Multistakeholder Approaches to Water Resource Management in the White Volta River Basin

This case study by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University examines and compares the international deployment of the decentralized integrated water resource management (IWRM) model for the management of water resources at the local and transboundary levels of the White Volta River Basin and discusses the development of IWRM in water governance more broadly.

picture alliance / ANPPhoto: picture alliance / ANP

Multistakeholder Approaches to Water Resource Management in the White Volta River Basin

Authors: Rebekah Heacock Jones, Ryan Budish, Sergio Alves, Jr., Sarah Myers West, Rex Troumbley, Sarah Al Saleh, and JeeYoung Oh
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Abstract: This case study examines the deployment of the decentralized integrated water resource management (IWRM) model for the management of water resources at both the local and transboundary levels of the White Volta River Basin. The Volta River Basin spans across six countries—Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and Togo. One of the Basin’s four main sub-basins is the White Volta in Northern Ghana. This case study investigates and compares governance at the sub-basin level through White Volta Basin Board (WVBB) and at the Basin level through the Project for Improving Water Governance in the Volta River Basin (PAGEV). The case study also discusses the development of IWRM in water governance more broadly. The case study concludes that PAGEV was more successful in implementing IWRM principles than the WVBB, but questions remain as to their decision-making processes and the full extent of stakeholder participation.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Global Trends in Water Governance: Integrated Water Resources Management
III. Case Study: the White Volta River Basin in Africa
IV. At the National Level: White Volta Basin Board
A. Values and Functions
B. Participation
C. Organizational Model and Structure
D. Decision-Making Structures
E. Outcome
V. At the Transboundary Level: PAGEV
A. Values and Functions
B. Participation
C. Organizational Model and Structure
D. Outcome 14 1. Regional/Basin Level
2. Transboundary Level
3. Local Level
VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Over the decades, there has been a shift from fragmented approaches to integrated governance in water resource management. First developed in the late 1970s and widely adopted in the beginning of the 1990s, integrated water resources management (IWRM) has quickly become the dominant approach to managing water rights, replacing more sectoral approaches.[1] By considering the management of shared water resources in a holistic way, IWRM focuses on a participatory approach that involves “users, planners, and policy makers at all levels.”[2] The case study of the White Volta River Basin examines the deployment of the decentralized IWRM model for the management of water resources at the local and transboundary levels—the White Volta Basin Board (WVBB) and the Project for Improving Water Governance in the Volta River Basin (PAGEV), respectively—in northern Ghana.

The case study is based on reports, statutes, and studies of IWRM in the White Volta region and in sub-Saharan Africa more generally. Given the remoteness of the White Volta Basin and the relative lack of public documentation on these two groups, accessing detailed information about their current organizational structures, operations, and effectiveness has been difficult. The research has been augmented by interviews with IWRM practitioners with several years of experience deploying the model globally, facilitators present at the inception of the WVBB, and the current WVBB Basin Officer.

The paper is divided into three main parts. First, it examines the development of IWRM in water governance. Then, the paper examines two examples of the application of IWRM to shared water resources in the White Volta River Basin at the local and transboundary levels. The case study concludes that PAGEV was more successful in implementing IWRM principles than the WVBB. Still, questions remain as to how much these institutions embodied multistakeholder governance and how relevant decisions were actually made.

[1] Colin Mayfield, “Introduction to IWRM,” United Nations Water Virtual Learning Centre,; see also “Lesson 2: History & development of IWRM,” United Nations Water Virtual Learning Centre.
[2] Jan Hassing, et al., “Integrated Water Resources Management in Action,” United Nations World Water Development Reports 3: Water In a Changing World, United Nations World Water Assessment Programme, 2009,

II. Global Trends in Water Governance: Integrated Water Resources Management

A global trend in the water sector illustrates a shift away from top-down, supply-driven management of water resources toward bottom-up, demand-driven approaches. Until the mid-twentieth century, water management mainly dealt with safety and quantity, such as flood control. From the 1820s to the 1950s, sectoral and technical management of water resources was widespread, and each sector involved in water issues in a particular region tended to operate independently. As competition among various water users intensified, however, the lack of coordinated development of available resources created increasing pressure on the management of water resources, especially those that span multiple national boundaries.

Almost every country in the world has at least one transboundary river—a river that crosses political boundaries—within its borders. Worldwide, approximately 300 rivers run through more than one political boundary, covering over 50 percent of the earth’s surface.[3] Transboundary rivers complicate water governance and management because they often require coordination across different water governance regimes. As a result, departing from the river-alone approach, collaborative river basin management has emerged to minimize harms and provide a holistic approach to managing transboundary rivers.

