At World Water Week, The Water Diplomat caught up with Dr Eman Soliman, Head of Planning at Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.
Dr. Tobias Schmitz: Thank you very much for your time, Dr Soliman. I would very much like to talk to you about the preparations for Cairo Water Week as well as all the preparations that have been taking place. Cairo Water Week is also a preparatory event for COP 27 from a water perspective, so perhaps you could speak to that also?
Dr. Eman Soliman: Thank you very much for this opportunity. As you may know, Egypt has begun consultations for all activities related to water and would like to link water with the climate agenda and we would like to send strong messages to the climate community that water is an important issue, and they need to have their eyes on the water sector. We would like to have Cairo Water Week as a preparatory event for COP 27, as you have mentioned, and we have a lot of activities starting from the High-Level Dialogue towards the UN 2023 Water Conference midterm review conference: we are coordinating with the host countries, Tajikistan and the Netherlands as well as with UNESCWA, the FAO and many individual countries: we are going to invite more than 50 Ministers and are consulting among water scarce countries to send strong messages to the UN about their needs on achieving the SDGs in conditions of water scarcity. We are focusing on actions, not only identifying the problems but would like to focus on solutions and commitments from countries around the issues of achieving the SDGs. We are going to invite representatives from different geographical regions: from the Arab region, from Eurasia, from the Mediterranean, from Africa: from countries with different conditions, we would like to have different perspectives on the same issue. We are having preparatory meetings for different activities at COP 27,of the Committee for the Water Pavilion as well as for the AWARE water initiative which will focus on early warning, early action, and resilience. The water related activities at COP 27 will be finalised and announced during Cairo Water Week.
Tobias Schmitz: So if I am right, you are saying that these issues have already been put on the table for the Netherlands and Tajikistan, and that the messages that are coming out of your dialogues will immediately be integrated into the preparations for the UN Water Conference?
Eman Soliman:The outcome from this dialogue will immediately be submitted to the UN Secretariat: our Ministry of Foreign Affairs will finalise the document immediately after the Cairo Water Week, so with participants we are working to agree on the text of the call for action, and on the second day of the week we will call for an endorsement of the call for action. I hope that we can then have the voice from different countries around the call for action.
Tobias Schmitz: I believe that the President of Egypt will also announce an Initiative?
Eman Soliman: The water initiative will be announced during a dedicated thematic day on water during COP 27, which will be on the 14th of November, but during Cairo Water Week we will announce the main outlines of this initiative to raise awareness among the different partners and organisations. The official launch of the initiative will be during the thematic day on water, which is in fact the first time that there is a day of the COP which is entirely dedicated to water.
Tobias Schmitz: Are there other ways in which water will feature during the COP?
Eman Soliman: We have the water day, we have the water and adaptation initiative, and we have the Water Pavilion which will now be entering its second year at a COP, which is being coordinated with more than 40 partners. In this context we will invite high level representatives from the UN to present how they will approach the issue of water. We are currently in the process of agreeing on and finalising the thematic programme for the Water Pavilion.
Tobias Schmitz: Are you optimistic that after all these efforts, water will be integrated into the climate agenda?
Eman Soliman: From our side as a technical team working on water issues we are trying to attract attention and we cannot predict what the outcomes will be of the negotiations, but we do see an increasing attention for water issues and we are hopeful that they will be integrated into the climate agenda.
Tobias Schmitz: Dr Soliman thank you so much for your insights and clarifications of the process, good luck with he work and looking forward to seeing you in Egypt at Cairo Water Week!
Eman Soliman: Thank you very much for the opportunity!
Africa has a total of 61 transboundary river basins, which implies that water management in Africa is inseparably bound to transboundary cooperation. Transboundary waters are often a source of conflict between riparian States, which means that water needs to be managed holistically and even diplomatically to avoid armed conflicts - hence the concept of ‘hydro diplomacy’. In order to train journalists from West Africa to cover water issues, as well as to boost the coverage of water issues in the run op to the UN Water Conference in New York in March 2023, The Water Diplomat partnered with Africa 21 and a range of international experts from UN bodies and international water organisations to organise a workshop from August 15 to 19 in Dakar for journalists specialising in sustainable development. The theme of this international workshop focused on water issues in Africa.
With 97 registered journalists from West Africa , of which 19 were present in Dakar, the workshop took place in hybrid mode at the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (IDEP). Interventions spanned a broad range of water related issues, ranging from the Human Right to Water, presented by Tunisian legal expert Moez Allaoui – advisor to the Tunisian national water utility – SONEDE - to transboundary water management, presented by Dr Komlan Sangbana, West and Central Africa focal point of the UNECE Water Conventions, and an overview of the outcomes of the 9th World Water Forum, presented by the scientific adviser of the said forum, the hydrologist Dr Boubacar Barry, and many other themes. Particular emphasis was placed on the transboundary management of the rivers on the continent during this workshop. And this for many reasons: because hydro-diplomacy gathers around the table -within the framework of a new governance-, all the actors linked to water management. Its objective is to promote economic and social benefits for transboundary basins and to work to avoid the militarization of water-related conflicts.
