International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

What are shared environmental problems?

A shared environmental problem is an environmental problem that is shared between 2 or more countries in a given water system. That is, the problem is not transboundary as given in the definition above but is a common problem in the region.

From the perspective of the GEF, IW projects should focus on transboundary problems (hence the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis) but there is a realisation that some projects (particularly those that are based around groundwater systems and LMEs) should also look at those problems that are currently shared but could in some instances become transboundary in the future.

For example, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS) Project identified 4 problems in its TDA analogue, called a SADA (Shared Aquifer Diagnostic Analysis), that are currently considered to be shared problems. These were:

  • Declining Water Levels
  • Water Quality Deterioration
  • Changes in the Groundwater Regime
  • Damage or Loss of Ecosystem and Biodiversity

Each country that is located above the aquifer is affected by these problems but there is very little evidence to indicate that the problems are currently transboundary, although this situation could change in the future.


Confusion between Impacts and Causes

It is easy to confuse the causes or impacts of a given transboundary problem with the transboundary problem itself. If this occurs, it can result in difficulties when carrying out the impact and causal chain analysis. Remember – a transboundary problem is an environmental problem that is transboundary in scale.

Using the example shown above, eutrophication in the Dnipro River Basin is the transboundary problem. A common cause of eutrophication is inadequate wastewater treatment. The impacts of eutrophication include harmful algal blooms (an environmental impact) and diminished amenity (a socio-economic impact).

Confusion between Transboundary Problems and Causes

Quite often one transboundary problem can cause or contribute to another transboundary problem. For example:

Changes in the Hydrological Regime of a river or aquifer can put stress on ground and surface water resources and result in land degradation and the deterioration of water quality.

All the above are perfectly valid transboundary (or shared) water problems and it is likely that each will need to be analysed in terms of impacts and causes. However, it is important to understand that they are also intrinsically and systemically linked to each other.