By Rose Anderson

Providing access to safe water is a priority for all nations, as water is a limited resource essential to human health and economic activity. For many people in Africa, there is little or no access to safe drinking water. Water scarcity in Africa is expected to increase in the near future due to economic growth and increasing populations. By 2025, 45% of the population of southern Africa is predicted to be in a state of ‘water stress’ or ‘water scarcity.’[1] Limited access to financial resources and technology increase the difficulty of providing enough water to the people of Africa. [2]

Southern Africa is an especially interesting example of water usage across international borders because the water resources of this area are shared between nations with great social, political, and economic differences. This makes agreeing on the amount of water that each country is entitled to very difficult.[3]

                                    The Limpopo River

The Limpopo River is probably the water basin with the most potential for conflict creation in Africa. It is shared between South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique, and it is being used beyond its sustainable capacity. The two upstream nations, South Africa and Mozambique, draw a significant portion of the river’s water, leaving Botswana and Zimbabwe with a river comprised in some areas almost entirely of treated sewage water.[4]

Currently, the lack of effective multilateral treaties creating institutions and infrastructure for governing the Limpopo and the lack of an agreement regarding water allocation contribute to the potential for conflict in this region. In recent years, interest in multilateral treaties between all four nations has risen. This has been partially because of development projects that threaten to infringe on the water flow of nations further downstream and partially because of an acknowledged need for collaboration in the gathering of hydrological data. [5]

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is a controversial collaboration between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa. It is a series of dams and pipes that allow Lesotho to transport water to South Africa in exchange for valuable foreign currency.[6] Some people obviously benefit from the project and some obviously suffer, and it is unclear whether it is the best possible solution.

Most scholars and activists within Lesotho see the money and energy gained from the LHWP as indispensable because of the nation’s poverty. In 1999, an estimated 45% of the population of Lesotho lived below the poverty line. For some time Lesotho has relied mostly on customs duties and remittances sent from miners employed in South Africa for income, but in recent years many workers have left the mines of South Africa and a manufacturing sector has developed.[7] When the LHWP began construction in the 1990’s, it was seen as an important source of income and power for Lesotho’s development.[8]

Image: Katse Dam reservoir and intake tower

Lesotho receives about 30 million US dollars a year for the water, and generates hydroelectric power from the transportation process. This has been an important contributor to the water supply in South Africa’s urban areas and an important source of power and income for Lesotho. At the beginning of the project’s operation, earnings from the project made up 14% of Lesotho’s export earnings, although the percentage has been steadily decreasing since then.[9] Although the residential and urban sectors of Lesotho benefit from this arrangement, about 150,000 farmers and river-dwellers have had their livelihoods damaged or seriously threatened by the project.[10] These people relied on the river ecosystem for food, medicinal plants, fuel sources, and sources of additional income.[11] Furthermore, the project’s dams have submerged some of Lesotho’s most fertile land, which had previously supported several thousand agricultural families.

                          Strategies for Water Resource Management

A theoretical foundation is important for enhancing communication between the NGOs, foreign governments, and international lending institutions that are involved in the discussion and implementation of water issues in the SADC. The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development is a basic set of four assumptions about water issues that can be used as a foundation for further discussion. These principles form a very basic framework that can be used as a foundation for discussion of water management issues. This framework is especially important to management in water-scarce and impoverished nations, where it suggests the creation of an otherwise unavailable platform for the public to express their needs.

The idea behind River Basin Management is that water resources can be managed most efficiently when understood in their entirety. It means that water policy should be designed with consideration for ecosystems as well as human communities. It is essential to improving the quality of water in Southern Africa because it encourages responsibility for water pollution and over-extraction of water resources.

The second component is called Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).  IWRM means that the different uses of water should be seen as integrated and managed by the same institution. Currently, some issues of water quality important to human health are unaddressed because they slip through the cracks of the current institutional framework of water resources management.[12] Most of the 14 Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries acknowledge the need for IWRM and cooperative, integrated approaches and are beginning to incorporate this knowledge into policy.[13]

The third aspect of responsible water management is the use of Multi Stakeholder Platforms (MSPs) for negotiation. MSPs are ideally a way of facilitating negotiations between parties from governments to grassroots organizations. [14] They ensure that everyone affected by management decisions has a voice in the process of policy creation.

[1] Ashton Water and Development: A Southern African Perspective 157.

[2] Ashton. 159-60.

[3] Ashton, Peter. Avoiding Conflicts over Africa’s Water Resources. 236.

[4] Hydropolitical Vulnerability and Resiliance along International Waters Africa. 62.

[5] Hydropolitical Vulnerability and Resiliance along International Waters Africa. 62.

[6] Leslie, Jacques. 130.

[7] CIA. 131.

[8] Leslie, Jacques. 131.

[9] Leslie, Jacques, 130.

[10] Matete, Mampiti and Hassan, Rashid. 248.

[11] Mwangi. 15.

[13] Ashton, Peter. 159-60.

[14] Warner, Jeroen. 21.