“Water in the service of peace”
With more than forty years of experience in water management across the continent and around the world, Dr. Boubacar Barry underlined the importance of journalists in covering water issues but also of connecting journalists to the relevant specialists, to help transmit the ‘voice of water’ across the continent. Having first recalled the agreement in the context of the 9th World Water Forum on a Blue Deal on “Water Security for Peace and Development”, Dr Barry emphasized the central role of water for all aspects of development and emphasized that "water must be a force for cohesion rather than a source of conflict between countries”. In short, he argued, "water must be in the service of peace rather than peace being in the service of water". Highlighting the example of the Senegalo-Mauritanian conflict of 1989 on access to- and control of the waters of the Senegal River, the hydrologist insisted on the leading role played by the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (OMVS) in this crisis. Indeed, the OMVS is an intergovernmental development organisation which was created on March 11th, 1972, in Nouakchott, by Mali, Mauritania and Senegal, with a view to managing the watershed of the Senegal River, a basin which extends over an area of 289 000 km2; Guinea Conakry joined the organization in 2006.
The OMVS: an export model of hydrodiplomacy
With a length of 1,750 km, the Senegal River, which has its source in Guinea at an altitude of 750 meters, waters Mali, then Mauritania and Senegal, while serving as a border between these two countries, before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean in Saint-Louis in the north of Senegal. Conscious of the importance of the sacred union around this natural resource and animated by a will cemented by the ideals of solidarity, sharing, equity and culture of peace, these four countries have decided to link their destiny around this watercourse, placing their trust in the OMVS for the management of this cross-border river and its infrastructures which serve the neighboring countries. According to Dr Barry, the success of the OMVS in its management of the Senegal River can be explained by the fact that in terms of the management of transboundary border watercourses, "States must imperatively give up part of their sovereignty in favor of the general interest, which was the case in the Senegal River Basin". This bravery and historical success earned the OMVS the Hassan II Water Prize at the 9th World Water Forum held in Dakar from March 21 to 26. According to Dr. Barry, the OMVS actors intend to form a delegation to go to East Africa in order to present the example of the 'OMVS, to Ethiopia and Egypt. Indeed, the management of the Blue Nile has been the subject of intense tension between the two countries for several years, following the construction of the Great Renaissance Dam by Ethiopia on this river. This hydroelectric dam, the largest in Africa, will be able to store around 80% of the waters of the Nile. Even if the production of electricity does not consume water, storing such a large quantity of Nile water will undoubtedly have serious consequences for food and nutritional security for Egypt.
Hydro-diplomacy, the ‘other way’ for water
Dr Barry was asked the question how the example of the OMVS could be applied in East Africa, on the issue around the Blue Nile, between Egypt and Ethiopia, whose realities are not the same as in West Africa. Indeed, Ethiopia, on the one hand, affirms that the hydroelectric energy produced by the dam is vital to meet the energy needs of its 110 million inhabitants, while Egypt on the other hand depends on this river for about 97% of its irrigation and drinking water and considers the Ethiopian dam a threat to its water supply.
In response, Dr. Boubacar simply indicated that they will ‘show them the way to the water’, in the sense that water itself does not recognise or respect national boundaries. And since the waters know no borders, the management of this natural resource that man cannot manufacture must in no way be linked to our administrative borders. Because, they flow far beyond these.
But what exactly is hydro diplomacy?
Indeed, it was Fadi Georges Comair who was honorary president of the Mediterranean Network of Basin Organizations (Remob), who coined this term in the early 1990s. It was in an interview with our colleagues from the French newspaper Release in 2017, that the director general of hydraulic resources at the Ministry of Energy and Water of Lebanon indicated that "in the negotiations on the sharing of water from cross-border basins in the Middle East in which I participated, I quickly realized that it was neither just an engineer's job, nor just a diplomat's job. I wanted to find a concept that could promote the culture of dialogue, with the equitable sharing of water between riparian countries... this requires political, diplomatic and financial synergies, efforts from all riparian countries to preserve this essential resource. ". In summary, the hydraulic diplomat of the American Academy of Water, affirms that it is about "a concept which combines the diplomatic work with the expertise in planning of hydraulic projects, via the creation of a regional cooperation”. The aim is to create a dynamic of economic development at the level of the transboundary basin to find an answer to the problems that very often arise from water.
Faced with the issue of this natural resource, which has become a global challenge, the Africa 21 and Water Diplomat team, aware that such a challenge can only be met through a collective response, realised that men and women of the media are well placed to inform, educate and sensitize the general public on water issues. Going forward, the platform for mainstreaming water news is being built through a series of regional workshops, supporting the public debate on water on the Road to New York.
Water in Armed Conflict and other situations of violence
Born 67 years ago, Mr. Wilson Muchiri, a father of five, has a long tale to tell about the Lake's ‘sweet times’ when he and his age mates went on fishing expeditions, hunting dikdik as they enjoyed the serene environment and chased the beautiful birds that made the lake a unique, enticing place to be.
He recalls the gifts from tourists visiting the lake for merry-making and hunting the birds. But that was long ago, a kind of fun that started vanishing in the 1990's when the water levels from 43.3km² water body in Nyandarua County, Central Kenya region started diminishing.Today, a shallow water body is what remains of what was once a lake of about 4 meters deep, vanishing with all its glory, fauna, and flora."It was a beautiful place to be, the lake was in the morning covered by a heavy dew which I think was vapour from the water body. The dew was so heavy covering the entire Shamata ranges at the Aberdare Forest," says the farmer.
