Transboundary Water Management

Striving for Solutions

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) was agreed upon as a guiding principle for global water policy.

The EU Member States adopted IWRM in a particularly ambitious way: the European Water Framework Directive, adopted in 2000, is a mandatory framework for managing water bodies, which is cross-sectoral, transboundary and basin-oriented. This policy also serves as a model for many neighbors of the EU

IWRM enjoys wide international recognition and is also featured in Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. IWRM means holistic management of water within spaces defined by nature, taking into account environmental, social and economic objectives. It is based on a participatory approach and aims at generating benefits for all users.

While IWRM is focused on the most efficient use of water resources, the even more comprehensive “nexus concept” includes balancing water use with the use of other resources such as food and energy. The nexus approach promotes cross-sector planning, decision making and action.

Internationally, Germany is a strong proponent of further developing and implementing the nexus approach. Already in 2011 a conference on "The Water Energy and Food Security Nexus - Solutions for the Green Economy" was hosted in Bonn, serving as German contribution to the preparation of the Rio+20 Summit.

Water Governance

© U.S. Department of Agriculture CC BY 2.0
© U.S. Department of Agriculture CC BY 2.0

The implementation of IWRM across the world has produced a profound impact. The same is true for the application of the Water Framework Directive within the EU. But many challenges remain at the management level. The nexus approach goes even beyond mere management as it is aiming for an improved policy-making and better governance.


Principles for water governance have been drafted among others by the OECD. They are designed to help establish governance systems, building trust, actively engaging stakeholders, as well as enhancing effectiveness and efficiency.

Water governance principles are thus based on the general principles of good governance:

  • legitimacy
  • transparency
  • accountability
  • human rights
  • rule of law and
  • inclusiveness

Such principles provide guidance even though there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the global water challenges. Each country requires an individual approach tailored to the specific regional context.

Water as Part of Development Cooperation

© Stuart Pike/flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
© Stuart Pike/flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Due to its development cooperation, Germany has learned key lessons in water governance, such as the close interlinkage between good governance and transboundary water cooperation.

The case of Jordan serves as an example: According to data provided by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the country ranks second among the water-poorest countries in the world. Up to 95% of the

water of the River Jordan is withdrawn by Israel, the Palestinian Authorities and Jordan.                                                 


Thus, hardly any water reaches the Dead Sea, the surface of which is receding rapidly by about one meter per year. At the same time wastewater treatment is insufficient, aggravating water scarcity.

Establishing and optimizing sewage treatment is one focus of Germany’s development cooperation activities in Jordan. In addition, Germany supports the implementation of Jordan’s Water Strategy 2008-2022 to achieve efficient and sustainable water management.

Improved water management in the overall Jordan basin could contribute to easing political strains; yet regional water governance structures are still lacking.