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New UNDP-GEF Orange-Senqu strategic action programme

23 April 2010, UNDP

Pretoria:  UNDP-GEF kick started an environmental initiative supporting the Orange-Senqu River Commission to realize sustainable development of the Basin and contribute to the Millennium Development Goals in the four riparian States.

With a total catchment area of 1,000,000 km2 the Orange-Senqu River Basin is one of the larger river basin in Southern Africa. The Basin carries a population of over 14 million living remarkably diverse livelihoods. The riparian States Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa depend on the Orange-Senqu River Basin for their hydro-infrastructure, industrial production, agriculture and economic growth. The Vaal River, one principal tributary of the Orange-Senqu river system, for example, supplies more than 80% of South Africa’s electricity requirements – approximately 50% of all the electricity generated in Africa – and hosts the area in which 50% of South Africa’s GDP is generated.

Besides the high level of development, the Basin hosts globally significant terrestrial biodiversity. Wetlands in Lesotho, in the upper catchment of the Orange-Senqu River Basin and the Orange River Mouth shared by Namibia and South Africa are registered Ramsar sites, as a result of its high number of rare and endangered species, particularly relating to water foul, and its uniqueness as ecosystem within the bio-region. Information on the current state of the environment of the Orange-Senqu River Basin, however, remains incomplete.

The Basin is threatened by a number of trans-boundary problems, many of them caused by human activities. The river system is regulated by some 30 large dams and includes several larger inter- and intra-basin transfers. Extensive water utilisation for urban, industrial and agricultural purposes has significantly reduced natural flow, to the extent that the current flow reaching the river mouth is in the order of half of the natural flow.

In the near future increasing demands will rapidly outstrip the river´s resources. Changes in the flow of the river and pollution have very severely degraded the ecosystem. Land degradation, in particular in the ecologically sensitive upstream and in dryland areas, caused by over grazing and poorly suited cultivation practices, is also a cause for concern.

The four riparian States are strongly committed to a joint, basin wide approach to addressing these threats. This led to the founding of the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM), later this year ORASECOM will celebrate its tenth anniversary. ORASECOM is now developing an Integrated Water Resources Management Plan for the Basin.

The new project, the UNDP-GEF Orange-Senqu Strategic Action Programme, will support ORASECOM and its member countries in the joint management of the shared resources. A trans-boundary diagnostic analysis, which charts the main environmental threats to the Orange-Senqu River Basin and ascertain their root causes, is already underway. This will lay the groundwork for the four countries of the Basin to prioritize issues and develop a strategy to collectively manage and further develop the water and related natural resources on which their people and economies depend.

“The project aims to build consensus on the broad development and conservation objectives of the Basin”, says Lenka Thamae, the Executive Secretary of ORASECOM. “Each country has its own strategic objectives. The big question is how to manage the whole Basin so we can optimise these objectives.”

The Orange-Senqu Strategic Action Programme is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Funding of $6.3 million (R48 million) has been secured from the GEF for the duration of the project. The project coordination unit is hosted by the ORASECOM Secretariat in Pretoria, South Africa. South Africa hosted the inception workshop and the first project steering committee meeting in Johannesburg on 18 March 2010.

The ORASECOM Council, comprising three commissioners from each of the four member States, conducted its annual meeting on 14 and 15 April in Durban. The meeting took stock of the progress of the various activities under the Commission which will lead to developing the Integrated Water Resources Management Plan for the Basin. The Meeting noted with appreciation the launching of the new UNDP-GEF supported project. Discussions at the ORASECOM Council Meeting then focused on the preparation of the meeting of ministers of ORASECOM member States, which will be hosted by South Africa in Durban on 19 April 2010.
Further information: Christoph Mor (Senior Project Manager) +27 12 354 8133

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