Diminishing Lake Olbolosatt, the only freshwater body in the Central Kenya region, is attributed to the encroachment of the riparian lands, grabbing illegal farming at the AberdareForest, and blockage of water streams from the forest by prominent persons for irrigation purposes.Starting in the 1980s, powerful government officials were awarded hundreds of hectares of lakeside land by the Kanu regime, allocations that continue hurting the lake. At about 7,600 feet above sea level at the foot of the Aberdare Forest, lake Olbolosatt is the only source of water for River Ewaso Nyiro feeding communities, livestock, and wildlife in Laikipia, Samburu, Isiolo, and Garissa Counties, with a tributary ending up in Somalia. Due to political patronage and interests, both the county and national government ministries and departments are unable to conclusively reclaim the riparian land and end the illegal farming activities at the Aberdare Forest as the water body continues diminishing.
A report by the County Government of Nyandarua tourism department shows that with proper management, the lake can earn the county above Ksh600 million (US $ 5 million) annually.Former Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources Professor Judi Wakhungu made the first attempt to reclaim and restore the lake in 2018 when she gazetted the water body as a wetland protected area, but nothing much has happened. Nevertheless, Lands Principal Secretary Nicholus Muraguri is optimistic the lake land will eventually be repossessed paving way for other developments.The PS says the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is investigating the land grabbing around the lake for repossession. Successful repossession of the lakes land will pave way for Ksh1.7 billion (US $ 14 million) revival of the water body by the County Government of Nyandarua in partnership with local and international environment stakeholders and the donor community including the World Bank, The National Environment Management Authority, Kenya Forest Service, Community based organizations, and Kenya Wildlife Services among others.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko says the Ksh1.7 billion strategic plan identifies priority interventions under seven management programs; Biodiversity management, Eco-tourism management, Water resources management, Human-wildlife conflict management, Education and community awareness, Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries management as well as Forestry resources management. "Successful implementation of this Plan will facilitate rehabilitation of degraded areas; enhance ecological integrity and conservation. A huge amount of these resources goes to promoting eco-tourism and the blue economy around the lake, rehabilitation of the ecosystem, and agricultural-related activities," said CS Tobiko. Before its current state, the lake was home to over 300 species of migratory birds from European countries and thousands of hippos that are today the main source of human-wildlife conflict.
At least 38 people have been reported dead in the wake of heavy flooding in war-stricken Yemen. Rainstorms, floods and landslides have impacted the province of Marib which, according to UNICEF has, just this year, resulted in an estimated 10.000 displaced individuals. Overall, it is calculated that the war has displaced 90.000 people who sought refuge in Marin. However, some reports indicate a total displaced population of up to 2 million in the province.
Thousands of shelters have been destroyed in the aftermath of torrential rains The Yemeni government has requested urgent humanitarian relief to address the needs of all the displaced who have seen their shelters destroyed by flash floods. Affected families have been moved to schools, hotels and public facilities, but local aid workers request urgent assistance. Mohammed Al-Soaidi, an aid worker with the Executive Unit for IDP Camps, said: “People are in need of shelter and food. Tents that cannot protect people from harsh weather or rains must be replaced.”
In addition, hundreds of people are reported to be trapped in villages in the mountains after landslides blocked roads making it impossible to leave and to get aid in. In Sanaa, the country’s capital, and UNESCO world heritage site, 10 buildings have collapsed as a result of the heavy rains and 80 more have been severely damaged. Air strikes resulting from the ongoing war may have shaken these building’s foundations and the war has prevented proper conservation works from being executed in these old buildings. According to Basheer Al-Selwi, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, these floods are exacerbating an already very precarious humanitarian situation after 8 years of war. ,
In the midst of heavy monsoon rainfall and as South Korea deals with floods, North Korea (DPRK) has, for the second time this year, opened the floodgates of dam on the Imjin River causing an increased water flow downstream and a risk of flooding. A South Korean government official said: “North Korea appears to continue opening and closing the floodgates at Hwanggang Dam following heavy rain. There was no notice from North Korea to the South regarding releasing water from that dam.”
Both countries signed an agreement in October 2009 in which the DPRK committed to provided warning ahead of opening floodgates, however, and despite South Korea’s appeals back in June, this has not been done. South Korea’s Yeoncheon County which, in 2009, saw six people die after the DPRK opened these floodgates without notice, issued a warning for people to be particularly vigilant of river levels.
This year’s monsoon is exceptionally intense, creating challenging conditions for both countries, and it is likely that the DPRK opened these floodgates 42km north of the border to mitigate inundation of their lands and protect key infrastructure such as power supplies. As the downpour continues, in Seoul, eight people have died due to flash floods caused by the heavy rains. South Korean authorities are monitoring the situation but state there is yet no reason for alarm.
In a statement to the Daily NK, a South Korean newspaper which focuses on North Korean issues, a DPRK official said: “It’s natural to open the dam gates when it rains a lot, so I don’t understand why we must inform the South Korean government.” He continued: “The South is more modern than us, so they know whether or not we’ve opened the gates even if we don’t notify them. So isn’t there a political intention behind asking for prior notification?”
Syrian NGO Humanitarian Response has released the results of a questionnaire the group ran on displaced Syrians revealing their biggest concerns and needs. The study found that the internally displaced people’s (IDP) main concern is securing water access during warm weather. 92% of the nearly 80.000 who answered the questionnaire pointed out that this was a major concern.
78.521 people across 147 camps in Northern Syria answered the questionnaire, including 22.581 women and girls, 7.513 boys and girls and 2.819 people with special needs. 79% of the respondents declared that another major concern was the onset of skin diseases due to lack of access to safe, potable water. According to the NGO, just over one third of all 1489 camps in Northern Syria have no water supply, with an additional 269 camps not getting enough water.
