Digitalisation for Transboundary River Basin Development Organisations
Geneva Water Hub's Support to Water and Digital Cooperation for Peace - Initiative on the Digital Transformation for West African River Basin Development Organisations
The accelerating digital transformation can help prevent and resolve water-related conflicts and promote water as an instrument of peace, as recommended by the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace co-convened by Switzerland and 15 countries. But there is an urgent need for improved digital cooperation to help achieve the SDGs, as the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation has underlined. International Geneva is uniquely positioned to foster water and digital cooperation, thanks to its vibrant ecosystem of UN, global and civil society organisations that host more than half of international talks on governance. In fact, the Swiss Digital Foreign Policy Strategy aims to make Geneva the global capital of digital governance.
Indeed, digitalisation can help integrate organisational siloes and promote a systems approach which recognizes the interconnectedness of water across sectors, between political entities, and across the urban-rural divide. Digital solutions can be deployed across the water value chain to increase sustainability, efficiency and resilience, as most of the effects of climate change will be transmitted through the water cycle, including droughts, floods, soil depletion and biodiversity loss. Digitalisation can thus help strengthen river basin management and territorial governance to more effectively manage 21st century mega-risks and prevent local conflicts and systemic crises. It includes digital platforms to enhance water security and induce inclusive socio-economic development, as well as remote sensing and crowdsourcing to help transform the governance, financing and diplomacy of transboundary water resources.
To meet the current and future challenges in the Sahelian region, it is necessary to strengthen the technical, human and financial capacities of river basin development organizations, as humanitarian, development and peace actors have underlined. The virtue of water as a vector of peace is already a historical reality as these organisations have managed to build major infrastructures in a collegial manner, benefiting each State. The challenge is therefore to enhance them through inclusive local socio-economic development supporting social cohesion, by fostering community and small private sector development to generate sustainable employment, especially for youth, women and marginalized populations. Recent advances in integrative and innovative approaches can be instrumental in this regard, including the network economy, digital platforms and electronic money that is booming in Africa.
In this context, under the SDC-supported Blue Peace Programme, the Geneva Water Hub and the Pôle eau Dakar (PED) have co-led since mid-2020 a series of six virtual think tank roundtables to explore how digitalisation can boost River Basin Organisations as peacemakers and accelerators of sustainable development, while anticipating risks such as cybersecurity and digital inclusion. The roundtables promoted synergies and experience sharing by partnering with WMO, INBO, SADC-GMI, UN-IGRAC, the RWG for the Senegal-Mauritanian Aquifer Basin (SMAB), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Geneva-based Group of Friends on Water and Peace.
- 1st roundtable: Digital Transformation Challenges and Opportunities for West African River Basin Development Organisations
- 2nd roundtable: Water Information Systems, Governance and the Interest of Remote Sensing
- 3rd roundtable: Water and Cyber security - Protection of Critical Water-Related Infrastructure
- 4th roundtable: Knowledge Exchange with the SADC Groundwater Management Institute (SADC-GMI)
- 5th roundtable: How to Strengthen the Sharing and Pooling of Data Produced by the Multiple Actors of the Water Sector?
- 6th roundtable: Exchange with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on Sustainable Socio-Economic Development and Financing
Nearly 1,000 participants from a hundred countries took part in the round tables. Most importantly, the roundtables helped incubate three potentially transformative initiatives, that were showcased at the Dakar World Water Forum in March 2022:
- An initiative by the Gambia River Basin Development Organisation (OMVG) and its four Member states (The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal) to develop a regional digital platform to improve data management in connection with its future SDC-financed Integrated Development Master Plan / PDDI, according to the principles of subsidiarity and interoperability. The pilot phase’s report proposes possible next steps.
- An initiative by the Senegal River Basin Development Organisation (OMVS) and its four Member states (Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal) to create a multi-stakeholder participatory digital platform to promote local entrepreneurship, job creation and social cohesion, by connecting local and global investors with project holders in need of financing, and by fostering group financing and solidarity through financial incentives and technical support.
- An initiative to explore how new technologies and digitalization could transform integrated water cycle management in (West) Africa has been initiated by the GWH and the PED jointly with OMVG, OMVS, Dakar University (UCAD), the SDC-supported WMO Hydrohub, EPFL Essential Tech and INBO. This initiative could help develop a new generation Sahel-HYCOS. An initial innovation workshop for youth and the private sector is planned.