International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

North-Western Sahara Aquifer System (NWSAS)

The NWSAS covers over 1,000,000 square kilometers of which 700,000 are in Algeria, 80,000 in Tunisia, and 250,000 in Libya. It includes the two main aquifers in the region—the Intercalary Continental and the Terminal Complex.



The North-Western Sahara Aquifer System (“NWSAS”) Project is part of the United Nations Environment Programme (“UNEP”) and is funded by the Global Environment Facility (“GEF”). It is administered by the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (“OSS”)—an independent international organization based in Tunis, Tunisia that focuses on combating desertification and mitigating drought in Africa.

The NWSAS plan was adopted at a meeting that took place from 8-10 September 1997 in Tunis, Tunisia. In May 1999, the Member States and funding partners met in Rome, Italy and named the OSS as the Executive Agency in charge of the NWSAS Project.

While no formal treaty has been signed, the Member States—Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya—reached an agreement in 2002 to establish a “Consultation Mechanism” for the NWSAS. This consensus was reached by the three Member States at a meeting at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (“FAO”) in Rome, Italy on 19-20 December 2002. The procès verbal—or minutes of the meeting—were endorsed by Algeria on 6 January 2003, Tunisia on 15 February 2003, and Libya on 23 February 2003; these approvals constituted an agreement to establish the Consultation Mechanism. The objective of the Consultation Mechanism is to “coordinate, promote and facilitate the rational management of the NWSAS water resources.”


The Member States are Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.


The NWSAS covers over 1,000,000 square kilometers of which 700,000 are in Algeria, 80,000 in Tunisia, and 250,000 in Libya. It includes the two main aquifers in the region—the Intercalary Continental and the Terminal Complex.


No specific provision.


The functions of the NWSAS Project, according to the Consultation Mechanism, are: (a) to manage the hydrogeologic database and simulation model; (b) to develop and oversee a reference observation network; (c) to process, analyze, and validate data relating to the NWSAS; (d) to develop databases on socio-economic activities in the region in relation to water uses; (e) to develop public indicators on the resource and its uses in the three Member States; (f) to promote and facilitate the conduct of joint or coordinated studies and research by experts in the three Member States; (g) to formulate and implement training programs; (h) to update the NWSAS model on a regular basis; and (i) to formulate proposals relating to the evolution of the Consultation Mechanism.


The OSS, as the Executive Agency, presides over a Steering Committee that is responsible for the execution of projects. The OSS is in charge of managing funds, recruiting experts and consultants, obtaining equipment, providing logistical assistance, and auditing scientific reports. The Steering Committee is tasked with reviewing the validity and quality of the scientific research; approving or modifying the proposals and plans submitted by regional coordinators and the OSS; and resolving problems that arise during the execution of the program.

The Steering Committee is composed of the General Directors of the national institutions responsible for water resources in the Member States (the Algerian Agence Nationale des Recources Hydrauliques (“ANRH”); the Libyan General Water Authority (“GWA”); and the Tunisian Direction Générale des Ressources en Eau (“DGRE”)); international scientific partners (such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”); the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (“ACSAD”); and Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (“BGR”)); and cooperation partners (including the FAO; the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (“IFAD”); and Switzerland’s Direction du Développement et de la Coopération (“DDC-Suisse”)). The Steering Committee meets for one ordinary session each year, and extraordinary sessions may be convened at the request of one of the Member States. The sessions are held on a rotating basis in each of the three Member States, and the Steering Committee’s chairmanship is held by the representative of the host country.

In addition to the Steering Committee, the NWSAS Project’s organizational structure includes a Coordination Unit, led by a coordinator designated by the OSS in consultation with the Steering Committee, and an ad hoc scientific committee that provides technical advice and knowledge as needed.

The Member States have agreed on an evolutionary approach towards the development of an institutional structure for the NWSAS, starting with a simple structure and then moving towards a more complex and autonomous structure with responsibility for specific functions.


Project partners for the NWSAS include the GEF, FAO, UNESCO, and IFAD. These international agencies have taken a significant role in financing and implementing the projects.


Decisions are made by the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee also oversees the execution of the projects. See Organizational Structure.


No specific provision.


The original UNEP project called for the establishment of a “consultation mechanism” for the NWSAS in order to ensure that, at the conclusion of GEF project funding, there would be continued management of the shared water resources. This led to the creation of an Observatory for the Aquifer-Basin, which is shared by the three Member States. The Observatory for the Aquifer-Basin is responsible for technical and scientific issues related to the management of the shared waters, information exchange and consultation, and joint elaboration of simulation models. The Observatory of the Aquifer-Basin is also charged with a number of additional tasks, including data collection and the publication of relevant documents that synthesize data analysis on the exploitation of water resources and its implications.


There are no specific provisions on notification. However, the General Directors of the national institutions in charge of water resources in all three Member States are on the Steering Committee and therefore receive all of the relevant information.


In addition to funding received from the main partner organizations (see Relationships), the NWSAS Project also receives funding support from national development agencies (such as France’s Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial (“FFEM”) and DDC-Suisse).

The Steering Committee is responsible for approving the expenditure plans of the regional coordinators of the program and the OSS. The OSS, in turn, manages the funds allocated to the project. The management of program funds is also subjected to an external financial audit.


No specific provision.


The Observatory for the Aquifer-Basin carries out several monitoring functions, including collecting data on the use and management of water resources in the NWSAS. See Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization.

Additionally, the Steering Committee is responsible for assessing the validity and the quality of the technical results from each phase of the project. The OSS is obligated to provide a scientific audit of these results.


The Observatory for the Aquifer-Basin is tasked with raising public awareness on NWSAS water resource issues and with planning public outreach activities. It is also in charge of liaising between the public and private sectors (particularly in the agricultural industry) and among the Member States and the national agencies in order to increase cooperation regarding water resource management and use.


No specific provision.





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