Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA)

Context | Strategy | Results | Partners



Africa’s water challenges

Containing 9 percent of the world’s water resources and 11 percent of the world’s population, Sub-Saharan Africa is not necessarily “water poor.” However, the region faces numerous water-related challenges that threaten economic growth and jeopardize livelihoods:  Only 5 percent of the region’s cultivated land is irrigated; the rest is rain-fed and highly susceptible to climate variability. Hydropower, the main source of electricity, is largely underdeveloped. Current installed capacity represents 10 percent of the sector’s potential. Urban electrification is at 60 percent, while rural electrification is at a mere 14 percent. Only 58 percent of people have access to safe drinking water and these levels are actually declining in many cities due to urban migration and lack of bulk supply. These challenges are exacerbated by limited water storage and management capacity, a rapidly expanding population, and increasing climate variability; they are further complicated by the transboundary nature of the continent’s waters, given that 76 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa falls within 53 international river basin catchments crossed by multiple borders. 

While cooperative management and development of transboundary waters present complex challenges, they also provide tremendous opportunities to optimize regional benefits and mitigate shared risks, including those of climate variability and change. For example, a multi-sector analysis of the Zambezi River shows that cooperation could lead to a 23 percent increase in firm energy production without any additional investments. However, political, technical, environmental, and financial complexities involved in cooperative action often result in stalled investments or in the adoption of sub-optimal development choices that have significant costs, many of which disproportionately impact poor and vulnerable populations. The urgency to facilitate cooperation around shared waters in Africa increases as competition for the resource grows and climate change intensifies hydrological variability and unpredictability. 

CIWA as a response

The Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) is a multi-donor trust fund established in 2011 and represents a partnership between the World Bank and the governments of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. CIWA supports riparian governments in Sub-Saharan Africa to unlock the potential for sustainable and inclusive growth, climate resilience, and poverty reduction by addressing constraints to cooperative management and development of international waters. CIWA will achieve this by improving the quality and accessibility of information, strengthening institutions, and providing support for preparing and improving the quality of investments with regional benefits. CIWA leverages the comparative advantage of its host institution, the World Bank, which offers strong technical expertise in international waters and water-related sectors, while also having the power to convene a wide range of stakeholders.

Currently supporting both long-term engagements in key transboundary basins and short-term, catalytic activities across the African continent through a program of US $71 million, CIWA has an ambitious target of mobilizing $200 million for cooperative transboundary water management and development over ten years.

CIWA’s design is informed by lessons learned over decades of work fostering cooperation in international waters. In particular, CIWA aims to capitalize on the successes of and lessons from the joint partner engagement around the Nile Basin Trust Fund (NBTF) and translate these to its work continent-wide.

Lessons Learned on Cooperation in International Waters

  • Riparian commitment to cooperation, driven by perceptions of risk vs. opportunities, changes over time; perceptions are continuously shaped by changing water realities, both human and climate-change induced.
  • Institution building is a long-term process and can accelerate or lapse around specific issues; progress is both systematic and opportunistic.
  • Operating at a regional level can increase benefits, reduce risks, and establish benefit-sharing mechanisms; challenges include difficulties with resource mobilization and allocation and the perception that regional processes extend project timelines.
  • Progress must occur in both development and institution building to mitigate the risk of frustration with the pace of multilateral institution building as well as the risk that development is disconnected from the regional perspective and institutions that coordinate regional action; intended results should be outlined at the start of engagement, as possible, to manage expectations.
  • Analytical work on economic, social, environmental, and political aspects of water initiatives can help to unlock the potential for cooperation and to target and maximize investments.
  • External actors, including development partners, can provide stability through a long-term engagement and help stakeholders manage risks and invest in opportunities.
  • Riparian representation and participation are important in the governance of funding mechanisms.





A framework for thinking through CIWA’s support

CIWA recognizes that the primary driver for cooperation among riparians in a basin is Action on the Ground, i.e. all value-adding investments in information, institutions, and infrastructure. CIWA also recognizes that, in order for these investments to be able to jointly contribute to development goals of riparians, a host of foundational elements are required. These foundational elements, collectively called the Basin Framework, comprise of data and information, transboundary agreements, institutions, investment plans, and operation agreements.

