Context and justification

Fresh water is globally recognised as fundamental to all forms of life, including human endeavors and the ecosystem. Not only is water a basic need, but adequate safe water underpins the nation’s health, economy, security, and environment. In the coming decades, no natural resource may prove to be more critical to societal needs and environment than water. The strategic challenge for the future is therefore to ensure adequate quantity and quality of water to meet the growing needs among competitive domestic, industrial, commercial, agricultural, and environmental uses.

 

The Congo River Basin is located in Africa and encompasses nine riparian countries (Figure next). Managing water resources in the Congo River Basin involves problems of data paucity, lack of technical resources and the sheer scale of the problem. Sustainable water resources management in the Congo River Basin is a critical issue, but there are almost always insufficient resources available to formulate adequate management strategies necessary for developing water resources and also for addressing impacts of land use and climate change.

There is evidence that water resources in many parts of the Congo River Basin are deteriorating. Our institutions appear to have limited capacity to manage these resources and provide adequate services. Demands for water resources to support socio-economic growth continue to increase, although quality services to meet these demands are largely lagging behind. These demands are not only expected from the nine riparian countries, but also from other water scarce regions across Africa. From a study on opportunities for hydrologic research in the Congo Basin (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016RG000517/full), the authors suggested an array of research hypotheses that meet some major questions about the dynamics of water resources in the Congo Basin. These hypotheses focus on: the source of the Cuvette’s waters and how these leave the wetland, the river discharge generated by historic rainfall, the connection between climate change and the rainfall-runoff generated by the migrating “tropical rainbelt,” deforestation and hydroelectric power generation, and the amount of carbon emitted from Congo waters. The hypotheses virtually illustrate examples of a mounting array of water resources related problems in the region of the Congo Basin and for which scientifically sound solutions need to be found. To address water resources problems likely to emerge in the next decades, managers and decision makers at all levels will need to make informed choices among often conflicting and uncertain alternative actions. These choices are best made with the full benefit of research that provides innovative solutions.

However, although the complexity and severity of water problems are growing, investment in the scientific research needed to develop a better understanding of water resources is critically lacking, and the little that exists is not adequately allocated. Indeed, there is a lack of a coordinated process for considering water resources research needs, for prioritizing them for funding purposes, or for evaluating the effectiveness of research activities. There is no a structure in place to make use of the research agendas generated by various expert groups such as the research on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (Target 6).

 

As illustrated in the figure below (Research output on water related issues for the African regions (2006-2010), Source: GIZ , 2013), the region of central Africa that covers the major part of the Congo River Basin is the least in comparison to other regions of Africa.

With regard to the historical difficulties for the implementation of an effective research programme in water resources of the Congo Basin, there is a pressing need to develop and implement a coherent research framework to support strategies for water resources development in the basin. It is in this context that the Congo Basin Water Resources Research Center (CRREBaC) has been created.

This need to establish the Research Center on Water Resources of the Congo Basin is also subsequent of the desire to sustain the research achievements related to the recent scientific expedition on the Congo River (Figure below) conducted from July to September 2017 by a Consortium of research partners from the Universities of Kinshasa in DRC, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Rhodes in South Africa, and Bristol and Leeds in the UK, under a Royal Society-DFID funded research and capacity building initiative on Hydraulics and Morphology for users of the Congo River (CRuHM). These achievements include the data collection equipment (Automatic Water Level Recorders, Automatic Sediment Samplers -ISCO-) installed at different locations along the middle reach of the Congo River and the Kasaï tributary, which require monitoring and maintenance. The establishment of the Center should also make it possible to extend the investigations already started under CRuHM, and deepen scientific knowledge of other reaches in the Congo Basin.