The Congo River Basin is the second largest in the world after the Amazon, and holds a huge potential for water resources development, with multiple goods and services that include hydro-power, water supply, fisheries, agriculture, transportation, and maintenance of aquatic ecosystems.
This potential constitutes a key asset for strategies to curb the pressure of water scarcity and thus, increasing opportunities for improved water security in Africa. In addition, the Congo River Basin has a key role in global moisture circulation and carbon budgets.
However, managing water resources in the Congo River Basin involves issues of critical knowledge gaps over appropriate temporal and spatial scales, a lack of technical resources to formulate adequate management strategies and ultimately, the sheer scale of the challenge.
A comprehensive review of the knowledge gaps and scientific research pathways to address the challenges of the river basin development is provided by Alsdorf et al. (2016) “Opportunities for hydrologic research in the Congo Basin”. A major activity that followed this review included the Congo AGU (American Geophysical Union) Chapman Conference that was held in Washington DC of the USA, September 2018, with the aim being to establish research pathways that will lead to scientific discoveries in hydrology, climate change, and biogeochemistry within the Basin.
At the same time, a major research and capacity building project, the Congo River users Hydraulics and Morphology (CRuHM) project, funded under the Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative of the United Kingdom, was being implemented in the Congo River Basin. The main aim of this research initiative was to carry out large scale hydraulic and hydrological science research on the main channels of the Congo River in order to address the severe lack of basic knowledge and understanding, in support of socio-economic benefits with regard to water resources services. Under this research, led by a consortium of partner institutions from the Universities of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Rhodes in South Africa, and Bristol and Leeds in the UK, a number of research activities have been undertaken, including :
Large scale annual site focused fieldworks involving application of relatively new approaches to data collection on large rivers and predictions in ungauged basins;
Hydrological science research covering a large spatial scale with the objective of collecting a number of fundamental data sets related to river hydraulics and geomorphology;
Testing and applying a methodological framework of fluvial sediment sampling to understand source to sink processes of sediment transport in the Congo basin;
Development of hydrological and hydrodynamic modelling frameworks that incorporate new data with the objective of understanding hydraulic behavior of the river, accounting for wetland processes in large scale hydrological modelling of the basin, quantifying the poorly understood water fluxes between the main channel and the floodplain, and investigating impacts of possible future climate changes and human influences in the basin.
Congo River 2020 is the first international conference on the Congo River that will be held in the basin’s member state, and provides an opportunity of experience sharing on the methods used, data and information generated from the implementation of the above mentioned research initiatives to a wider audience of stakeholders involved in research, policy decision making, management, and capacity development as well as investment in the Congo Basin.
The conference will also target learning and sharing experience from other research initiatives and experiments in the Congo River Basin as well as other large rivers of Africa and the world.
In addition to CRuHM, other research initiatives are being implemented in the Congo basin, notably the CongoPeat project (congopeat.net/) funded by Natural Environment Research Council in the UK, that revealed the location of the world’s largest tropical peatland within the Congo basin, with an estimate of 30 billion tonnes of carbon that accumulated some 10000 years ago, as well as research aimed at addressing the climate-water-migration-conflicts nexus in the Congo River Basin.
All these initiatives come at a time when key decisions are needed for major options of water resources development in the basin, including the African hydropower grid from the Inga dam, river navigation to connect riparian countries, water supply, large scale irrigation as well as inter-basin water transfer options, while catering for the impacts of future changes associated with climate and land use. It is therefore important to foster a framework of knowledge management and information sharing in support of science-based decision making that will complement the economic, social and environmental dimensions of water resources to support sustainable development in the Congo River Basin.