The lack of access to safe water is of great concern to IDPs as Summer has been particularly hot and dry in the region. Most IDPs depend on humanitarian aid for their survival and, in many cases, it is insufficient. This creates a situation where survival becomes increasingly difficult. The scorching Summer and the lack of safe, potable water, accentuates these issues and exacerbate a water accessibility problem which is not new to the region.
The NGO released a statement stating: “We urgently call on humanitarian organisations to take their humanitarian and moral responsibility towards the displaced people in the camps in North Western Syria, where more than a million and a half civilians are facing [high] temperatures by increasing humanitarian activities and securing many basic survival supplies.”
International Water Law and Transboundary Water Cooperation
A workshop held in Abuja, Nigeria at the end of July culminated in Nigeria’s commitment to a roadmap to accede to the Helsinki Convention – otherwise known as the Convention on the Protection and use of Transboundary Waters and International Lakes. The Nigerian government had already indicated its interest in acceding to the Convention in 2017 by attending a meeting of Parties to the Convention, and formally announced its intention to do so in 2019. However, the workshop served to inform Nigerian stakeholders about the Convention, discuss the accession process, outline the road map for its implementation, and respond to queries about the consequences of adopting the framework. The workshop was jointly convened by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources of Nigeria and the Secretariat of the Helsinki Convention.
At the workshop, Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman H. Adamu, stated: “Nigeria attaches significant importance to transboundary water cooperation ... […] ... Nigeria this week will commit to a road map for its accession to and future implementation of the United Nations Water Convention. The government of Nigeria encourages all nations with which it shares water resources to accede to the Water Convention and ensure its full implementation. This offers a crucial means for us to work together to strengthen the foundations for peace, stability and sustainable development in the Lake Chad and Niger basins, for the mutual benefit of our populations and natural environment.”
The Helsinki Convention was adopted in 1992 – in Helsinki, hence its name – and entered into force in 1996. It was originally only adopted by UNECE members and provided a framework for transboundary water management and protection in the European region. However, it has extended its state party scope beyond the UNECE since 2013, opening the Convention to accession by states outside the European region, and this significantly enhances its potential to become a source for international water law.The Convention has recently gained a significant hold on the African continent, as Chad, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Togo have already acceded, while Chad and Uganda are also expected to accede soon.
Nigeria’s surface water resources are primarily contained in the Niger River Basin (shared with Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali and Niger) and Chad River Basin (shared with Algeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Libya, Niger, and Sudan). The waters of Lake Chad have been a matter of international concern for some time, as a combination of overexploitation and climate change have resulted in a 90% reduction of the surface area of the lake.
Human demand, drought and climate change have drained more than 75% of the water in the nation’s largest reservoirs and have driven water reserves in the Colorado River to a historical low point. On the 15th of August, the states of the Colorado River Basin passed a deadline to collectively agree on joint reductions in water demand, triggering Federal intervention. In June, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation had issued an ultimatum to the seven states sharing the waters of the Colorado basin to either jointly agree on a reduction in water demand of at least 2,466 million mᶟ or face externally imposed cutbacks by the Federal Government. These rapid cutbacks were deemed necessary in order to avoid a so-called ‘Tier 2 shortage’ under the Drought Contingency Plan for the basin. A Tier 2 shortage is declared when the level of Lake Mead drops below 1, 050 feet above sea level, and the Federal government has therefore imposed a compulsory reduction in the existing water allocation to Arizona by 21%, Nevada by 8% and Mexico (the country) by 7%. However, these water demand reductions amount to a savings of 889 million m³ and had already been negotiated by the states in 2019. They fall far short of the total requested by the Federal government, which has now extended the deadline.
According to a report in the LA times, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton stated that much larger water savings were needed to protect the water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, is currently at its lowest level since the reservoir was first filled in 1937. The allocation of water among the seven states sharing the Colorado River is governed by a compact dating from 1922 which divides the Colorado into two water management areas – the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin – which have roughly equal shares to the wate of the river. Within each Division, the states are responsible to agree amongst themselves how the water should be apportioned. In response to dwindling supplies, in 2019, a new set of “Drought Contingency Plans” was agreed to, which involved the Lower Basin states agreeing to voluntary reductions in water use in order to maintain water levels in lake Mead. In 2021, the contingency plan was activated, triggering a reduction in water allocations to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. Subsequently, water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada agreed to implement water restrictions, but this has not been enough to prevent the levels of lake Mead from dropping. If they do not succeed in negotiating an agreement on new cutbacks, the Federal Government may step in and take decisions on their behalf.
In August, members of the European Parliament have written to the European Commission warning that the United Kingdom is threatening health, marine life and fishing by releasing raw sewage into the Channel and the North Sea. In May 2022, statistics released by the UK department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs showed a rapid annual increase in both the number and the duration of sewage spill events across the UK since 2016. While in 2016, 12,637 sewage spills were recorded by the Event Duration Monitoring (EDM), the number grew rapidly to 146, 930 spills in 2018 and 403, 3765 in 2020. There was, however, a reduction in sewage incidents to 372,533 spills in 2021 relative to the previous year. In response to a public outcry in the UK about pollution levels and the deteriorating condition of the coastal environment, the government announced a public consultation on a Storm Overflow Reduction Plan which was to be implemented from September 2020 onwards. This plan aims to reduce raw sewage overflows by 40% by 2040.
Water UK, which represents the UK water industry, has announced that they plan to invest more that £ 3 billion between 2020 and 2025 to improve overflows. In 2021 a lengthy parliamentary controversy over sewage disposal led to the passing of an amendment to the Environment Act which imposes a legal duty on both government and water companies to demonstrate progressive reduction in pollution and take ‘all reasonable steps’ to avoid using combined sewer overflows. Until now, water companies have been permitted to release sewage into waters after certain weather events such as prolonged periods of rain.
