Preventing water crises
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Preventing water crises

Water scarcity leading to political conflict

Political tension caused by water shortages was also a feature of the history of the 20th century, and today, there is fighting in a number of zones where the lack of water was one of the initial causes of the conflict.

The majority of countries suffering water shortages are in Africa: the continent is characterised by high populations coupled with few and unevenly distributed water bases. The fight for water has already began, and today, the area suffering water scarcity is increasing continuously, with an increasing number of people being forced to leave their homes behind to be nearer the water without which they could not survive.

Cameroon and Nigeria

The conflict between Cameroon and Nigeria associated with Lake Chad is also related to water. In the 2nd half of the 20th century, Lake Chad, an indispensable water source for all the neighbouring countries, began to shrink significantly, and by 2001, the fishing villages on the lake’s shores were forced to move, which exacerbated previously existing border disputes and also led to armed conflict. The case was finally settled by the International Court of Justice which ruled that the area in question belonged to Cameroon, and set new borders. Nigerian armed forces left the area, the armed conflict was eliminated, but for the people there, access to drinking water of suitable quality in suitable quantities is still a challenge.

Lake Chad Photo: www.pambazuka.org

The violence at Darfur

The Darfur Conflict, which began in South Sudan in 2003, is generally considered a political and military problem, resulting from ethnic conflict between Arab militias and the black insurgents and farmers. But, indirectly, the drying up of Lake Chad was responsible for the armed conflict. Rainfall has been decreasing in the region of Sudan since the 1980s. According to UN statistics, on average, annual rainfall has dropped by over 40%, presumably the effect of anthropogenic climate change. The violence at Darfur began at a time of drought. Until those truly extreme conditions developed, the nomadic tribes lived in peace and a sort of symbiosis with the settled, agricultural population. However, the water shortage in the region caused agricultural problems and food shortages, which led to the outbreak of fighting in 2003. Over two hundred thousand people lost their lives in the War in Darfur and more than 2 million people were forced to leave their homes.

The shrinking of Lake Chad (sourced from satellite images provided by NASA) Image: EU responses to climate security risks, European Parliament

Botswana and Namibia

The protracted conflict between Botswana and Namibia was also caused by water scarcity, and it was exacerbated in relation to the diversion of the water of the Okavango River. The river is a natural border between Namibia and Angola, while its delta within the territory of Botswana, which contains seven national parks, is a popular tourist resort. However, the section of the river in Namibia, above the swampy delta, often suffers periods of drought, so a system of canals have been built to conduct the water of the Okavango to dry areas. As a result, the floods failed, severe drought resulted and the protected Okavango Swamp was also jeopardised. An armed conflict was pre-empted when, in 1994, the two countries formed the Okavango River Basin Commission, which regulates utilisation of the river’s water.

Okavango Delta Photo: Shutterstock

However, a final solution to water conflicts requires solution of the underlying problem: the regions concerned and the nations that inhabit them must be provided a sufficient quantity of water of suitable quality. International cooperation is required to plan and support sustainable economic solutions, while analysis of the conflicts and existing solutions can help the global community to prevent and to cope with similar conflicts arising in other regions of the world – sadly, we may expect such conflicts with increasing frequency.

Major cities that could share the fate of Cape Town

Cape Town’s historic water crisis was a wake-up call for the entire world. Something that had previously been unimaginable happened. If the targets set in the Paris Agreement are not reached, there is reason to fear that many other major cities could suffer a similar fate within a few decades. The example of Cape Town is a timely warning that chronic water shortages are already just around the corner.

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