Managing river basin resources across national boundaries can be challenging. Conservation trust funds, which are fit for context and purpose, offer a sustainable option.
River basins host complex and interrelated natural and human communities which depend on the basins’ resources to survive and thrive. Planning and managing resources at the basin level are critical to understanding interactions and addressing impacts to mutually benefit people, ecosystems, and wildlife. While natural systems know no boundaries, these basins often span national boundaries and raise questions such as whose basin is it? who benefits? who pays? who controls the resources? Answering these questions with river basin sections managed as separate national units can breed conflict, while relying on financing from donor-based regional programming can shift the focus away from local priorities and development needs. Conservation trust funds (CTFs) mobilize resources from diverse sources – including donors, governments, and the private sector – and direct them to finance conservation needs. CTFs are designed to be more independent from government control and financing, mission driven, and accountable, and offer the potential for sustainable financing – and can be established at a geographic scope appropriate to conservation and development goals.
In Southern Africa, river basin organizations like the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM) and trans-frontier conservation areas like the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (KAZA) address planning and challenges at a transboundary level, but are typically underfunded by member countries and reliant on inconsistent resources and cyclical donor programs to carry out their mandates. In the Cubango-Okavango River Basin (CORB) shared by Angola, Namibia, and Botswana, stakeholders have created the CORB Fund to enhance lives, create ownership, and protect nature. By planning and managing activities at the basin level, the questions of whose basin is it? who benefits, pays, and controls the resources? amongst the countries becomes secondary (though still important) to maximizing overall conservation and development benefits. Beyond driving conservation and building resilience, the Fund also strengthens multi-party coordination as a long-term investment in building local institutions. With a focus on localization, the CORB Fund seeks to move from a model where conservation is driven by donor funding cycles and priorities to one which is driven, managed, and monitored by local actors to respond to local priorities such as small-scale water, food, and energy security, improved community-based natural resource management, and environmental education and awareness.