Important shared, transboundary water resources in southern Africa are limited, usually over-utilized, and unsustainable. These shared resources are dynamic and difficult to manage in developing regions of the world where human and financial resources, technical capacity, and knowledge of dynamic socio-ecological systems are limited.

While we are developing these resources, the vulnerable ecosystems and the human communities, biodiversity, and ecosystem processes that depend on these systems are threatened and suffer from poorly managed multiple stressors. Fortunately, in many parts of the developing world as is the case in the shared Incomati Basin in southern Africa, the availability of ecosystem services and the willingness of stakeholders to come together towards sustainable management of our resources is available.

In the Incomati Basin, from South Africa with Mozambique and Eswatini partners, we have established a transboundary sustainable water resources management program titled: Risk framework for multiple stressors and integrated sustainability management of the trans-boundary water resources of the Inkomati Basin. We aim to establish a probabilistic, risk-based water resources management framework that represents causal risk pathways between sources of stressors or anthropogenic activities, water quantity, quality, habitat, disturbance to wildlife and climate change stressors and socio-ecological endpoints that represent what stakeholders care about on a regional spatial scale. This program has been established to align regional policies, strategies, and legislation in the approximately 50 000 km2 Incomati Basin which is home to >4 million people, and provides an adaptable transboundary socio-ecological management framework. This framework will identify and quantify stressors on multiple spatial scales and provide an evidence-based probabilistic risk of the stressors affecting social and ecological endpoints that is both spatially appropriate and liked to represent ecological connections of the shared water resources. The outcomes will include the characterization of sustainability targets, or resource quality objectives, evidence-based risk assessment outcomes of past, present and future risks of multiple stressors to these targets or objectives, and sustainability requirements that inform sources of stressors to allow stakeholders to implement resource directed measure legislation in the region.

This program is the first of its kind in southern Africa and has the potential to contribute to the sustainable management of important social and ecological attributes of the Incomati shared river basin and the region.