The European MEPs are accusing UK companies of abandoning EU commitments on water management such as the EU Water Framework Directive. Nevertheless, they state, the UK is still bound by UN Conventions on protecting shared waters.
In a new development of ongoing tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Egyptian authorities insist on a diplomatic way out and have filed a complaint with the UN’s Security Council. The authorities in Cairo claim that Ethiopia refuses to share Dam plans, something which they view as essential in a project of great dimensions such as this one which will have an impact on on the Nile’s water flow.
More than 90% of Egypt’s water necessities are covered using water from the Nile but, so far, negotiation efforts have been fruitless. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sees water security as a fundamental issue for Egypt and, as Ethiopia continues to fill the Dam’s reservoir, Egyptian authorities have decided to take matter to the UN’s Security Council.
In the letter, Egypt accuses Ethiopia of filling the dam’s reservoir without articulation with Egypt os Sudan, which would violate international law. It also urged the Council to intervene in order to bring Ethiopia to the negotiations table. The Egyptian Foreign Minister said in the letter: “Ethiopia’s decision to resume the filling of the GERD is only the latest act in a systematic pattern of unilateral actions that constitute serious violations of its obligations under customary and conventional international law.”
After what Egyptian authorities describe as 11 years of fruitless negotiation due to Ehtiopia’s “uncompromising and obdurate posture,” they call on the Security Council to fully implement its President’s statement of 15 September 2021 in which the UN body appealed for negotiations to resume under the auspices of the African Union.
In the letter now sent to the Security Council, Egyptian authorities say: “Ethiopia’s defiance of the collective will of the international community and its disregard for the rights and interests of its co-riparians have been abundantly clear.” It then concludes by declaring that “Resolving this matter is not only essential to protecting and preserving peace and security throughout the region but will also contribute to our collective efforts to achieve greater prosperity for our peoples.”. Ethiopian authorities have claimed that the dam will not have a negative impact on the water flow reaching Egypt and it might, on the contrary, diminish evaporation and increase the amount of water flowing downstream.
With nearly 85% of the Nile water originating in Ethiopia, the country is claiming its right to use the river waters to develop the country and to provide electricity of its population.
In view of the strategic challenges concentrated in the Volta basin, particularly for Burkina Faso and Ghana, this transboundary river is currently the subject of intense cooperation between the two countries, which, in the past, were at loggerheads. However, in the face of the global climate crisis leading to the reduction of the quantity of water in the Volta River Basin, with a series of attacks and a rapidly growing population on both sides, can we remain optimistic a conflict is no longer possible between two neighboring countries which intend to boost their socio-economic development?
The Volta Basin is one of the most important transboundary river basins in West Africa, if not on the African continent. It is the ninth largest African river by length but ranks second in volume at the continental level, with an average flow estimated at 390 billion m3 per year, just after the Congo River (or Zaire). Covering an area of 400,000 km², the Volta Basin is divided between six West African states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Togo. Its catchment area is very unevenly distributed among these states: Burkina Faso occupies 42.65% of its area, Ghana 40.18%, Togo 6.40%, Benin 4.10%, Mali 3.69% and Ivory Coast 2.99%. Thus, Burkina Faso and Ghana are therefore the two States which command the largest shares of the Volta Basin.
Strategic issues in Burkina and Ghana, sources of conflict
This imposing river is steeped in strategic issues for Burkina Faso and Ghana. Since the beginning of the 1990s, these two countries have been engaged in a competition which has repeatedly taken the form of latent conflicts, which even at times threatened to degenerate into armed conflict. What were the reasons for this? The two countries have constructed important aspects of their development strategy on this river. One the one hand, Ghana has built its entire hydroelectric strategy there. After gaining independence, Ghana opted for a development process based on the mining and industrial sector, which heavily involved the Volta Basin. To ensure the country's supply of hydroelectric energy, Ghana constructed the Akosombo dam (from 1961 to 1964), one of the largest artificial lakes in the world-, covering an area of 8,500 km², with a volume of 148 km3 when its reservoir is at its maximum level.
On the other hand, Burkina Faso has based not only its entire agricultural strategy on the waters of the Volta, but also relies on it as a source for much of its drinking water, encompassing the country’s most important towns and cities, i.e. Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Dédougou, Gaoua, Kaya, Koudougou , Ouahigouya, Tenkodogo and Yako. A total of 600 water reservoirs have been built in the Volta Basin, with some large dams such as Kompienga (2050.106m3), Bagré 1700.106m3) and Ziga (200.106m). In view of these strategic issues for these two countries, Professor of Environmental Law at Thomas Sankara University, Amidou Garané, points out that the Volta Basin is "marked by numerous conflicts related to shared water resources".
The Volta Basin, a textbook case in hydro-diplomacy
Alongside the existence of a consultation framework, a Volta management charter involving the six riparian countries, Burkina Faso and Ghana are organizing another bilateral framework to better iron out their differences. This is how they adopt various bilateral regulations, such as the Code of Conduct (Burkina Faso/Ghana) for the sustainable and equitable management of shared water resources in the Volta Basin; the Joint Ghana/Burkina Faso Ministerial Declaration on the development of the natural resources of the Volta Basin signed in Accra on April 13, 2004 and the Agreement on the establishment of a Joint Technical Committee on Integrated Water Resources Management (CTC-GIRE) adopted on December 6, 2005. According to Firmin Ouedraogo, expert in environmental governance legislation at the Permanent Secretariat for Integrated Water Resources Management (SP/GIRE), these agreements materialize a proven desire on the part of these two States, "pacify" their relationship after several "tensions arising from the exploitation of the Volta Basin".