CIWA works to strengthen the various elements comprising the Basin Framework to inform and improve the quality of Action on the Ground; to catalyze Action on the Ground informed by the Basin Framework; and to connect Action on the Ground to the Basin Framework to facilitate achievement of sustainable climate resilient growth and poverty reduction.

Program Objective & Results areas

CIWA’s overall program level objective is to strengthen cooperative management and development of international waters in Sub-Saharan Africa to facilitate sustainable and inclusive growth, climate resilience, and poverty reduction.

Towards this objective, CIWA designs its activities to achieve the following four results:

  1. Strengthened regional cooperation and integration by fostering cooperative transboundary institutions for greater regional stability and creation of an enabling environment for shared sustainable growth
  2. Strengthened water resources management by underpinning evidence-based knowledge for planning and decision-making to maximize development opportunities and minimize climate risks
  3. Strengthened water resources development by supporting investments that improve resilience to climate variability and change, enhance food and energy security, and enable countries to follow a lower carbon growth path
  4. Strengthened stakeholder engagement and coordination by enabling greater voice in decision-making processes of civil society, private sector, and academia in the cooperative management and development of shared basin resources

Poverty as a core focus

The World Bank aims to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. CIWA contributes to ending extreme poverty by advancing initiatives that protect the poorest from water-related risks. Though initiatives that improve sustainable use of groundwater, for example, CIWA helps ensure poor farmers have access to water sources on which they rely for growing food. CIWA promotes shared prosperity by advancing water resources management at the local, river-basin, and transboundary levels through activities such as allocating water to maximize the social and economic values of water, taking a coordinated approach to increasing water storage to deal with increasingly volatile weather systems, and undertaking watershed management activities that improve water quality.

Gender mainstreamed

  • Gender Inclusive Stakeholder Engagement: CIWA facilitates inclusion of NGOs and other organizations representing the interests and concerns of women in CIWA supported stakeholder advisory groups, dialogues with civil society, stakeholder research, and makes strong efforts to improve bottom up and horizontal communication among civil society organizations in networks wherever possible. CIWA also addresses gender and water resources related climate variability and change issues through relevant program-level communications materials, information portals, and knowledge partnerships.
  • Informed Allocation of Water Providing for Multiple Use: CIWA projects support informed and coordinated water allocation, and where relevant, promote multiple-use water initiatives that address agricultural production needs as well as domestic needs, for which women are largely responsible.
  • Gender Informed Climate Resilience: CIWA recognizes that successful implementation of policies and programs addressing climate change, flooding, drought and other disasters requires an understanding of the gender-based roles of women and men and the different risks and vulnerabilities they face. CIWA also draws on growing evidence that empowering women to exercise leadership within their communities contributes to climate resilience.
  • Gender Inclusive Mitigation of Conflict over Water Resources: While conflict analysis frameworks provide a macro-level strategic assessment of the drivers of conflict, the inclusion of gendered perspectives provides a more ‘people-centered’ approach, which enables CIWA to identify critical elements in society that often resist conflict mitigation.  CIWA seeks to work with water commissions, water juries, irrigation cooperatives, and women’s organizations that can play an important role in helping resolve disputes and managing water between local stakeholders. 

A balanced program

CIWA strives to maintain a balanced program in many respects. The program is designed to commit to a few long-term programs in order to support institutional development in priority basins, but also to remain flexible enough to address strategic opportunities where a shorter-term engagement will unlock the potential for cooperation.

CIWA believes that international cooperation on transboundary water must be firmly tied to both water resources development and management and seeks to reinforce this through its portfolio. CIWA also strives to balance its support in advancing information, institutions, and investment, depending on the needs of a particular basin.






What types of work does CIWA do?


Lessons learned from the Nile Basin Trust Fund (NBTF) and Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) till date suggest that steady progress towards transboundary cooperation can be made through long-term sustained support to a given basin with weak institutional capacity.  Experience has also shown that given the event-driven nature of many collaborative opportunities, shorter-term support in the form of analytical work, capacity building, technical assistance, etc. can often propel cooperation within a basin. Recognizing the varying needs and opportunities across Africa, CIWA is designed to provide long-term support to a few priority basins, but remains flexible to address short-term, strategic opportunities as they arise.

CIWA delivers three categories of work through two sub-programs, as indicated in the figure below. 

