What is the future of water?Thursday March 23 2023
While growing up in my rural village, I used to see my aunties and other women draw water from a nearby stream. But, unfortunately, that stream has since dried up.
Various reports globally reveal that about 2.5 percent of the Earth's water is freshwater. And only one percent of that freshwater is easily accessible for human use.
Unep estimates that since water has become a significant resource, it could quickly become a source of conflict in many parts of the world, especially in Africa.
Water scarcity is already affecting many parts of the world, and it is predicted that this situation will worsen as the world's population expands.
In addition, droughts and other weather patterns are made worse by climate change. Conflict could result from competing for water resources in various areas, mainly if shared water resources exist between nations or groups.
As in the case of Eastern Africa, for several years, conflict over water and pasture has led to hostilities between the Murule and Garre clans of the Somali ethnic group near the Kenya-Somalia border.
At times, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds displaced.
And with the impact of drought becoming more prevalent, incidents of conflict are expected to increase. For example, access to fresh water is becoming a challenge in Kenya and other African countries where rivers are drying up.
Already the Nile, Limpopo, Chad basins, and drought-stricken areas like Somalia and Darfur have had simmering conflicts.
The Nile basin countries could, for example, learn from effective negotiation and collaboration around water resources in other parts of the world which have been successful.
For instance, the Mekong River Commission in Southeast Asia, which consists of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, has facilitated communication and cooperation between these nations on water management issues.
Besides conflict, water is also responsible for more than 80 percent of diseases in developing countries. As a result, access to clean water is becoming a major challenge in Africa. This is affecting millions of people.
Challenges in providing clean water include Climate change, limited infrastructure, pollution, poverty, conflict, and instability. And inequality and environmental degradation all of which precipitate diseases.
Climate change is exacerbating water scarcity in many parts of Africa. Droughts, floods, and changing rainfall patterns make it more difficult for communities to access clean water.
For example, cyclone Freddy wreaked havoc in Malawi and Mozambique last week, killing more than 400 people, but all that water went to waste.
Africa must acknowledge the fact that we need infrastructure to mitigate climate change.
Sometimes it only requires a little to build something like water pans to store water and clean the water to avoid opportunistic diseases like cholera.
To mitigate many problems, the continent needs a strategic approach towards water governance and management mechanisms at all levels.
This is because inadequate governance and lack of coordination among stakeholders have negatively impacted the sector.
Although we often blame poverty as a significant barrier to accessing clean water in Africa, it has never been an agenda in the political space as education is.
We need to start viewing water as a critical livelihood source and essential for every citizen. Community leaders should start accounting for the sources of water which their people access and drink.
Water governance becomes vital because it calls for everyone to be responsible. So it should also become one of the priorities in any county.
And governments should ensure that public policies are in place to address it, especially in a digital era.
We can also leverage technological innovation around desalination, water reuse, and precision irrigation to help address water scarcity, pollution challenges and ultimately the disease burden.
Further, communal infrastructure is essential to clean water access like the micro treatment plants and a distribution system which presupposes rural urbanization as a prerequisite to provide modern infrastructure such as water treatment and energy supply.
Ultimately, strategies and activities that consider the social, economic, and environmental elements of water use will be needed to manage water in the future.
To guarantee equitable and sustainable water management, all stakeholders must be involved in coordinating access to clean water.
Even though leaders perpetuate progress, their accountability failures on water resources are one of the weakest links to conflict and instability.
In some cases, water sources have been destroyed or contaminated during disputes, making it difficult for communities to access clean water. As such, leaders have to account for every drop of water.
The writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organization. The article is written at a personal level.