The dynamic of cooperation involving the six riparian countries has been set in motion since January 19, 2007, with the signature of the Heads of State of the riparian States concerned of the Convention on the Status of the Volta River and the Establishment of Volta Basin Authority of the Volta (VBA). This Authority, whose head office is located in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, is responsible for ensuring the rational and integrated management of the resources of the basin, the safeguarding of its ecosystem and the environment. It is guided in this task by theVolta Basin Charter , which sets the principles and modalities for reasonable, equitable and sustainable use of the shared water resources of the Volta Basin. Concerning the settlement of disputes, its article 151 provides that "The States Parties agree to settle peacefully any dispute arising from the application or interpretation of the Water Charter of the Volta Basin, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the Constitutive Act of the African Union and the United Nations Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States”.
Two new studies have been published indicating that showing that Moroccan aquifers are being contaminated by pollution caused by human activity, such as the disposal of raw wastewater in wadis and leakage from septic tanks. Groundwater in Morocco is a primary source of drinking water due to its reliable quality and is fundamental to social and economic development in arid regions.
In the first study published in the Journal of Ecological Engineering entitled “Impacts of Anthropogenic Factors on the Groundwater Ecosystem of Fezouata in South-East of Morocco”, the researchers analysed the water of 15 wells in a hyperarid area in the country’s Southeast. The wells were selected based on their proximity to – or distance from – different pollution sources such as septic tanks, agriculture, a wastewater treatment plant, and mines.
After comparing the water quality from wells near pollution sources such as raw wastewater disposal against wells far from pollutants, Boudellah and his team found that cleaner waters had an abundance of fauna which were to be expected in groundwater. On the other hand, biodiversity in polluted aquifers had been highly compromised. They found that the presence of pollution reduced biodiversity “drastically”. Most of the fauna found in polluted waters were species typically found above the ground, such as insect’s larvae.
The second study, now published, was led by Yassine El Yousfi of the Abdelmalek Essaadi University and focused on salt water intrusion in coastal aquifers. The team of researchers analysed water from the Ghiss-Nekkor aquifer and the Abdekarim El Khattabi dam, both in the country’s Northeast. The study was based on hydrogeochemical parameters in combinations with statistical analysis: it analysed key elements and oxides in the water that are dissolved from the surrounding rock and found a gradual degradation of the groundwater sources over time. The effects were shown to be highly specific to each area, and causes were identified as saltwater intrusion, evaporation, and pollution from human sources.
While in most countries, a salinity level of less than 600 mg/l is considerable good and anything above 1.200 to 1.500 mg/l unacceptable, the study found that most wells had a level of salinity above 2.000mg/l. Salt water intrusion and interaction between water and subsurface rock were important causes of salinity. However, the study also found that “septic waste, water irrigation inflows, and locally seawater intrusion seem to substantially influence groundwater quality in this area.”
A new study, has found that, contrary to common belief, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) is vulnerable to rising planet temperatures and this could result in a dangerous rising of sea levels. The EAIS is the largest on the planet. If it were to fully melt, oceans could rise by 52 metres. Until now, although the rapid melting of West Antarctica was well documented, little was known about the EAIS, but I was thought that it was a fairly protected body of frozen freshwater.
The study, by Laura Herraiz-Borreguero and Alberto Garabato and published in Nature Climate Change, has looked at the ice sheet in more detail and has found that the surrounding water has warmed by 0.8 to 2.0 C in the 2010-2018 period as compared to the average from 1930-1990. As a result, there has been ice-mass loss and, although the scale is yet unknown, if global temperatures rise by more than 2.0 C, this could lead to instability in the EAIS and the rising of sea levels by many metres.
The rate at which the waters in the region have been warming has tripled since the 1990’s, particularly around East Antarctic continental slope, precisely where the ice sheet is losing more mass. The researchers have found that strong westerly winds have shifted in recent decades and now poleward, especially during the Summer. This changes currents and puts warmer waters in contact with the EAIS. Access to East Antarctica’s ice shelf is particularly difficult and this has resulted in insufficient reliable data to have a more profound understanding of the changes happening in the water system.
Herraiz-Borreguero, the study’s lead researcher, stated: “The consequences of warmer waters lapping the continental shelf would be severe. If warm water is able to penetrate the continental shelf and heat glacial ice, which currently sits on bedrock below sea level, “then the ice melt would be almost unstoppable.”
China announced its first national drought emergency on the 19th of August amid the hottest. driest summer since Chinese records began 61 years ago. In mid-August, water in the drainage area of the Yangtze River had dropped to 60% below average levels for August. Water levels in the main course of the Yangtze had dropped to 50% below the average for the past five years. Chinese officials noted that as yet, water levels had not dropped to levels which would impede navigation of the river, but if drought conditions persisted, traffic along the river would be limited. In China’s central and southern provinces, many cities experienced weeks in which temperatures exceeded 40°C. The heatwave is on course to become the worst in recorded history in terms of intensity, scope and duration. In Sichuan province, which is highly dependent (80%) on hydropower for its electricity supplies, factories were ordered to shut down for six days in order to save power. In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, several neighbourhoods had to contend with power cuts for more than ten hours a day. The Volkswagen plant in Chengdu was closed for ten days, and production at Toyota and Tesla’s assembly plants was also interrupted. Authorities estimated that some 1 million people in rural areas are due to face water shortages
The drought has also affected an estimated 2.2 million hectares of agricultural land. China’s State Council announced a US $ 1. 45 billion package of subsidies for rice farmers to compensate for agricultural losses. Prior to this, Henan province, which has 5.7 million hectares under grain production, of which 56% is irrigated, announced an allocation of 130 million yuan to support drought relief and the reduced autumn harvest.
