Blantyre – Shared water bodies, if not properly managed, could become the world’s major sources of conflict, amidst reports that the SADC region faces water shortages by 2025.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Environmental Outlook to 2030 Report, about 1.2 billion people face water scarcity, and 47 percent of the global population will live in areas of high water stress by 2030.
And Malawian hydrologist Dr Henrie Njoloma has warned that rising populations and industrial development in SADC have resulted in increased water demand and could cause political instability.
“Despite enjoying political stability internally and peaceful coexistence with neighbours, subtle issues in the Malawian water sector affecting both internal and external political stability exist and hence as seen elsewhere in the world could be a cause for future conflicts,” he told delegates to a climate change symposium.
“Countries have fought contesting control of shared waters,” he said, pointing out that Africa south of the Sahara was likely to experience absolute water shortages by 2025.
Already, Malawi and Tanzania are locked in a dispute over their boundary on the shared Lake Malawi.
Another diplomatic dispute has erupted over Malawi’s intention to develop the Nsanje Inland Port on Shire River, which flows into Mozambique.
Dr Njoloma urged co-ordinated approaches among SADC states to avoid water disputes.
International politics expert Professor Jo-Ansie van Wyk of the University of South Africa has noted that water shortages and poor water quality, coupled with rapid population growth, cross-border migration and urbanisation pose a huge challenge to security policy makers in the SADC region.
“The end of the Cold War has contributed to the rise of so-called new security issues” where conditions of daily life such as food, shelter, health, public safety, employment and water could now be seen as issues of “human security”, Prof van Wyk has said.
SADC member states have developed a regional water strategy to spearhead integrated water resource development and management at a national and regional level.
The strategy takes into account the balance, equity, sustainability and mutual benefit between member states. It is implemented in line with the SADC Treaty, the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan 2020-2030, and the Southern African Vision for Water, Life and the Environment in the 21st Century.
However, uneven economic development and widespread poverty present challenges to full adoption regional approaches to economic integration, development and the creation of economies of scale, through the integrated management of water resources and sharing of capacity.
Integrated management of shared watercourses may be hindered in promoting or accomplishing economic integration at a regional level, unless historic considerations; poor governance and inconsistent policy and legal environments; and inadequate institutional capacity at the regional, shared watercourse and national level are addressed.