Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Africa: What Risks Lie Ahead for African Water Security? By Timothy Walker

Africa is home to some of the largest lakes in the world, both in size and volume.

These lakes play a significant role in the political, social, economic and environmental life of many of the continent's people and their importance is set to increase. However, the strain placed upon these water resources is also forecast to pose significant challenges for their future sustainable development. This points to the important internal dimension of African water politics. That these issues remain, for the moment, relatively marginal, also impels all those concerned with water to consider its future management with great care.

Mainstream consensus in water security and politics holds that African water resources are at risk, and that most countries are water stressed. Moreover any decision-maker has to take into account the variability of rain, risks of droughts and floods and the fact that sovereignty over rivers and lakes is often shared as a result of the demarcation of colonial borders.

Firstly the issue of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing must remain firmly fixed in the spotlight. Indeed, the World Wildlife Fund South Africa (WWF-SA) recently highlighted the perilous future facing inshore fishing sources for Africa's littoral states. For instance according to the WWF-SA a great number of South Africa's inshore marine resources are considered overexploited or collapsed.

This also applies in other parts of Africa, yet attention must be paid to internal sources of fish such as rivers and lakes, thereby placing emphasis on the importance of cooperative monitoring and regulation of fishing. The dependency on fish as a source of protein and livelihood is also likely to increase and the example of Lake Victoria further shows how the management of these areas must be efficient and coordinated. The introduction of Nile Perch in the past was primarily motivated by the objective of bolstering development, but this had a detrimental effect on the lake, whose ecology has changed as a result of this past meddling.

In August 2011 the tiny Kenyan island of Migingo in Lake Victoria became the focal point for a dispute between Uganda and Kenya resulting from past uncertainties of borders and contemporary pressures for securing food and livelihoods. The value of the island lies in its location within rich fishing grounds; it is however a mere 500m from Ugandan waters, and accusations of poaching and unequal access to ostensibly shared resources heightened tensions.

It also illustrates how the past management of lakes continues to impact upon the situation today, and advocating prudent and cooperative strategies now is vital to avoid a repetition of tension and possible conflict.

In addition, many people continue to lack access to safe drinking water and water shortages leave many people suffering from diseases. The objective of meeting the Millennium Development Goals is likely to remain difficult to attain for the majority of African countries.

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