Since the 1970s, integrated water resource management (IWRM) has emerged as a guiding principle to address the shortcomings of more traditional approaches driven by narrow engineering and sectoral water concerns. IWRM advocates the integration of different sectors and water users and the management of shared waters within the hydrological confines of the river basin.[4] Traceable back to the 1977 UN Conference on Water, it is a comprehensive approach for achieving sustainable water use that was officially embraced at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.[5] The 2000 Ministerial Declaration of the Hague on Water Security in the 21st Century further emphasized the importance of involving the interests of all stakeholders in the water governance system.[6]

The Global Water Project,[7] a leading global organization dedicated to advancing sustainable and equitable water governance, defines IWRM as “a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.”[8] While there are disagreements over how it should be put into practice,[9] the five principles of IWRM developed by the Global Water Partnership are widely accepted:

  1. Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development, and the environment.
  2. Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners, and policy makers at all levels.
  3. Women play a central part in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water.
  4. Water is a public good and has a social and economic value in all its competing uses.
  5. Integrated water resources management is based on the equitable and efficient management and sustainable use of water.[10]

IWRM stands out from previous water management efforts because of its integrative approach to shared water resources. It takes into account various aspects of water management, including water uses by sectors, multiple levels of governance, promotion of river basins as management units, and greater participation of stakeholders in water management and decision-making processes. Advocates of IWRM argue that integrated management is necessary to manage shared water resources in an effective and sustainable manner.[11]

While IWRM has come to dominate policy discourse and academic discussion in water resource management as a framework for holistic management of water, it is not without criticism. In a paper outlining the debate surrounding IWRM, Farhad Mukhtarov and Andrea Gerlak write that some opponents of IWRM claim that it does not succeed due to the inherently political processes at play and that some contend that IWRM is too idealistic.[12] The authors further note that one study of IWRM implementation in Canada shows that historical factors better explain the outcomes of IWRM than institutional design. Thus, some say IWRM has simply become a policy buzzword.

While the debate around IWRM continues, it nevertheless remains a dominant framework in water management around the world, including in the White Volta River Basin in West Africa.

[3] Andrea K. Gerlak, “Regional Water Governance and Institutional Arrangements Around Transboundary Waters,”48th Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association Chicago, Il. (2007).
[4] Andrea K. Gerlak, Robert G. Varady, and Arn C. Haverland. “Hydrosolidarity and International Water Governance,” International Negotiation vol. 14 (2009): p. 320.
[5] A series of international conferences facilitated the policy and scientific evolution of the integrated water resource management (IWRM) and its multistakeholder approach, including the UN Conference on Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972), the International Conference on Water and Environment (Dublin, 1992), the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), the World Water Forums (various, since 1997), the World Summit on Millennium Development Goals (New York, 2005), and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20, 2012).
[6] “Ministerial Declaration of the Hague on Water Security in the 21st Century,” March 22, 2000,; K.J. Joy, Suhas Paranjape, and Seema Kulkarni, “Multi-stakeholder Participation, Collaborative Policy Making and Water Governance: the Need for a Normative Framework” in Vishwa Ballabh, ed., Governance of Water: Institutional Alternatives and Political Economy (New Delphi: Sage Publications, 2008), p. 270.
[7] The Global Water Partnership (GWP) is a global action network funded in 1996 with support of the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Swedish International Development Cooperation (SIDA), to advance the governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development. In 2002, a GWP Secretariat was established as an intergovernmental organization in Sweden. The network is open to a variety of stakeholders involved in water resources management, such as including government institutions, agencies of the United Nations, development banks, professional associations, research institutions, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. The GWP network spans more than 2900 partner organizations in more than 180 countries. It encompasses 13 Regional Water Partnerships, 85 Country Water Partnerships and 2965 Partners in 172 countries. See Global Water Partnership, “About GWP,”
[8] Global Water Partnership, “What is IWRM?,”
[9] Farhad Mukhtarov and Andrea K. Gerlak, “Epistemic Forms of Integrated Water Resources Management: Towards Knowledge Versatility,” Policy Sciences vol. 47(2) (2014): p. 101-120.
[10] Global Water Partnership, “IWRM Principles,”
[11] Mukhtarov and Gerlak, “Epistemic Forms of Integrated Water Resources Management.”
[12] Ibid.

II. Case Study: the White Volta River Basin in Africa

The Volta River Basin spans across six countries—Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and Togo—as shown in Figure 1. It is the ninth largest river basin in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 20 million people directly or indirectly rely on the resources of the Volta River Basin for their livelihood.[13] The majority of the basin falls within the territories of Burkina Faso and Ghana: 43 percent and 42 percent, respectively.[14] The Volta River Basin is divided into the four main sub-basins: the Black Volta, the White Volta, the Lower Volta, and the Oti.

