Water, Water Everywhere...
Water, Water Everywhere...
STOCKHOLM, Aug 23 (IPS) - The crisis-weary African continent, which has two of the world's longest rivers -- the 6,400-kilometre Nile River and the 4,370-kilometre Congo River -- is suffering from a virtual economic paradox: a shortage of water amidst potentially plentiful supplies.
"In spite of a few large rivers like the Congo and the Nile, 21 of the world's most arid countries, in terms of water per person, are located in Africa," South Africa's Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry told a symposium marking "World Water Week" in the Swedish capital.
The Nile and its tributaries flow through nine countries: Egypt, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. The Congo, the world's fifth longest river, flows primarily through DRC, People's Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and partially through Zambia, Angola, Cameroon and Tanzania.
Addressing over 1,400 water experts and representatives of non-governmental organisations, Buyelwa Sonjica said that in arid and semi-arid countries, rivers only flow for short periods in the rainy reason,"and you need dams to store water for dry periods."
"The need for water resource infrastructure in Africa is clear. The same arguments are also applicable to many other countries in the developing world," she added.
But she warned that the construction of dams should be conditioned on two factors: first, people affected or displaced by a dam should be guaranteed benefits of some nature -- "and they should also be better off after the construction of the dam than they were before." Secondly, she said, the impacts on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems should be mitigated.
Unfortunately, Sonjica said, most developing countries lack sufficient infrastructure for water management. "And this applies particularly to my home continent. Africa is the least developed continent on the globe with respect to water resource infrastructure."
In North America, the quantity of water storage per person is about 6,150 cubic metres, she pointed out. But in Ethiopia, for example, it is just 43 cubic metres per person. Even in South Africa, the most developed country in the continent, the quantity of water storage per person is only 746 cubic metres.
With only 36 percent of its population having access to basic sanitation and some 288 million people lacking access to safe drinking water, Africa faces "the most daunting challenges" in its efforts to reach the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on water and sanitation, according to the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).
The eight MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; environmental sustainability, including access to safe drinking water; and a North-South global partnership for development.
A summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet all of these goals by the year 2015.
But in an attempt to meet the MDGs and mobilise political commitment, a new initiative has been launched: the African Ministers Initiative for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All (AMIWASH), in partnership with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSC) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva.
Sonjica told delegates that the hydropower potential of Africa has huge development benefits. The Congo River's potential for hydroelectric power, generated by water, could play an important role in providing power regionally to central and southern Africa.
The proposed Grand Inga Hydropower Project on the Congo River "will be the biggest engineering project in Africa since the construction of the Suez Canal".
Linking water with democracy -- two widely divergent subjects -- she said that "the progress that is currently being made towards peace and the democratisation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) can unlock the hydropower potential of the Congo River, and this can be the key to unlock the economic potential of the whole African continent."
According to SIWI, poor countries with access to improved water and sanitation services enjoyed an annual average growth of 3.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP); those without grew at just 0.1 percent.
In Kenya, improved resilience to the effects of floods and droughts could make its GDP grow annually at a rate of at least five to six percent -- the amount needed in order to start effectively reducing poverty -- rather than the current 2.4 percent annual growth rate, SIWI said.
Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at the New York-based Columbia University, points out that the epicentre of the current global economic crisis is sub-Saharan Africa, "where rapidly growing populations are exposed to endemic disease, hunger, environmental degradation, and lack of access to basic education and infrastructure".
Much of the African continent is stagnating, he says, with some countries experiencing regression in income, poverty, hunger, child mortality, and life expectancy.
This lack of progress is worrying for many reasons, Sachs said.
"If the MDGs are not achieved by 2015, then the world will have failed to reach its goals to save 30 million children who would otherwise die; to provide 300 million more people with access to basic sanitation who would otherwise lack it; to ensure an adequate food supply for 230 million who would otherwise be hungry; to ensure equality for women and men; and to ensure a sustainable environment for the coming generation," he stressed.
Such failure, Sachs warned, will lead to rising insecurity "since extreme poverty is an important driver of conflict."
His comments are most applicable to Africa, which is home to the largest number of conflicts of any continent.