The city of Monterrey has been experiencing acute water shortages since June, with only one of the three supply dams to the city of 5 million currently functioning. Water restrictions have been put in place, with some neighbourhoods receiving water only seven hours a day, while other neighbourhoods have received receive no water at all for weeks on end, forcing resident to fetch water from tankers in public areas. North-eastern Mexico has experienced intense drought since January this year, and the three dams supplying the city of Monterrey are at exceptionally low levels. The city of Monterrey is located in the San Juan catchment in north-eastern Mexico and has per capita water availability on par with many countries in the Middle East – i.e. below the threshold of 500 mᶟ/a defined as ‘absolute water scarcity’. The water in the la Boca reservoir supplying the Southern part of the city had dropped to below 5% of its capacity in June. Similarly, levels in the Cerro Prieto dam had dropped to only 0,5% of capacity in early July. The only remaining supply dam for the city is the El Cuchillo reservoir, which is also below 50% of its capacity. However, the city relies on groundwater for some 40% of its supply on average, enabling some continuity of supply even in acute drought conditions.
In June, Mexico’s National Water Commission declared a state of emergency based on the severe extreme or exceptional levels of drought experienced in some of the country’s catchment areas. 23% of the country’s municipalities were experiencing some level of drought in the month of July. However, at a press conference in early August, the Director of Water and Drainage for the city, Juan Ignacio Barragán, indicated that that the Cerro Prieto dam had gained a little liquid in the beginning of the month and expressed confidence that the problem would subside in the course of the month as water levels have begun to increase again, albeit only at a rate of a few centimeters per day, as of the second half of August
On the 16th of August, CERES launched an investor driven initiative to act on water as a financial risk. Known as the e Valuing Water Finance Initiative, the drive for sustainable investments in the water sector brings together 64 international investors and pension funds with a joint investment portfolio of $ 9.8 trillion. The initiative aims to engage 72 of the world’s biggest corporate water users and polluters to value and act on water as a financial risk. CERES offers guidelines to investors and corporate water users to improve the protection of water resources. It sets out a list of six actionable areas where corporate entities could have a positive impact on water resources. Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation. They embody a list of six expectations that the corporations are expected to adhere to in their investment choices. These include a commitment not to negatively impact on water quality in their value chain, not to impact negatively on water availability, not to impact negatively on water related ecosystems, support community access to drinking water and sanitation, an invitation to include water issues in corporate oversight processes, and to align their public engagement activities such as lobbying to sustainable water resources management outcomes.
CERES is a non-profit organisation which aims to support the transition to a just and sustainable future by working with capital market leaders and through investor collaboration initiatives to make a financial business case for sustainability. For the Valuing Water Finance Initiative, it has created a Task Force to help drive corporate action and spearhead corporate engagement on water. The CERES actions are in partnership with the Valuing Water Initiative of the government of the Netherlands which were launched at the World Economic Forum by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in 2019. The Valuing Water Initiative in turn in turn in based on the United Nations Valuing Water Principles.
Saudi Arabia’s National Water Company (NWC), the government owned water company, has announced its intention to develop 1429 water-related projects in an effort which will amount to US$28.7bn. This investment, the biggest ever in the water distribution sector according to NWC, will contribute towards the country’s National Water Strategy and Vision 2030, a strategy which aims to boost water-related infrastructure and diversify the country’s economy.
The projects will be implemented in all of the country’s 13 administrative regions and will aim to expand coverage of water and wastewater networks, increase the number of sewage treatment plants as well as extending water services coverage to all of the kingdom’s residents. Saudi Arabia’s Western Sector of Mecca will be benefitting the most from this package by receiving 36% of the investment. The Central Sector which includes the country’s capital Riyadh, comes in second and will see 13% of the funds.
According to NWC’s announcement, Eng. Nemer M. Al-Shebl, Acting CEO, said: “these projects will greatly complement the sustainability of water and environmental services.” He then added: “The water and wastewater coverage will be immensely increased in all Saudi regions following the completion of these projects.”
In the announcement, NWC stated that “the company is committed to implementing such projects at the highest standard, as well as increasing the local content, which would positively impact the economic activities in the Kingdom, especially the industrial and real estate sectors, and would also create countless job opportunities.”
On the 22nd of August the Green Climate Fund released its draft sectoral guide on Water Security. Although this document is still a ‘consultation version’, this step is still highly significant in view of the fact that action on water is still excluded from mainstream decision making on climate change. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is the world’s largest dedicated fund aimed at supporting developing countries in their responses to climate change. The fund has a portfolio of approximately US $ 10 billion, of which 70% is in the process of being implemented, and some US $ 3 billion was disbursed during 2021. This finance is intended to help reduce emissions (mitigation) and taking action to prevent or minimise damage through climate change (adaptation), and during COP 26 in Glasgow many headline and side events attested to the fact that water is the ‘face’ of climate change, whether it is included in climate agreements or not. Under the Paris Agreement , countries are obliged to submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which set out their mitigation and adaptation plans. As of the end of last year, 39 countries had included an adaptation component in their NDCs of which 79% had prioritised freshwater adaptation. Under all climate scenario’s, the historical water cycle is set to be disrupted, with some areas experiencing higher frequency, higher intensity precipitation, and other areas experiencing less reliable precipitation and increasing drought frequency. Planners need to (re)consider water infrastructure design such as ‘sponge cities’ which are designed to absorb rain and prevent flooding. Utilities need to be protected such that they continue to function both in situations of water shortages and in situations of excess water. Investments are needed in a new class of infrastructure referred to as grey-green infrastructure, along two pathways: enhancing conservation, water efficiency and water re-use, and strengthening Integrated Water Resources Management to preserve existing water resources sand protect them from climate impacts.