Figure1Figure 1. Map of the Volta Basin. GLOWA Volta, The Volta River Basin, available at

The headwaters of the White Volta River begin in Burkina Faso and flow south into Ghana. A significant portion of the region’s population depends on the White Volta for domestic water supply, agriculture, fishing, transportation, and recreation. The river is also critical for electricity/ The Akosombo Dam and Kpong power stations in the lower Volta River system account for approximately 80 percent of the electricity generated in Ghana.[15] In addition to domestic consumption, the Akosombo Dam and Kpong hydropower plants provide electricity to the country’s largest aluminum smelter, owned by the Volta Aluminum Company (VALCO), and export surplus power to the neighboring countries, Togo and Benin.[16]

In a historical overview of water management in Burkina Faso and Ghana, Jonathan Lautze, Boubacar Barry, and Eva Youkhana write that after Burkina Faso and Ghana declared independence from their colonial powers (in 1960 and 1957, respectively), the two countries managed their own water-related issues without much consultation or coordination with their neighboring states. Moreover, transboundary disputes were rare within the Volta Basin until the 1990s. No international agreements among riparian states - those situated on the banks of the river—existed that promoted an integrated approach to shared water resources.[17]

Lautze, Barry, and Youkhana state that a lack of integrated water management also persisted among various water-related institutions within riparian states. For example, there was virtually no integration and coordination among the three major government institutions in Ghana—the Volta River Authority, the Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation, and the Irrigation Development Authority. Each often pursued its own water agenda without much consideration of potential impact on the other institutions’ objectives and projects. This siloed approach was perhaps possible due to the relative abundance of water until the 1990s, which allowed policymakers and technocrats to implement water development plans in a fragmented way without immediate serious consequences.

In the 1990s, the Volta Basin experienced severe droughts and floods and faced serious development challenges due to increasing resource demands. For example, in 1998, Ghana suffered from a serious power shortage due to a drought. Ghana accused Burkina Faso of unfairly holding water from the Volta River with its dams. In 1999, Burkina Faso opened its dam spillways, which led to flooding and devastation of downstream Ghana’s lands and to a related outbreak of cholera in northern Ghana.[18] Climate change and the extensive exploitation of water resources also highlighted the need for basin-wide coordination among riparian states. Until this point, Burkina Faso and Ghana rarely coordinated or consulted with each other in their water policy and development initiatives, threatening the sustainability of the management of water resources within the Volta Basin.[19]

Recognizing the merits of the IWRM approach to water management, Ghana underwent a water sector reform process in the 1990s. The Ghanaian Parliament in 1996 approved the Water Resources Commission Act, which created the Water Resources Commission (WRC). The Act lists several water management functions of the WRC; one is to “propose comprehensive plans for the utilization, conservation, development and improvement of water resources.”[20] The Act requires that the WRC’s Board consist of representatives from a range of government agencies, water management organizations, and the state-owned Ghana Water and Sewage Corporation, as well as at least one woman. The Act further enables the WRC to create committees consisting of Board members, non-members, or both to carry out WRC functions and advise the Board.

Similar to Ghana, Burkina Faso carried out IWRM-oriented reforms of its water institutions and policies in the 1990s. In order to secure the World Bank’s funding to construct the Ziga dam near Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso had to comply with the World Bank’s transboundary waters policy, which promoted coordination among the affected riparian states. The government negotiated a “no objection” agreement with Ghana for its dam construction project, one of the first examples of formal coordination and collaboration between Ghana and Burkina Faso in the management of the Volta River Basin.[21]

As the two countries embraced IWRM in their water policy, the White Volta Basin Board was created at the national level in Ghana and PAGEV at the transboundary level between Ghana and Burkina Faso. The following sections examine the implementation of IWRM models at these two levels.

[13] Rebecca Welling, Megan Cartin, Désiré Baykono, Ousmane Diallo, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “Volta River Basin Ghana & Burkina Faso: Transboundary water management through multi-level participatory governance and community projects,” IUCN Water and Nature Initiative Case Study (2012), p. 2,
[14] Megan Matthews, “The Volta Convention: An Effective Tool for Transboundary Water Resource Management in an Era of Impending Climate Change and Devastating Natural Disasters?,” Denver Journal of International Law & Policy vol. 41(1) (2012).
[15] Matthews, “The Volta Convention,” p. 275.
[16] Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Akosombo Dam,”; Wisdom Ahiataku-Togobo and Kennedy Amankwa, “Hydro Power Development in Ghana,” Presentation (2006),
[18] Matthews, “The Volta Convention,” pp. 285-286.
[19] Matthews, “The Volta Convention,” pp. 285-286.
[20] Water Resources Commission Act, Act 552 of 1996 (Republic of Ghana), available at Note: the Act does not specifically mention IWRM; interestingly, the Ghana Water Resources Commission’s website misquotes this first listed function as “propos[ing] integrated water resources management plans to guide the utilization, conservation, development and improvement of water resources.” Water Resources Commission of Ghana, “About Us,”
[21] Lautze, Barry, and Youkhana, “Changing Paradigms in Volta Basin Water Management,” p. 589.

