Water Wars In Africa: More Likely To Arise Out Of Political Failure, Not Drought

Via The East African, a look at the prospect of future water wars in Africa.  As the article notes, these observers feel that if any such conflicts arise, they will be caused by political failure versus the lack of water:

“…The second day of the Institute for Security Studies meeting on Climate Change and Transnational Water Management featured case studies highlighting the collaborative approach to managing the Niger River Basin, the process of mediating conflicts caused by the recession of Lake Chad, and the evolution of Ecowas as a regional institution.

These and other papers presented lent support to the hypothesis that where national level governance continues to be problematic, transnational arrangements for managing natural resources and the challenges of climate change are emerging as a promising model for problem solving and conflict transformation.

The role and experience of Ecowas in managing climate change and cross-border resource conflicts is especially impressive.

The widespread impact of the 1974-1976 drought and famine in West Africa elevated the spread of desertification to an international concern.

East Africa experienced the same climatic conditions, but the humanitarian impact was less severe.

Over the following decades, scientific research debunked many assumptions about the dysfunctional nature of traditional African pastoralism and other indigenous land management practices as a cause of environmental degradation.

During the same period, Ecowas and its national government partners have successfully institutionalised drought management, famine mitigations, and collaborative approaches to rangeland rehabilitation and cross-border conflicts.

A paper on Igad indicates that East Africa is now following the same pathway, but we have some catching up to do.

Consider, for example, the case of the government of Niger, which is devoting 40 per cent of its national budget to combating desertification and climate change.

There are also contrasting examples of lake basin politics.

Communities following the receding waters of Lake Chad resulted in the establishment of a de facto Nigerian colony extending 50 kilometres inside northern Cameroon.

The two often-antagonistic governments are sorting out the problem with the help of international mediation.

But when the shrinking of Lake Victoria’s waters resulted in the emergence of a one-acre island called Migingo on the Uganda-Kenya border, politicians from these traditionally friendly nations treated us to several rounds of non-productive sabre rattling.

We should treat these as blips in the larger pattern.

History demonstrates that co-operation, not conflict, is society’s most prevalent response to the problems posed by trans-boundary waters.

Sharing water in turns promotes mutual respect, trust, and economic growth.

A paper on the Niger River Basin pointed out that there has been a grand total of one water war in the past 4,500 years; other sources report that more than 300 international water agreements have been reached over the past 60 years.

While this does not mean African water wars will not erupt in the foreseeable future, if or when it happens we should not blame bad weather for what is actually the product of political failure.”

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