Water scarcity causes anxiety, could trigger disorder, war


Water scarcity, an increasing reality in Africa, causes societal anxiety over who gets what little is available – and who goes without – and can trigger disorder ad even war. That’s the view of Jennifer Shamalla, country coordinator in Kenya for the Pan African Strategic and Peace Research Group.

Shamalla will be speaking at defenceWeb’s Peacekeeping Africa 2010 event

at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, from August 26 to 27. She notes in slides prepared for the conference water is becoming a scarce commodity as populations increase, climates change and farming as well as industry pollutes water.

A country is considered water scarce when its annual supply of internal renewable water falls below 1000 cubic metres per person (2740 litres per day). “In socio-economic terms, scarcity occurs when the lack of water endangers food production, constrains economic development and jeopardises a country’s natural systems,” she will say.

Using the Nile as a case study, she will argue that current disagreements over water usage may lead to conflict. Egypt is currently the largest consumer of Nile water and is the main beneficiary of a 1929 treaty which allows it to take 55.5 billion cubic metres of water each year, or 87% of the White and Blue Nile’s flow. By contrast, Sudan may draw 18.5 billion cubic metres.

On attaining independence Sudan refused to acknowledge the validity of the Nile water treaty and negotiated a new treaty with Egypt in 1959. Kenya Tanzania and Uganda also refused to be bound by the treaty on attaining independence. However to date no treaties have been negotiated.

Under the 1929 treaty, Egypt has powers over upstream projects: The Nile Waters Agreement of 1929 states that no country in the Nile basin should undertake any works on the Nile, or its tributaries, without Egypt’s express permission. This gives Egypt a veto over for example the building of dams on numerous rivers in Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and by implication over agriculture, industry and infrastructure and basic services such as drinking water and electricity in these countries.

Shamalla will further note that Egypt considers Nile water supply a national security matter and the country has stated that any attempt to divert the Nile would be met by force. “We depend upon the Nile 100 percent in our life, so if anyone, at any moment, thinks of depriving us of our life we shall never hesitate to go to war, President Anwar Sadat said in 1978.

Pic: Lake Victoria seen from the east from space