IV. At the National Level: White Volta Basin Board

In 2004, the WRC established the first of Ghana’s Basin Boards, which are tasked with implementing the functions of the WRC at the local level and bringing together multiple stakeholders. The first Board was established in the Densu River Basin, which provides water to Ghana’s capital, Accra. Two years later, the WRC approved a draft operational guideline for the White Volta Basin Board (WVBB),[22] which was officially established in July 2006.[23] Three additional Basin Boards—the Ankobra Basin Board, the Pra Basin Board, and the Tano Basin Board—have since been established.[24] The WVBB was selected for the case study because it allows for parallel comparison to the transboundary-level water governance between Burkina Faso and Ghana in the second half of the paper.

[22] Water Resources Commission, “Operational Guidelines of the White Volta Basin Board,” December 2006, archived at
[23] Water Resources Commission of Ghana, “Basins—White Volta,”; see also GLOWA, “GLOWA Volta—Overview,”
[24] Water Resources Commission of Ghana, “Basins,”

A. Values and Functions

The WVBB’s stated vision is to achieve “sustainable water management by all for all.” Its operational guidelines further define its mission as:

To regulate and manage the sustainable utilization of water resources and to coordinate related policies by combining our core competencies and hard work through effective participation, monitoring and awareness creation for socio-economic development of the White Volta Basin and Ghana as a whole.[25]

Among the WVBB’s stated functions are managing water resource development in the river basin, monitoring and evaluating programs for water resource utilization and management, collaborating with related organizations, requesting that the WRC formally engage with consultants and advisors as it deems necessary, and providing advice to the WRC on issues affecting water resources in the basin. The Board’s operational guidelines state that its mission and vision must align with those of the WRC.

[25] Water Resources Commission, “Operational Guidelines of the White Volta Basin Board.”

B. Participation

In September 2005, the WRC, the GLOWA Volta Project,[26] and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) held a joint stakeholder workshop to select the initial members of the WVBB.[27] The operational guidelines define WVBB membership as consisting of a Chairperson (the Basin Officer) appointed by the WRC and drawn from the stakeholder group listed below, a representative of the WRC, and one person from each of the following stakeholder groups.[28]

Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies (8 representatives)[29]

  • Bawku Municipal Assembly
  • Bawku West District Assembly
  • Bolgatanga Municipal Assembly
  • Bongo District Assembly
  • Garu-Tempani District Assembly
  • Kassena-Nankana District Assembly
  • Talensi-Nabdam District Assembly
  • West Mamprusi District Assembly

Regional Administration (1 representative)

  • Regional planning and coordinating unit of the Upper East Regional coordinating council, which itself includes representatives from the 13 districts that make up the region.[30]

Water Users (1 representative)

  • Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Regulatory Institutions (1 representative)

  • Environmental Protection Agency

Research Institutions (1 representative)

  • Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI)

Non-Governmental Organizations (1 representative)

  • NGO Forum on Water and Sanitation

Traditional Authorities (1 representative)

  • Upper East Regional House of Chiefs

Women’s Representative (1 representative)

  • Department of Women (Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs)

Water Providers (1 representative)

  • Community Water and Sanitation Agency

WVBB members serve three-year terms with no term limits. Members of the WVBB can be removed by the WRC for failure to perform their required duties or for misconduct.[31] New members are appointed by the organizations they represent or, in the case of the Chairperson, by the WRC. With the exception of the representatives from the Savannah Agricultural Resource Institute (which hosts the GLOWA Volta Project) and the NGO Forum on Water and Sanitation, the WVBB membership is dominated by elected representatives and governmental bodies.[32] The fact that government participants were so central to the membership of the WVBB raises questions about how effectively non-governmental participants could participate.[33]

[26] The GLOWA Volta project is led by the German Centre for Development Research on global climate change and hydrological cycle.
[27] Joseph Boateng Agyenim, “Investigating Institutional Arrangements for Integrated Water Resource Management in Developing Countries: The Case of White Volta Basin, Ghana” (Ph.D. dissertation, VU University Amsterdam, 2011), p. 163.
[28] Water Resources Commission, “Operational Guidelines of the White Volta Basin Board,” pp.2-3.
[29] Neither the Water Resources Commission of Ghana website nor the White Volta Basin Board operational guidelines have been updated to reflect the creation of multiple new districts in the Upper East region of Ghana since 2006. It is possible that the WVBB now includes additional representatives from new districts.
[30] Ghana Districts, “Upper East,”
[31] Water Resources Commission, “Operational Guidelines of the White Volta Basin Board.”
[32] Agyenim, “Investigating Institutional Arrangements,” p. 163. The GLOWA Volta Project provides analysis of environmental change’s effects on water resources in the region from an integrative and data-driven interdisciplinary approach. And, the IFPRI acts as an informal external advisor, conducting research on socio-economic aspects of water resource management within the White Volta Basin and evaluating the performance of dams for irrigation purposes in the basin.
[33] Schiffer et al., “Who has influence in Multistakeholder Governance Systems?,” p. 12.

