REGIONAL SYNTHESIS

CHALLENGES FACED IN REALIZING OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT

Global freshwater
consumption rose
sixfold between
1900 and 1995 –
more than twice the
rate of population
growth. About one-
third of the world’s
population already
lives in countries
considered to be
water stressed –
that is where
consumption
exceeds 10 per cent
of supply. If present
trends continue,
two out of every
three people on
Earth will live in that
condition by 2025.

Kofi Annan,
Secretary General of the
United Nations. 2000

Climate change and variability, population growth and increasing water demand, overexploitation and environmental degradation will continue to contribute to a worsening of the state of freshwater systems. In 2000, the United Nations noted that, “Global freshwater consumption rose sixfold between 1900 and 1995 – more than twice the rate of population growth. About one-third of the world’s population already lives in countries considered to be water stressed – that is where consumption exceeds 10 per cent of supply. If present trends continue, two out of every three people on Earth will live in that condition by 2025” (Annan 2000).

The overexploitation and regulation of water resources have caused significant changes in the flow regimes of rivers, resulting in negative impacts on the environment and loss of ecosystem functioning. Poor land-use practices have resulted in pollution and sedimentation of river channels, lakes and reservoirs, and changes in hydrological processes. Dams, in particular large dams, threaten freshwater resources by fragmenting and transforming aquatic systems. The region is marked by a recurrence of climatic extremes in the form of flooding and drought. Global change scenarios predict a continuing global warming for this century of between 1° and 6°C, a sea-level rise of between 0.1 and 0.9 m (IPCC 2001), and an increasing frequency of climatic extremes that may further aggravate the state of available freshwater resources.

Not only is the quantity of freshwater fundamental for the development of all sub-regions, but the quality of the resource is equally important. Deterioration of the quality of water resources resulting from further increases in salinity and nutrient loads from irrigation (irrigated agriculture) and the domestic, industrial and mining sectors will significantly deplete available resources and increase water scarcity. Increased human activities lead to the exposure of the water environment to a range of chemical, microbial and biological pollutants as well as to micro-pollutants. The mining and industrial sectors, in particular, produce high concentrations of wastes and effluents that act as non- point sources of water quality degradation and acid mine drainage. Increased groundwater pollution is a particular concern for the more arid countries.

Governance of water resources

Governance is the central issue for water resources, especially in the light of water scarcity and environmental change, and is critical for maximizing available opportunities. Threats to good management and regional cooperation include climate variability (with droughts over the past 30 years) because it results in a decrease in water availability and an increase in competition over water, political instability, and low priority given to water and sanitation in terms of investment in infrastructure and maintenance. The high rates of population growth and subsequent increased demand from the agricultural and domestic sectors for freshwater resources, have increased the pressure on the resources, even in areas like Central Africa with its relative abundance of water resources. There is the possibility that increasing water scarcity may lead to water-related conflicts.

Implementation and enforcement

The lack of, or weak, regulatory instruments, institutional frameworks and human capacity make realizing policy objectives a challenge. For example, in Central Africa, legislation for water management is not only weak but also difficult to enforce. In several countries, the implementation and enforcement of law and policy is a problem. In Cameroon, for example, the Environmental and Water Management Law (1996), which aims at protecting continental and maritime waters, is still awaiting its implementation.