Why Africans must join forces to protect scarce water resources

African water resources are under increasing pressure and the continent is expected to face significant water shortages by 2030. Population growth, combined with climate change and continued economic development, will put further pressure on water resources and infrastructure.

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Governance of African water resources in an effective and equitable way is of vital importance. One of the most effective solutions will be for industry, civil society and all levels of government to join forces.

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of water for humans, societies and the natural environment. We depend on it for food, energy and the natural functioning of ecosystems.

Ignoring the problem or praying for rain will not solve Africa’s water insecurity. There is a much more difficult task to tackle: building resilient communities that recognize the political nature of water while working together to govern it.
A bleak prospect
The overall security of the world’s freshwater resources is grim. Places as diverse as Sao Paulo, California, Zimbabwe and Taiwan have recently experienced drought conditions that have seriously altered living conditions.

Globally, there is a growing gap between availability and supply, our awareness of the value of water and our ability to govern it. Add the turmoil of changing weather patterns due to climate change and the complexity deepens.

Unless things change, by 2030 the world will face a [deficit] of 40% (World Water Development Report 2015. Between availability and demand. This is because the trends around climate change and economic development in less developed economies and emerging is converging The authors of a [recent UN report] (World Water Development Report 2015.

This convergence will certainly intensify the water insecurity of poor and marginalized people in low-income countries and increase the urgency of new approaches to the allocation of water resources for development.

For Africa, already struggling with water insecurity, these deeply irritating challenges will only intensify over time.

The population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase to 2.4 billion by 2050. The urban African population is expected to double by 2030 and relocation to cities will also exacerbate water stress.

The number of people who can depend on running water for their plants has already decreased from 42% to 34%. Drinking water in urban areas will continue to be a major problem in cities across the continent.

Unpacking the water policy
Water problems are political problems and require political solutions. More and more academics from different disciplines are focusing on governance as a key variable in the quest for greater water security. Governance requires a toolbox of rules, procedures, norms and the recognition of particular power dynamics. There is also a focus on how partnerships will overcome complex problems that require integration and coordination.

Water clearly intersects with a variety of social and environmental problems that are, at first glance, unrelated. Working together can fill the huge gaps in governance that come with top-down management. It also reflects our growing networked society, where an industry decision can have a ripple effect in intentional and unintended ways.

More collaborative water governance can fill gaps that stem from weakened or illegitimate centralized political authorities.

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