C. Organizational Model and Structure

The WVBB is organized around the four sub-committees:[34]

  • The sub-committee on Programs and Budget prepares and facilitates the Board’s budget, as well as sources and implements funds for programs of the Board.[35]
  • The subcommittee on Land Use, Research, Education and Public Awareness identifies research needs and plans and organizes public awareness programs on topics critical to the Basin.[36]
  • The subcommittee on Environment, Utilization, and Regulation registers water users while ensuring compliance with water use and environmental regulations.[37]
  • The subcommittee on Transboundary Issues maintains a strong collaboration between the WVBB, the Ghana-Burkina Faso transboundary structures, and the Nakambe Water Agency of Burkina Faso.[38]
  • The Basin Officer, appointed by the WRC and the only full-time employee of the WVBB, coordinates activities, develops and implements action plans for Board projects, and reviews progress towards objectives.[39]

The WVBB operational guidelines describe the WVBB as collaborating with other organizations and require the secretary to publish reports to the WRC, but do not require the WVBB to publicly publish meeting minutes or otherwise include members not named as formal participants.

[34] Ibid., p. 163.
[35] Agyenim, “Investigating Institutional Arrangements,” p. 145. The sub-committee’s five members are the WVBB representatives from the Bolgatanga Municipal Assembly, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Regional Coordinating Council, Regional House of Chiefs, and Kassena-Nankana District Assembly.
[36] Ibid., p. 146. This sub-committee has five members: one Board member each from the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), Bawku West District Assembly, NGO Forum on Water and Sanitation, Bongo District Assembly, and WRC.
[37] Representatives from the Community Water and Sanitation Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, West-Mamprusi District, and Talensi-Nabdam District Assemblies serve on this committee.
[38] Agyenim, “Investigating Institutional Arrangements,” p. 146. The sub-committee consists of representatives from Bawku Municipal Assembly, Department of Women, Garu-Tempani District Assembly, Regional House of Chiefs, and the Regional Coordinating Council. Nakambe is the name of the White Volta River in Burkina Faso.
[39] Eric Antwi Ofosu, “Sustainable Irrigation Development in the White Volta Sub-Basin,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, 2011).

D. Decision-Making Structures

The WVBB’s operational guidelines state that issues before the Board are to be decided by a simple majority vote, with each member voting and with 50 percent plus one of the members constituting a quorum. The guidelines further stipulate that final decision-making authority rests with the WRC. Given that WVBB decisions are subject to approval or revision by the WRC, the decision-making structure appears to be aligned more closely with a hierarchical model, rather than a truly distributed approach.[40]

A 2010 discussion paper from the IFPRI examines who has influence in the WVBB in practical terms (as opposed to who is represented formally on the board).[41] The paper illustrates that the formal decision-making structure does not necessarily dictate the decision-making dynamics of the Board. The study uses a participatory network mapping method to analyze how social networking influences decision making in the WVBB. The study finds that active social networking in information exchange contributes more to the outcome than the formal lines of command and funding. If stakeholders participate more prominently in exchanging information and providing more advice to others, they are perceived to be more influential and can offset the overrepresentation of government actors on the Board. Although some government organizations are central in giving funding and command, they exhibit a low level of influence. The paper concludes that a space allowing the exchange of information and advice among stakeholders is critical in distributed governance.

[40] Ibid., p. 161. As Joseph Boateng Agyenim has noted in his study of IWRM in the White Volta region, how this form of “joint decision-making” is interpreted depends upon how authority is distributed. He summarizes, “if authority is equally shared, the stakeholders negotiate a consensus or practice voting according to defined majority rules. In hierarchical relationships . . . joint decision-making involves lower-level authorities making decisions that are then approved or changed by higher-level authorities.” Agyenim, “Investigating Institutional Arrangements,” p. 157.
[41] Schiffer et al., “Who has influence in Multistakeholder Governance Systems?.”

E. Outcome

According to the WRC’s website, the WVBB has conducted a number of “interventions” in the White Volta River Basin, including:

  • facilitating the reduction in farming activities along the river banks through rehabilitation of a broken dam to create an alternative water source for irrigation;
  • holding sensitization, capacity building, and planning meetings with technical service providers (forestry, agriculture, and planners) and communities;
  • holding transboundary joint community fora on river bank protection interventions between Ghana and Burkina Faso;
  • establishing a local trans-boundary committee on the management of the White Volta River Basin and adoption of code of conduct and operational guidelines for this committee; and
  • water quality monitoring of selected locations in Burkina Faso and Ghana.[42]

However, the WRC does not describe the WVBB’s level of involvement in the aforementioned achievements. And, it is unclear to what extent these interventions were jointly developed or approved by the WVBB and whether external stakeholders were consulted. It is difficult to determine who has been making substantive decisions and how much of the decision-making process involves the WVBB.

Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that the WVBB has been largely inactive or ineffective in implementing IWRM. The WVBB does not seem to regularly convene, let alone meet once every three months as required by the operational guidelines.[43] According to one record, the WVBB met only once between 2011 and 2012.[44] Additionally, a dissertation published in 2011 on irrigation in the White Volta region found:

Even though the White Volta sub-basin Management Board has been established for a few years, it has made little impact on the Water Resources Management in the sub-basin. For example the National Water Policy which demands registration of water uses and granting of permit from some specific water uses has not been carried out in the basin.[45]

The dissertation later asserts that “it can be concluded that the Volta basin has a complex formal structure that largely exists on paper only,”[46] a conclusion shared by Eva Schiffer, a researcher who conducted training workshops for the WVBB in 2005 and 2006.[47] Other accounts of the WVBB note that it is underfunded, understaffed, and that stakeholders are often not equipped to effectively monitor water issues in the region.[48]

[43] Water Resources Commission, “Operational Guidelines of the White Volta Basin Board,” p. 5.
[44] Water Resources Commission, “Annual Report 2012,” 2012, p. 38,
[45] Ofosu, “Sustainable Irrigation Development,” p.31-32.
[46] Ibid., p. 40.
[47] Eva Schiffer, “Research Project on the White Volta Basin Board,” July 4, 2014.
[48] Ibid.; Ofosu, “Sustainable Irrigation Development,” p. 32; Karen Greenough et al., “Stories of Change and Innovation in the Volta Basin Development Challenge Program,” CIGAR Challenge Program for Water and Food—Volta Basin (March 2014),

V. At the Transboundary Level: PAGEV

In April 2004, Ghana and Burkina Faso signed the “Ghana-Burkina Joint Declaration.” The declaration acknowledged both countries’ common environmental and water issues and expressed a desire to collaborate on integrated management of the shared water.[49] The Project for Improving Water Governance in the Volta Basin (Projet d’Amelioration de la Gouvernance de l’Eau dans le basin de la Volta, or PAGEV) is an effort to support collaborative water resource management between Burkina Faso and Ghana. As part of the project, both countries agreed to pilot IWRM interventions in transboundary river basins. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Global Water Partnership launched the PAGEV project in July 2004 through its Water and Nature Initiative (WANI)[50] and with support from the Government of the Netherlands and the Swedish International Development Agency.[51] Non-governmental organizations and international donors played a significant role in creating a multi-level partnership to promote transboundary water management and sustainable development.

[49] Matthews, “The Volta Convention,” p. 293.
[50] WANI is a worldwide initiative of the IUCN that seeks to demonstrate how to mainstream the ecosystem approach into river basin planning and management.
[51] IUCN, “Volta River Basin,”

A. Values and Functions

PAGEV aims to improve water governance in the Volta River Basin by promoting public participation and consensus on key water management principles and working to develop institutional capacity for coordination mechanisms.[52]

According to its 2007 annual report, PAGEV focuses on four strategic areas:

  • Key decision-support information base: inform constructive dialogues and collaboration on water management between Ghana and Burkina Faso.
  • Pilot IWRM interventions: jointly develop, implement, and learn from pilot IWRM interventions in select transboundary sub-basins.
  • Policy and institutional change: broaden and strengthen existing bilateral consultations mechanisms through the adoption and implementation of a code of conduct in the management of shared waters.
  • Learning and coordination: manage and coordinate project, support structured learning, and make available lessons learned.[53]

[52] Welling, et al., “Volta River Basin Ghana & Burkina Faso.”
[53] Project for Improving Water Governance in the Volta Basin (PAGEV), “2007 Progress Report: 1st January—30th September,” (2007),

B. Participation

The PAGEV Steering Committee convenes a meeting two or three times a year, and the co-directors of the project—Ghana’s WRC and Burkina Faso’s Directorate General of Water Resources (DGRE)—jointly chair the meeting. Based on the 6th and 7th Steering Committee meeting minutes, the following participants are identified as the Steering Committee members:

  • PAGEV Steering Committee
  • Executive Secretary of WRC, Ghana
  • Director General, DGRE, Burkina Faso
  • Head of Programme/Executive Secretary, GWP/WAWP, Burkina Faso
  • Director General of Rural Property and Farming Operations/MAHR, Burkina Faso≈
  • Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation, Burkina Faso
  • Regional Coordinator of Programmes, IUCN-BRAO, Burkina Faso or Coordinator of Delta Programme, IUCN-BRAO, Mali
  • PAGEV Coordinator and Secretary to the Committee, Burkina Faso[54]

While there are a few representatives from non-profit organizations, the Steering Committee is largely composed of government officials. Little information is available on how the Steering Committee members are selected. Other participants in Steering Committee meetings include observers from government agencies, local governments, donors, and NGOs.

