18/06/2024 MÉXICO

Water for sustainable peace

Water scarcity in Africa. [Photo: Alejandro Peters Flickr account]
The UN Security Council states that "climate change poses a real threat to international peace and security”. War and drought in Somalia are leading an unprecedented migration across the border into Kenya. Lack of access to water remains one of the major drivers of the ongoing conflict in Darfur. Water becomes, then, a key element for peace.

“Climate change a threat to international peace”

The Declaration adopted by the UN Security Council says that climate change poses a real threat to international peace and security”. The competition between nations and communities is increasing due to the scarcity of natural resources – water, especially, which creates new dilemmas for international security.

Once again, the world watches the situation of the climate refugees between Somalia and Kenya. The term climate refugee is seen by some as an inappropriate term, and they would rather see it replaced with environmental migrant. Many people have raised objections to the use of the term “refugee” in a climate context as it becomes mixed up with the legally defined term in the Refugee Convention of 1951. This Convention classifies refugees as those who are fleeing from violence and political intimidation. But in the case of Africa the term represents a historical situation from millions of peoples.

War and drought in Somalia, for example, are leading an unprecedented number of people to flee across the border into Kenya. Recently, the NGO Save the Children is reporting that every day, about 1.300 people – at least 800 of them children – are arriving at the Dadaab refugee camp. The monthly number of new arrivals has more than doubled in a year, and aid workers at the camp say that the children are exhausted, malnourished and severely dehydrated. Famine was officially declared in two regions of southern Somalia, by UN. The declaration confirms that the Horn of Africa emergency is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world now.

Experts differ about the origin of most east African drought in 60 years. Initially, droughts in the region occur every ten years, then became every five years and now occur every two years. The causes of the drought it still uncertain, maybe a simply phenomenon La Niña, which cools the waters of the Pacific Ocean, causing a domino effect that away moisture from east Africa or really climate change have also acted, making this event more intense and frequent. The problem is very serious and to understand African drought problem is necessary knowing the chronic scarcity of water in the region.

The Water Scarcity in Africa: The Origin of the Problem

Africa is the second driest continent in the world. The United Nations Environment Program – UNEP uses the term water stress to refer to a situation where political or economic problems occur because of a lack of water. Studies published by New Partnership for Africa’s Development – NEPAD, and UNEP, say that a quarter of Africa’s population suffers from this problem. Fourteen countries in Africa are already experiencing water stress; another 11 countries are expected to join them by 2025 at which time nearly 50% of Africa’s predicted population of 1.45 billion people will face water stress or scarcity. Nearly 51% (300 million people) in sub-Saharan countries lack access to a supply of safe water and 41% lack adequate sanitation.

More than 80 of Africa’s river and lake basins are shared by two or more countries and many countries depend on water flowing from outside their national boundaries. During the last ten years, provision of sanitation in rural Africa has decreased by 2%, and the low levels of urban water supply and sanitation have hardly improved. Arid and semi-arid areas, especially in Sudano-Sahelian Africa and North Africa, are likely to be most affected by increased water stress.

Underlying many of these problems is the fact that water is a finite resource, and there are increasing demands and pressure due to competing uses of water for agricultural and industrial production. Most of the water diverted for human use in Africa is used for irrigated agriculture. All too often these agricultural developments have been planned improperly and have not achieved their forecast benefits for the poor.

The Darfur Conflict – A Critical Case of Water Stress

The livelihood of Sudan depends on its excess use of its water sources; 80% of the country works in agriculture and much of Sudan’s land is cultivated by mechanized farming. The intense agricultural system has reduced arable soil, and according the UNEP, has caused desertification to spread. The irrigation used to feed the mechanized farms and intense cultivation by rural Sudanese are causal to the arid environment diffusing over Sudan.

Most of Sudan’s currently accessible underground water is shared with surrounding countries. Sudan utilizes part of the Nile River Basin, but its use is not regulated or maintained by the government. This unrestrained use of shared water creates tension with neighboring countries like Egypt and Ethiopia.

In Darfur, Western Sudan’s region, the rapid population growth and environmental degradation led to competition for dwindling natural resources and a water crisis. The province, which was an independent sultanate is incorporated in the Sudan since 1916, is marginalized by successive governments. Dominated by the elite Arab guidance, they close the eyes to ethnic cleansing on the non-Arab inhabitants. The increase took place when the non-Arab tribes rebelled demanding that the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, hospitals, roads and improving public services. In response they received bombs army. The conflict has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced an estimated two million people. Disputes over scarce water and grazing land between nomadic people, who believe water and land have no owner, and the sedentary people, who claim the land as well as its water reserves as their own, reinforced the war. Lack of access to water remains one of the major drivers of the ongoing conflict in Darfur.

With the water infrastructure in several areas vandalized, and in a state of disrepair, the population in rural areas are severely affected, resulting in lack of, if not inequitable distribution of water, along with the weakening of institutions that manage, maintain, and operate water infrastructure. The most significant risk is one or more years of low rainfall which would mean that the aquifers in the water stressed camps or urban areas would not be recharged – and so could fail catastrophically, putting the population at risk. As many as 23 refugee camps in Darfur have been identified as being potentially vulnerable to acute groundwater depletion.

An attempt to identify solutions, the United Nations Country Team, together United Nations African Union/ Assistance Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the Government of Sudan promoted the Darfur International Conference on Water for Sustainable Peace, last June. The conference was seeking $1.5 billion from donors to support 65 water projects over the next six years. These projects will focus on rebuilding the water infrastructure devastated by conflicts. They will introduce new technologies and systems for managing water, preparing for drought and helping farmers adapt to climate change. Therefore an overarching objective for water managers and government decision makers is to reduce and manage the risks of conflict and climate change through innovative solutions and initiatives. While the effects of climate change could be overcome through adaptation measures, the damaged water infrastructure and the weakened institutions need rehabilitation and strengthening respectively, in order to improve living conditions and disrupt the vicious cycle of the occurrence of water-related conflicts, and conflict-driven water scarcities.

The experts and the media have shown their optimism with the main results of the Conference. The United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF proposes to continue its annual investment of 23 million dollar in water projects in the region, but the most important commitment came from the Government of Sudan, announced a contribution of 216 million, as well as several tax reliefs, worth dozens of millions of dollars, for foreign investments in water supplies. These measures have interested specifically the main donors, such as the Arab League, whose representative declared that several Arab states had planned to provide 100 million over the next six years.

Water is a critical component of life. Humanitarian aid is very important to help climate refugees during the pick of the crisis, but more and more, the world needs sustainable solutions because the climate agenda is also a social agenda directly associated to poverty and hunger. In the case of Darfur, ensures a stables and equitable water service system means mechanisms to ensure a sustainable peace.

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Karen Oliveira

Brasileña, geóloga, especialista en cooperación internacional y medio ambiente. Máster en Energía, Doctora en Relaciones Internacionales. Trabajo con la movilización de fondos y gestión de proyectos direccionados al desarrollo social, salud, género y medio ambiente. Mis temas de interese son política, economía, medio ambiente, derechos humanos y sus interrelaciones.

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