Ways with water
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CTA. 2001. Ways with water. Spore 95. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to cite or share this item: https://hdl.handle.net/10568/46283
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One thing is as clear as water: the world needs to manage its water better, and waste less. Gloomy scenarios about water conflicts have drowned out a lot of positive initiatives, hopeful experiments and sound policy steps. Shortages have helped...
One thing is as clear as water: the world needs to manage its water better, and waste less. Gloomy scenarios about water conflicts have drowned out a lot of positive initiatives, hopeful experiments and sound policy steps. Shortages have helped people and their governments learn how to cooperate and not compete: how to share, care and spare Too many people predict too often that scarcity of water, as with oil, will lead to violent conflicts and even inter-state wars. Small wonder since unlike oil, there is no alternative to water it is the basis of all life. Demand is expected to grow because of population growth, industrialisation, urbanisation and agricultural development, whether irrigated or not. By 2025, there will be more than 30 nations in the club of water scarce countries, compared with twenty or so today (on the basis of having less than 1000 m3 of water available annually per person). This seems an awful lot to drink, wash and cook with, but it includes every drop of renewable freshwater used in all sectors. According to the same international standards, countries with around 1700 m3 already suffer occasional and local water problems, and those with supplies below 500 m3 experience absolute scarcity . Will there really be conflicts? The opening article in Spore 74 (April 1998) asked: Water: will there be conflicts? The answer, some three years later, is still uncertain, but it is likely to be: not necessarily . Despite previous rhetoric, the conviction has gained ground that solutions simply have to be found there is no way around it. Some have prophesised conflict but, according to Peter Ashton of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, this is based on the false assumption that communities and even governments have little or no choice in the matter, and that their only possible, logical reaction to water shortage is one based on violent competition. In fact there are other ways out; the best way to prevent and resolve conflicts is through participation of stakeholders, talking and debating as long as is needed. This goes for irrigators downstream on a canal, dependent on their colleagues upstream on the amount of water they let through. Similarly, it holds for different countries making use of one and the same river or underground water stocks. Africa, for instance, has nine major river basins the Congo, Lake Chad, Nile, Niger, Okovango, Orange, Senegal, Volta and Zambezi and numerous regional aquifers such as the sandstones of Nubia, and the Congo and Kalahari groundwater basins; they are all shared by numerous countries. It is not surprising that the areas facing the biggest tensions and thus the greatest need for dialogue are located in the regions that are verging between emerging water scarcity and absolute water scarcity (see Figure). Let s get Together And it is in these areas that dialogues are emerging, rather than water wars. Most countries in the Zambezi basin have drawn up development plans for hydropower, and increased water withdrawals for irrigation, industry and human consumption, but when added up they exceed the amount that can be withdrawn from the Zambezi. As a result, the Zambezi River Action Plan (ZACPLAN) was established in 1987 as the first comprehensive attempt to coordinate activities and establish an effective resources management plan for the basin. Although ZACPLAN is not legally binding on its nine signatories, its acceptance and functioning have become more promising with the ongoing processes of democratisation in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. In West Africa, the largest river system, the Niger basin, is the subject of a similar initiative known as the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) which was established in 1964 and is the oldest of its kind. Its nine members range from Guinea in the west to Chad in the east. Much of this Sahelian region has experienced persistent drought for several decades, resulting in dramatic ecological changes aggravated by intensified land use, desert encroachment and the depletion of Lake Chad. The NBA has been hampered by its member states lacking the means to participate fully, unable to implement legislation and to acquire the information technologies required for effective monitoring and database management. After a recent revamp, its new work plan is modestly supporting national efforts to improve water management on a local scale. In eastern Africa, both governmental and non-governmental initiatives have emerged around the Nile basin, with similar objectives as their fellow regions in the west and south (see Box 2). For the island states in the Pacific and Caribbean, water management is not so much an inter-statal issue, but more an internal one. The lower islands and atoll islands in particular depend largely on rainwater and shallow groundwater water resources. The expansion of any sector s water use will require better management to save fresh water, improved water harvesting techniques, desalinisation of seawater and recycling of wastewater. Some countries may be able to use tourist earnings to meet these costs. Peoples coping strategies Let us leave the national and intergovernmental level for now. After all, their citizens and communities have not been sitting idly. In situations of absolute water scarcity people have developed their own coping strategies. The Bushmen in Namibia find water in fruits, such as melons. Pastoralists in Sudan send out scouts to look for sources or simply follow the rains. When water is becoming scarce, the first thing that comes to mind is saving, storing and conserving water and alternative cultivation methods as featured regularly in Spore: rainwater harvesting in Kenya, fog collection in Cape Verde, increasing infiltration by constructing small, lunar-shaped ridges in West Africa, capturing seasonal discharges in small dams in Zimbabwe and using wastewater for irrigation. There is more to sound water management than simply saving it. Equal and careful read sustainable distribution and use of water requires the initiative and ongoing involvement of stakeholders. It is a permanent process since every solution, every innovation leads to a new challenge. If a community creates a small dam for watering cattle, the resulting unprecedented body of water makes the whole community brim with ideas. Brick making, fishponds, keeping rabbits or poultry or communally irrigated plots, to name but a few. This will require new rounds of consensus within the community and with others, upstream and downstream. It requires, too, an explicit say in it by women. They provide much of the labour in the fields, although they usually have neither land nor water rights. Although they participate in the management of small projects, they are usually outnumbered on committees and take a minimal role in decision making. The dialogue and consensus of which a village is capable has to go all the way upstream to provincial, national and even regional authorities. Even in areas of water scarcity, no village is an island. [caption to illustration] The locations of actual or potential water-related conflicts. [caption to illustration] Water pressures. This seasonally dry tributary of the Nile can become bountiful, the apparently abundant Okavango swamp may be stretched past its protected limits. [caption to illustration] Overflowing with ideas
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