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SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses (original 1995)

The SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems was signed in 1995.  Signatories to the agreement include: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Moçambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Since 1995 Mauritius, Seychelles and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have joined SADC, and as a result have aceeded to the Protocol.

The Protocol came into force in September 1998 after being ratified by the two thirds majority of SADC member States. 

The Protocol is now under amendment, a process that began in April 1998.  The proposed changes will bring it closer fit with the United Nations Convention on the Law of Non Navigable Uses of International Watercourses and will accommodate other adjustment requested by the signatories.

The protocol sets the framework for utilization of watercourses shared by two or more member States and it emphasizes the following principles:

  • the right of each member State to utilize shared watercourses

  • maintenance of a balance between development and conservation

  • collaboration between riparian member States on developments affecting shared watercourses

  • free exchange of relevant resources information between riparian countries

  • equitable exploitation.

Furthermore, it states a number of specific obligations for the member States on e.g. prevention of pollution, elaboration of impact assessments, prevention of introduction of alien species, notification in emergency cases etc.

At the organizational level, the protocol obliges the member States to establish appropriate institutions for implementation of the provisions of the protocol and specifies their general objectives and functions.  More specifically, the following institutions are envisaged:

  • a Monitoring Unit for the implementation of the protocol based at SADC (Water Sector)

  • river basin commissions between basin states in respect of each drainage basin

  • river authorities or boards in respect of each drainage basin.

The protocol on shared watercourse systems is viewed as a high priority by member States as a means of developing sustainable water resources management for the regions scarce water resources and for reducing conflicts over these resources.  The principles of the protocol emphasize sustainable and equitable use of the resource for the benefit of member States and it is in the interests of the states that the protocol be implemented speedily and by all of those sharing water resources.  The protocol itself does not identify how it will be implemented and there are areas where there is need for further clarification and elaboration of guidelines for full implementation.


For more information on the Protocol on Shared Watercourses, please refer to the SADC website 

Tagged Document Category Tags: General, SADC