In order to assemble a viable network as an instrument for promoting cooperation, PAGEV has sought partnerships with communities, local and national governments, and international organizations. For example, it has signed memoranda of understanding with two community-based NGOs from Burkina Faso and Ghana: BISSAKOUPOU and ZOVFA. The MOUs establish partnerships to support participatory processes and to empower stakeholders for water governance and conflict resolution in the pilot sub-basin. The 2005 annual report identifies the following partners:[55]

  • Community Level Stakeholders
  • Sampema, Zekeze, Beleyerla, and Mogr-nore Villages: 4 communities in the target sub-basin for pilot interventions in Burkina Faso; 3 representatives from each village
  • Mognore, Sapeliga, Kugrasia and Sakom Villages: 4 communities in the target sub-basin for pilot interventions in Ghana; 3 representatives from each village
  • BISSACOUPOU (community-based NGO in Burkina Faso)
  • ZOVFA (community-based NGO in Ghana)
  • Decentralized Local Government Agencies
  • Departments of Bittou and Zabre in Burkina Faso
  • Bawku Municipal, Bawku-West, and Garu-Tempane District Assemblies in Ghana
  • Technical directorates of Ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Forestry, and Livestock in both countries
  • National and Regional Government Agencies
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Water, Burkina Faso
  • Ministry of Water Resources, Works, and Housing, Ghana
  • Ministries of Regional Cooperation of Burkina Faso and Ghana
  • Direction Generale de l’Inventaire et des Ressources Hydrauliques (DGIRH) of Burkina Faso
  • Water Resources Commission of Ghana
  • Sub-regional/International Organizations
  • IUCN West Africa Regional Office (UICN-BRAO)
  • GWP/West Africa Water Partnership
  • Donors
  • Sida of Sweden
  • DGIS of the Netherlands

[54] Ibid.
[55] PAGEV, “Progress Report 2005,” (2005).

C. Organizational Model and Structure

PAGEV promotes the IWRM framework of a multi-level, participatory decision-making process, involving grassroots committees and villages, national-level committees, the Local Transboundary Committee, and the Volta Basin Authority. These cross-sectoral connections facilitate communication among all stakeholders and help to build trust and capacity across the basin.[56] Key participants include:

  • Local level: Eight grassroots communities (four in Ghana and four in Burkina Faso) were selected to implement the pilot activities, including a joint project to restore riverbanks on both sides of the border.
  • National level: PAGEV facilitates national forum meetings to consolidate local partnerships. The forums develop plans that harmonize local initiatives, taking into account local and national priorities. Furthermore, they enable the input of local communities into decision-making processes at the regional level.
  • Transboundary level: The Local Transboundary Committee has 14 members, seven representatives each from Ghana and Burkina Faso. The committee coordinates joint activities across the border, addresses local-level water use problems and disputes, and strengthens cooperation between the two countries.
  • Regional/basin level: The ministers from the six Volta basin states—Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Mali, and Cote d’Ivoire—created the Volta Basin Authority in 2007 to manage water and other related resources in the Volta Basin in a holistic manner.

The WVBB is part of PAGEV’s multi-level, participatory ecosystem of water resources management in Ghana and Burkina Faso. It interacts with local communities, national fora, and the Local Transboundary Committees at three different levels, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure2Figure 2. Institutional framework for the management of the Volta Basin. The World Conservation Union (IUCN), PAGEV Project Completion Report, July 2004 to September 2007 (Oct. 2007),

[56] Welling, et al., “Volta River Basin Ghana & Burkina Faso,” p. 4-5.

D. Outcome

The first phase of the PAGEV project lasted from 2004 to 2007. While there is limited information on its activities after 2007, a 2011 IUCN report writes that the second phase (most likely from 2008 to 2011) of PAGEV focused on supporting the endorsement of the Volta Basin Authority strategic plan and the establishment of a basin-wide information system.[57] Another IUCN report that is written in 2012 or after mentions planning for a third phase of PAGEV to continue to support the implementation of the Volta Basin Authority’s plan.[58] The fact that donors continue to fund PAGEV in extended phases suggests that it continues to make progress in improving water usage in the Volta River Basin.

[57] IUCN, “Water Vision to Action: Catalyzing Change through the IUCN Water & Nature Initiative—Results Report,” (2011),
[58] Welling, et al., “Volta River Basin Ghana & Burkina Faso,” p. 14.

