Enhancing International Water Cooperation Through Regional Education: Three Key Lessons from WaterNet’s 24-Year Journey

Regional education and capacity development can provide an entry point into fostering peaceful and cooperative water management practices, according to Cap-Net UNDP Director, Dr. Themba Gumbo.

“An approach that promotes a common understanding of the real water-related issues results in future water specialists speaking a common water language. This enhances mutual respect and trust, and can be considered an investment in the future.”

Dr. Gumbo was speaking at the recently concluded panel discussion “Approaches to International Water Cooperation” as part of the International Water Dialogues side event at the Water Innovation Europe 2024 Conference

He highlighted the achievements and lessons learned from WaterNet, one of Cap-Net’s affiliated regional networks focusing on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.

Formed in 2000, WaterNet’s genesis was at the 1997 SADC-European Union (EU) Conference on the Management of Shared River Basins, held in Maseru, Lesotho. At this conference, Ministers of Water in southern Africa and Europe articulated an urgent need to level the playing field between riparian countries, by prioritising capacity development. 

Reflecting on WaterNet’s journey, Dr. Gumbo outlined three key lessons learned:

  1. Build A Roadmap - “For regional water education and research to be effective, it must have a legitimate ownership structure and a clear mandate.”
  2. Acknowledge the Scope of Water - “It makes sense to organise water-related education and training opportunities at a regional and transboundary scale, not only because knowledge resources are scattered but also the topic of “water” has regional and transboundary scope."
  3. Commit to the Value of Knowledge - “Jointly developing educational programs by sharing expertise and resources requires intense intellectual management and sufficient financial means. Part of WaterNet’s success has been realised because there has been a long-term commitment from funding partners that appreciate and acknowledge the value and benefit of knowledge sharing.”

Panel moderator, Gaetano Casale of IHE-Delft, underscored the importance of expanding WaterNet’s model globally, such as through initiatives like the Global Water Education Network

Other participants on the panel included representatives from the EU-China Cooperation on Water and the India-EU Water Initiative. 

The Water Innovation Europe 2024 Conference is taking place from June 17-19 in Brussels under the theme “Towards a Water Smart Strategy”.