Ahead of a final decision on its policies in support of the water sector, the draft Sectoral Guide for Water is a preview of the GCF’s main orientation. Project proposals will be judged on a set of six key criteria: impact potential, the potential to shift the paradigm in water management, the contribution of the project to the implementation of the SDGs, the needs of the recipient, the degree of country ownership of the project in question, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the project.
In an effort to install clean water systems, Côte d’Ivoire authorities have signed a US$ 200 million funding agreement with German KfW, Ipex-Bank, Swedish Export Credit Corporation (SEK) and Bluebird Finance & Projects. The project involves the construction of 1.000 drinking water wells as well as water production plants and pipes to supply potable water to 189 villages in the country. The credit will be secured by the SEK and reinsured by Atradius Dutch State Business and will enable the use of Swedish and Dutch components on site. Under Dutch development cooperation policy, funds intended for poor countries can be redirected to de-risk investments for Dutch private corporations, diminishing the total amount of finance available for poverty alleviation. This government policy is controversial in the Netherlands and is challenged by Dutch NGO's working directly with local communities.
For the project, KfW Ipex-Bank will provide 55% of the capital with SEK providing the remaining 45% and Israeli Bluebird Finance & Projects acting as financial advisor. Israeli contractor Baran International Ltd. will be conduct the works and provide technology, engineering and construction solutions in building the infrastructure. The loan, with a tenure of 16 years, will be used to implement the “Baran” project which is part of the broader “Water for All” initiative of the Ivorian government which aims to improve access to safe freshwater and sanitation throughout the country and particularly in rural areas.
It is expected that works will be completed in four years and will impact approximately 2.5 million people, half of the country’s population. Per Edlundh, Director at SEK, said: “In order to get the project fully financed, a commercial down payment facility is provided by the lenders and SEK will for the first time take on Ivory Coast risk. I believe this structure may successfully be used in future deals in the region.” Ram Shalita, chief executive and partner at Bluebird, said: ““This landmark deal is the pure essence of our work: an export finance deal which will enable clean and accessible drinking water for 3 million people.”
Bluebird also stated that proper action was being implemented to install the new equipment cooperating with local populations and ensuring that they would be operational in the long term.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has, for the third time, pushed for the approval of a water bill which has been highly criticised by coastal states of the Niger Delta.
After two failed attempts, in 2017 and in 2020, Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli is now sponsoring the same bill albeit under a different name: “A Bill for an Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for Trans Boundary Water Resources in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Development, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Inter-State Surface Water and Groundwater Resources; and For Related Matters, 2022.”
Stakeholders, however, claim that it is essentially the same bill that has already twice been rejected. Nigeria is a federation of states, each with their own ethnic make-up and many with different perspectives on water management depending on whether they are part of the Niger Delta. Critics say that this bill is an attempt at a power grab from the federal government as it tries to take control of all waterways which are currently under the control of the states.
There are also concerns that this centralisation of water management and policy making will undermine certain specific ethnic groups. This is of special concern given the already existing friction between farmers and roaming herdsmen. As taking control of waterways would also imply taking control of the surrounding land, Nigerians are concerned that this will mean they will no longer be able to use the water in their property without the consent of the federal government in Abuja.
Ken Robinson, a spokesperson for Pan Niger Delta Forum, an organisation representing peoples of the Niger Delta, said: ““The people of the Niger Delta region, particularly of the South-south geopolitical zone had rejected the Water Resources Bill from the beginning and our position has not changed; it remains rejected.” “That bill is not only obnoxious, but draconian and imperialistic. It is an unnecessary evil. That was why it attracted wild condemnation when it was first introduced.” he added.
Mexico City, the State government of Mexico and Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua) have announced a plan to guarantee the provision of water as the country experiences drought. The plan, called “Integral Plan for the Provision of Freshwater to the Metropolitan Area of the Mexico Valley” (Plan Integral de Abastecimiento de Agua Potable para la Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México) will invest US$ 1.25mn in an effort to counter water shortages.
The funds will be allocated to the rehabilitation of dams, lakes and water treatment plants to improve the water supply in Mexico City as well as the State of Mexico.
The region has seen a reduction in water supply due to the water scarcity being felt in the country. Claudia Sheinbaum, head of government of Mexico City, said: “Up until 2019 we were getting just under 9.5 cubic metres per second and, since then, we have been reducing the amount of water coming through the Cutzamala [the water system which supplies the city]. For some months we have been getting 8 cubic metres and a little bit more when there’s more rain. But for the time being, we are being cautious.”
Sheinbaum said that the city congress intended to pass a new Hydric Law and a new law was in the works to ensure that the Cutzamala System remained public and decentralised under the control of Sacmex, City of Mexico’s Water System. It was also announced that there was going to be a crackdown on big water consumers and clandestine consumers.