Promoting the Application of Environmental Flows in the Management of Transboundary River Basins in Southern Africa

The implementation of environmental flows management is meant to achieve a flow regime, or pattern, that provides for human uses and maintains the essential processes required to support healthy river ecosystemsThis is particularly important as the flows of most of the world’s rivers are increasingly being modified when water is withdrawn for agriculture, urban use, and hydropower and when it is not returned to the river through drainage or groundwater flow. 

In order to promote environmental flows management in transboundary basins of the SADC region, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) partnered WaterNet, between 2014 and 2019, under the on Building River Dialogue and Governance (BRIDGE) programme in delivering a theoretical courses and practical trainings to Mozambique and Zimbabwe officials. WaterNet, therefore, partnered with IUCN under BRIGDE II, III and IV in enhancing the implementation of environmental flow assessments in Buzi, Pungwe and Save Basins shared by Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The aim of BRIDGE is to support the capacities of countries sharing river or lake basins to implement effective water management arrangements through a shared vision, benefit-sharing principles and transparent and coherent institutional frameworks. Its goal is to enhance cooperation among riparian countries by applying water diplomacy at multiple levels. The environmental flows management training done under the BRIDGE programme targeted participants from the Pungwe Basin in general and Mozambique and Zimbabwe in particular. Participants were drawn from relevant water management organisations such as the Zimbabwe National Water Authority in Zimbabwe and ARA-Centro in Mozambique. The participants had an opportunity to use different tools and knowledge they had acquired earlier to undertake hydrological, ecological and socio-economic assessments for the implementation of environmental flows.

he overall objective of the capacity building initiative was to:

  • develop skills for undertaking an environmental flow assessment and developing recommendations for a river flow management plan for maintaining agreed socio-economic and ecological conditions within a transboundary river basin.

The first part of the training focused on taking teaching the participants the theoretical and conceptual aspects of environmental flows. This focused on:

  1. the history and context of EWRs
  2. the concept of the ecosystem approach as it applies to river basin management
  3. the fundamental principles of EWRs from an ecological (i.e. hydraulics, hydrology, geomorphology, biological indicators and riparian zones) social and economic dimensions;
  4. the development, implementation and monitoring of EWRs


The practical aspect of the capacity building initiative focused on the following tasks:

  1. Development of an inventory of current and future river basin management interventions with a potential for affecting river flows.
  2. Identification of social, economic and ecological conditions sensitive to river flow modifications in different parts of a river basin.
  3. Selection of appropriate social, economic and ecological indicators sensitive to modifications of various attributes of river flows in different parts of a river basin.
  4. Establish responses of selected social, economic and ecological indicators to modifications of various attributes of river flows.
  5. Developing recommendations for a river flow management plan for maintaining agreed social, economic and ecological conditions in different parts of a river basin.

At the end of BRIDGE IV, a policy dialogue attended by policy makers from Mozambique and Zimbabwe was convened and a policy brief with the following recommendations was developed:

  1. Water legislation needs to be updated to clearly reflect the need to provide for environmental flows;
  2. The agency responsible for environmental flows assessment, implementation and enforcement should be explicitly stated in the legislation;
  3. Environmental flows assessment should be included in the approval of water permits.
  4. Consideration should be given to explore how modifications of operating rules of existing dams will contribute to the provision of environmental flows;
  5. Regulations for planning, implementation and enforcement of environmental flows should be formulated;
  6. Legislation needs to be improved so that catchment management plans reflect the provision of environmental flows assessed using scientifically sound methods;
  7. An institutional mechanism for the involvement of relevant agencies in environmental flows assessment and implementation should be put in place;
  8. There should be capacity development of selected persons in agencies relevant for environmental flow assessments to enable such assessments being done whenever possible in-house;
  9. Environmental flow assessments should be undertaken in a participatory manner including communities affected by water resources developments;
  10. Environmental flow assessment should be included in the educational curriculum;
  11. The continuation of the IUCN BRIDGE capacity development initiative on environmental flow assessment is strongly recommended.