  • Sustained strengthening of information, institutions, and investments in priority basins: The bulk of CIWA resources are dedicated to long-term engagement in CIWA’s priority basins, which the program establishes through an analysis of the basin’s needs, expressed demand, subsequent gaps, and CIWA’s comparative advantage. The analysis contained in CIWA’s forthcoming publication “International Waters in Africa: A Strategic Overview” provides objective criteria to assess regional and basin-specific needs as an input to defining CIWA’s priority basins. Factors such as population, GDP, poverty, total discharge, surface area, potential for conflict over water, infrastructure potential, environmental considerations, hydrological variability, anticipated effects of climate change are considered. CIWA’s sustained engagement is geared towards strengthening foundational elements such as data, agreements, institutions, investment plans, and operation plants that are instrumental to effective sustained cooperation in international waters.
  • Short term, opportunistic, catalytic work: When opportunities arise, CIWA supports catalytic work that unlocks potential for cooperative investment in basins other than priority basins. In some cases, opportunistic work will be used to evaluate the suitability of long-term engagement in a new basin. Opportunistic work responds to high-priority, high-stake issues.
  • Knowledge management and capacity building: Very often a gap in cooperation is characterized by a gap in data – where positions taken by different parties are based on perceptions rather than evidence-driven reasoning. CIWA supports activities that address gap by generating and disseminating data and knowledge on cross-cutting issues to create shared understanding that can facilitate cooperative development and management of international waters. In particular, CIWA supports generation of knowledge relevant to multiple basins, regions, and stakeholders to capitalize on economies of scale. Work under this window focuses on four thematic pillars:
    • Analytical work for catalyzing cooperation
    • Exploring collaborative investment opportunities
    • Improving access to and use of climate change data, information, and models to build resilience
    • Capacity building and knowledge management

Whom does CIWA work with?

Experience suggests that transboundary cooperation between multiple riparian countries is best developed at the level of the river basin where shared resources of the basin is a unifying concept.  In this regard, many riparians have formed River Basin Organizations (RBOs) or similar initiatives around lakes and groundwater with the function of supporting riparians in the task of cooperative management and development of their shared water resources.  CIWA thus works with RBOs and with organizations that work in the joint management and development of aquifers and lakes.

Lessons in promoting cooperative management and development of international waters have also shown that multiple entry points with various types of institutions are often required to promote effective cooperation. Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are generally mandated with the promotion of economic cooperation across different sectors in their regions, many of which are directly related to water.  CIWA thus works with RECs with the objective of:

  • Expanding its reach beyond water sector organizations to include water’s role in food and energy security issues for which there often are regional policies that extend beyond a basin’s boundary
  • Engaging finance and planning ministries to legitimize and endorse water-related decisions
  • Facilitating cross-basin exchange and enabling knowledge management functions

CIWA also works with civil society institutions that support strengthening of civil society participation in processes and programs that promote transboundary water cooperation on issues including environmental conservation, gender equity, livelihoods, poverty reduction, and others. By supporting communications and knowledge dissemination to assist with informing and building ownership in this key group of stakeholders, CIWA seeks to promote their engagement in consensus building for regional cooperation on transboundary waters.






Development Partners

Implementation Partners






  • Sustained Support

    CIWA provides sustained multi-sectoral support to distinct basins and regions to develop and implement cooperative water resources management and development in international waters including rivers, aquifers, and lakes. CIWA establishes basins and regions for sustained support after evaluating needs and expressed demands, and assessing the program’s ability to add value to close any existing gaps. CIWA’s plans for activities and outcomes in such a basin or region are outlined in a CIWA Support Plan developed by the basin’s stakeholders – riparian governments, river basin organizations, regional economic communities, development partners, civil society – in collaboration with the World Bank. The CIWA Support Plan is aligned with the strategic plans of participating basin organizations and delineates any possible inter-linkages with ongoing development work in the basin.
  • Image

    Nile River Basin

    The eleven riparian countries in the Nile Basin face unique challenges and all have ambitious development plans to fuel economic growth and promote poverty alleviation efforts that depend critically on the sustainable use and management of shared Nile waters. Cooperative development and management of shared Nile waters can generate substantial “win-win” benefits to help unlock the full productive potential of the Nile Basin for more prosperous and sustainable national and regional growth and poverty reduction.
  • Image

