Partnership for agricultural water for Africa

Hydro-economic modelling for transboundary river basin management

International Conference and 69th International Executive Council Meeting of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID)

15-15 August 2018

The allocation of water amongst competing sectors, particularly hydropower and agriculture, and regions within transboundary river basins remains a challenge. To face this challenge, it is necessary to put in place multi-objective modelling solutions together with complex decision support systems for policymakers.

The side event will review the use of hydro-economic models to assess policy options for the management of transboundary river basins, including the sharing of both water and benefits, and present results drawn from hydro-economic models developed for various river basins characterized by different levels conflict and cooperation around the world: the Tigris-Euphrates, the Senegal and the Zambezi, among others. The side event will highlight the potential of multi-objective planning in preventing conflicts and promoting cooperation in transboundary river basins. 

Jointly organized by the Land and Water Division (CBL) of FAO, Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Sénégal (OMVS), the Partnership for Agricultural Water for Africa (AgWA) and Université Laval, the Side event on “Hydro-economic modelling for transboundary river basin management” was hosted by the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) in Saskatoon on Wednesday, 15 August 2018. The objective of the event was to share the knowledge acquired and results achieved through a number of hydro-economic models developed for transboundary river basins, and stimulate an engaging discussion around collaborative management in shared river basins. The session discussed the challenges related to transboundary river basin management and to competition among sectors, and shared lessons learnt in translating modelling results to support policymakers’ decision-making.

The side event guided 40 participants through the potential roles of hydro-economic modelling in policy- and decision-making at river basin level. There are a vast number of benefits and need for using hydro-economic models in the policymaking cycle, but challenges related to communicating scientific results to policymakers and facilitating their use in decision making must be addressed in every case. The event demonstrated the efforts taken by researchers to move from complex optimization models to friendly usable interfaces; participants agreed on the need of consensus among researchers and policymakers to strengthen the dialogue between science and decision-making mechanisms. Narrowing the scope from worldwide experiences to the case of the Senegal River basin, the modelling results represented that the river system could be significantly improved through coordinated operation of the multi-reservoir system. This significant result of creating bridge between policy-making and researches emphasized the eligibility of hydro-economic modelling in policy-making. Reflecting on the major challenge of data availability in the river basins, participants gained insights into methods to address data scarcity. Although, hydro-economic models are often considered theoretical due to their limiting assumptions, the Senegal River basin case proved that obtaining and applying high-quality data – even in data-scarce environment – makes hydro-economic models useful and reliable tool for decision-making. Attending policy-makers underlined that there is a clear willingness to adopt the results of research if their interpretation is clear and easy-to-understand. In order to meet these requirements, FAO plays a crucial role to create the necessary bridge between policy-makers and researchers, and the role of River Basin Organizations in accessing countries and local stakeholders is undeniable. The session acknowledged that allocation of water amongst competing sectors – particularly amongst hydropower and agriculture – and regions within transboundary river basins remains a challenge. Multi-objective hydro-economic models are a useful tool to support decision-making but they need to be designed together with decision support systems for policymakers.