Evaluating GEF transboundary aquifer projects

For this analysis, five of the GEF transboundary aquifer projects that have been evaluated at project completion are presented: 1) The Iullemeden Aquifer System (Mali, Niger and Nigeria), 2) Northwest Sahara (Algeria, Libya and Tunisia); (3) Guarani Aquifer (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay); (4) Dinaric Karst Aquifer System (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro); and (5) Southern African Development Community (SADC) Groundwater and Drought Management Project (covering 15 countries in Southern Africa and spanning 14 major transboundary aquifers).

The following is a brief explanation of each project and select evaluation findings.

Iullemeden aquifer system

The Iullemeden Aquifer System underlies Mali, Niger and Nigeria.These countries and the United Nations Environment Programme implemented a GEF-financed project from 2003 to 2007 (GEF provided $1 million of the SI.7 million project budget).The project was designed to establish joint mechanisms to identify risks and uncertainties relating to land use, climate change, extraction and other key drivers that could have an impact on the quality and quantity of water in the aquifer. The project was also expected to develop mechanisms to formulate policies for managing identified risks and uncertainties, and then to establish a legal and institutional cooperative framework among the three countries to address these risks (Hearns 2009).

An evaluation of the project was carried out in January 2009, taking into account the project’s achievements beyond its June 2008 termination to include residual achievements through November 2008 (Hearns 2009).The evaluation methodology included interviews, site visits and a desk review of pertinent documents. In keeping with GEF evaluation guidance, the questions focused attention on a range of project design, implementation and outcome aspects (including efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability), the achievement of planned outputs and activities, the catalytic role played by the project, the monitoring and evaluation systems used and the extent of engagement with stakeholders.

The evaluation rated the project satisfactory across most of the evaluation criteria.The evaluator noted in particular that there was good cooperation at the technical level, especially in the transfer of information and data, and good cooperation in the effort to identifying risks to the groundwater resource through a transboundary diagnostic analysis.The project was slow in getting started, requiring 18 months for the project team to get up and running (Hearns 2009). On the positive side, the countries then formed a tripartite steering committee supported by a technical and scientific committee.The evaluator noted a continuing need to provide support to the countries in order to maintain the momentum of the project’s outcomes. In particular, the evaluation report highlighted the importance of reaching agreement among the countries to develop and implement measures to minimize the risks of pollution and excessive drawdown of the aquifer and to organize for future close cooperation through a suitable regional institution (either an existing institution or one newly configured for this purpose). Another notable recommendation was to extend the hydrology analysis work to better clarify interactions between surface water and groundwater (Hearns 2009).

A follow on project has been approved, in January 2018, entitled: Improving IWRM, Knowledge-based Management and Governance of the Niger Basin and the Iullemeden-Taoudeni/Tanezrouft Aquifer System (NB-ITTAS). The new project is designed to build on previously separate surface and groundwater projects, integrating their strategic action plan implementation.

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