resources are one of the primary drivers of local economies and have been governed for over four decades by a number of international trans-boundary and bi-lateral treaties. Efforts to sustainably and consistently manage the Orange-Senqu basin have centered on:

  • Ensuring water availability despite high demands;

  • Improving water quality, which is threatened by poorly managed waste water treatment works, mining discharges, industrial effluent, and agricultural run-off;

  • Understanding and managing complex changes to the river's natural flow created by engineered modifications and water withdrawals.

To better understand the complexity of the Orange-Senqu basin, and ensure that the Aqueduct project generates accurate and useful maps of water risk, WRI has leveraged partnerships with government and development agencies with extensive on-the-ground experience in the basin. The key set of partners in southern Africa include the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Water Division, and the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM), both of whom are being supported by the German Federal Government through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

These three groups and other international cooperating partners such as the European Union, United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility are collaborating to develop a comprehensive Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Plan for the basin.

As part of this plan, ORASECOM and GIZ have built a unique and robust dataset of basin-wide geospatial, hydrological, and water use information to help identify threats and opportunities across the four basin states. This valuable basin-wide dataset has become a standard and reference for both private and public sector decision-makers, and a key to the sustainable management of water resources in each country.

To the great benefit of the Aqueduct project, ORASECOM and GIZ, along with the Delegated Cooperation of UK Department for International Development and the Australian Agency for International Development, recently agreed to share their unique basin-wide database with WRI. Thanks in part to the donation of this data, Aqueduct is currently calculating and mapping 23 diverse and broadly applicable indicators of water risk across the Orange-Senqu river basin. This generous donation of ORASECOM and GIZ data will allow Aqueduct to develop more widely accepted and robust water risk maps to support public, private and non-profit decision-makers through the basin and contribute to the current IWRM plan.

The Aqueduct water risk maps, which are due to be completed in the next several months, are being developed at extremely high spatial resolution, and include indicators of three dimensions of water risk to businesses:

  • Access and growth constraints: provide a measure of corporate water risks driven by the physical availability and accessibility of water. These are captured by indicators that fall under three main categories: supply, efficiency and access.

  • Cost risks: capture the risk faced by companies due to the increasing price of water and its treatment. These are measured by indicators that fall under three main categories: influent, compliance and water price.

  • Disruption potential: measures the likelihood of a company facing employee, supply chain or operational disruption. These risks are measured by indicators that fall under two main categories: socio-economic and water resources governance.

The collaboration of ORASECOM and GIZ with the Aqueduct project will be invaluable during the validation, road testing and distribution of Aqueduct’s water risk maps. Private and public sector water experts throughout the extended network of the Southern African Development Community Water Division will have the opportunity to test Aqueduct first-hand and provide feedback and recommendations for future improvement and development of the maps.

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