1. Regional/Basin Level

Assisted by PAGEV, the six basin countries signed a Convention on the Status of the Volta River in 2007, which established the Volta Basin Authority. By 2010, five of the six countries had ratified the agreement, including Mali, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso, bringing the Convention into effect. The Convention’s mandate promotes “the implementation of integrated water resources management and the equitable distribution of the benefits resulting from their various utilizations.”[59] According to a report from the IUCN, the Volta Basin Authority has actively facilitated workshops and forums at the regional level, providing platforms for dialogue and discussion for stakeholders to reconcile national problems through regional approaches. The Volta Basin Authority’s statutes recognize a “Forum of the Parties involved in the Volta Basin Development” as a permanent administrative structure. The forum includes representatives from:

  • Various categories of water users of the member states;
  • Civil society involved in the management of water resources
  • Decentralized local authorities in each portion of the basin of the state parties
  • Representatives of the National Focal Structures;
  • Representatives of the neighboring transboundary basin organizations; and
  • Representatives of research centers in the water and environment sector.[60]

The IUCN report further states that the IUCN has scaled up PAGEV experiences to other riparian states in the Volta Basin by reinforcing capacities of experts from all the riparian countries and supporting the development of the Volta Basin Authority’s plans.

[59] Matthews, “The Volta Convention,” p. 294.
[60] Ben Y. Ampomah, Bernadette A. Adjei, and Eva Youkhana, “The Transboundary Water Resources Management Regime of the Volta Basin,” ZEF Working Paper Series 28, Department of Political and Cultural Change, University of Bonn (2008).

2. Transboundary Level

Ghana and Burkina Faso agreed to develop a Code of Conduct for the Sustainable and Equitable Management of the Water Resources of the Volta Basin to enable various stakeholders to come together and create a common goal around accepted knowledge and information. In 2006, national validation workshops were convened in each country to ensure input was received from government agencies, NGOs, and civil society groups. With support from WANI, the Joint Technical Committee on IWRM (JTC-IWRM) hosted a harmonization workshop with representation from both countries that led to finalization of the Code in June 2006.

The Code of Conduct has eight sections and 59 articles, and outlines a framework for decision making and action in the management of shared water resources between Ghana and Burkina Faso. The Code emphasizes the management principles of the Volta River Basin’s natural resources related to sustainable development, integrated water resources management, cooperation, and governance.

3. Local Level

In 2009, PAGEV supported regional workshops and forums to discuss water for agriculture and sustainable underground resource management. PAGEV also supported a number of local development activities, including community efforts around riverbank protection. PAGEV Coordinator Kwame Odame-Ababio reports that the local committees planted trees along nearly 16 kilometers of riverbank to reduce soil erosion and protect water quality.[61 ]The 2006 annual report notes that an exchange of visits among the communities was organized to facilitate the sharing of information and experiences.[62]

As was the case with the WVBB, it is difficult to determine to what extent PAGEV directly played a role in the aforementioned achievements. It is also unclear how frequently partners were consulted in the decision-making process. Although the decision-making structure of PAGEV is not explicitly known, it held regular steering committee meetings and produced annual reports chronicling its activities and progress, which suggests that it has been more active than the WVBB.

[61] Kwame Odame-Ababio, “Stimulating Stakeholders’ Support for Managing Shared Waters—Experiences From the Volta Basin,” International Symposium on Transboundary Waters Management, Thessalonica, Greece (October 2008).
[62] IUCN, “Annual Report—2006—Regional Office for West Africa,” (2006),

VI. Conclusion

The lack of specific information about the activities of the White Volta Basin Board makes it difficult to ascertain whether the governance model the Board embodies is functional, and to what extent the Board has successfully implemented the multistakeholder principles of IWRM. Studies and interviews indicated that the Board faces significant resource challenges that may prevent it from fully carrying out its mission.

On a broader scale, however, IWRM in northern Ghana appears to have met with some success. PAGEV has actively engaged local, regional, and national stakeholders in a number of workshops, dialogues, and development efforts related to water resource management, strengthening participation and cooperation in the region. PAGEV assisted in the creation of several groups and institutions (e.g., the local communities, Local Transboundary Committee, and the Volta Basin Authority) that embody IWRM principles. PAGEV was perhaps more successful than the WVBB because greater financial investment and human resources were available from international organizations.

The case study offers several lessons. First, PAGEV’s 2012 progress update indicates that it has had the most success with participation when the “tangible results and improvements in their everyday lives” are readily apparent to stakeholders. Second, as the IFPRI study shows, a space that allows stakeholders to exchange information and provide advice can counterbalance formal decision making and funding structures in which governments play a central role. Third, the multi-level, participatory governance model can better synchronize policy across various stakeholders, especially when coordinating with other states.

Two questions remain open. First, the case study cannot conclusively determine the extent to which the decision-making processes of the WVBB and PAGEV fully incorporated the views of all stakeholders. Participation by civil society, businesses, and researchers was limited in the WVBB; and, while PAGEV has actively facilitated multistakeholder forums and IWRM governance at multiple levels, there is little information on how its steering committee made decisions and to what extent partners were involved in substantive decision making. Because of the lack of clarity regarding decision-making processes, there is also an open question about the role that various parties played in agenda setting within the organizations. Particularly, it would be important to know about the extent to which the various stakeholders (including civil society, funders, and citizens more broadly) were able to shape the direction and agenda of the organizations of as a whole.