    Zambezi River Basin

    Reflecting the dual nature of the regional economy in the Zambezi River Basins, new investments in large infrastructure co-exist alongside a parallel subsistence economy that is reliant upon environmental services provided by the river. The challenge in the basin is to promote cooperative development and management of international waters in a way that drives sustainable economic growth and improves the livelihoods of the populations that critically depend on the sustainable use and management of shared waters.
  • Image

    Volta River Basin

    With five of its six riparians amongst the poorest in the world, the Volta River Basin is faced with the challenge of balancing conservation of its natural resources with opportunities for development. Coordinated efforts among riparians to improve water resources management, restore favorable social and environmental conditions through improved land and water resource practices, and increase incomes through greater agricultural productivity and other related water resources-based activities can lead to multifold shared benefits.
  • Image

    Niger River Basin

    Shared among nine riparian countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria – the Niger River Basin has tremendous potential for infrastructure development hydropower and irrigation, and the potential to create millions of jobs. Cooperative management and development of water resources infrastructure can both boost growth, and transform the livelihoods of its people, including vulnerable and poor communities in rural, remote parts of the basin. The Niger Basin also serves as a window for furthering transformative, strategic activities for water resources management in the Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and northern Nigeria.
  • Catalytic Activities

    CIWA supports catalytic activities that explore potential high impact collaborative investment opportunities in defined basins and regions; generate, share, and manage knowledge that can facilitate cooperative development and management of international waters; and create shared understanding of the opportunities, risks, costs, and benefits of cooperative development and management of international waters among stakeholders. The many challenges associated with international waters have resulted in significant sub-optimal investments where unilateral choices have been made in favor of cooperative solutions in order to avoid the complexities of engaging with riparian neighbors. Major development initiatives have been delayed for decades or have been forgone entirely, leading to a forgone economic growth and huge social and environmental costs. However, these costs for Africa have not been adequately quantified and the potential lost opportunities remain largely unrecognized as a binding constraint to unleashing Africa’s economic potential, addressing poverty reduction, and fostering peace. CIWA’s catalytic, analytical work will concentrate on addressing these issues.
  • Image

    CIWA Annual Report 2015

    The Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) 2015 Annual Report highlights the substantial progress made by the program in FY15 toward strengthening cooperative management and development of transboundary waters in Sub-Saharan Africa for climate-resilient growth. CIWA’s work program in seven transboundary basins across Africa has influenced US$8.9 billion in investment financing projected to potentially benefit 48.6 million people. In FY15, sustained support provided by CIWA in the Niger, Zambezi and Volta river basins successfully mobilized investments that will improve the lives and livelihoods of over five million people through increased power generation, irrigation development, job creation, and disaster risk reduction. Meanwhile, CIWA’s targeted analytical support for high-impact opportunities – such as a Multi-Sector Investment Opportunity Analysis (MSIOA) for the Okavango basin and a catalytic study investigating potentially transformative development options for a Lesotho-Botswana water transfer scheme – expanded the geographic reach and scope of its impact. The 2015 Annual Report underscores the program’s alignment with the goals of the World Bank and the larger development community as it moves into the second phase of its ten-year timeframe.
  • Image

    CIWA Annual Report 2014

    The Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) 2014 Annual Report summarizes the progress and impact of the program in FY14. The report showcases the breadth of CIWA’s portfolio, describing the program’s engagements across the continent in East, West and Southern Africa primarily in the Nile, Niger, Volta, and Zambezi basins. Important catalytic activities, including the Political Economy of Cooperation, a Multi-Sector Opportunities Analysis in the Okavango Basin and efforts to make important water and climate information more accessible through the Spatial Agent app are also featured. The report demonstrates how the CIWA program supports and influences important potential investments in water-related infrastructure, institutions and information systems by providing analytical and technical support during project identification and preparation. CIWA continues to be an important tool for the World Bank and its clients in their efforts to reduce poverty by advancing water resources management and development. The CIWA program is supported by the governments of Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
















Last Publication
CIWA Annual Report 2015

CIWA Annual Report 2015

The report highlights the substantial progress in FY15 toward strengthening cooperative management and development of transboundary waters in Sub-Saharan Africa for climate-resilient growth. CIWA’s work in seven basins influenced US$8.9 billion in investment financing projected to potentially benefit 48.6 million people.