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Water and food: gains and strains

Population living in areas with severe water stress: Africa (%)

When more than 40 per cent of the renewable water resources of a river basin are being withdrawn for human use the river basin is considered to be under severe water stress.

Source: WaterGAP 2.1 (see technical annex)

Key to charts

With a growing population and economy, the demand for water in the region is expected to grow in all scenarios. Policies regarding water pricing and technological advances may temper this in all scenarios other than Security First. Under the Markets First scenario, total water withdrawals are expected to nearly double in Africa, with particularly high increases in sub-Saharan Africa. The rise in water use linked to economic growth will outpace any savings on a per unit basis in both agriculture and industry. Similar increases are expected under Security First conditions, although conflicts between nations and the generally slow growth in the economy will slow the increased demand somewhat. Controls are largely absent outside of the wealthy enclaves, although pollution from these enclaves is likely to increasingly affect other areas. On both the Markets First and the Security First horizons, the African population living in areas under severe water stress increases to around 40 per cent (see charts on the right). An especially steep rise in the number and percentage of people affected occurs in Eastern Africa, as rising water withdrawals in the Upper Nile river basin bring it into the severe water stress category under both scenarios.

Population living with hunger: Africa (%)

Average incomes rise in all sub-regions, contributing to a drop in the percentage of the population that is hungry. However, rapid population growth can lead to an increase in the hungry population, even as the percentage hungry declines.

Source: PoleStar (see technical annex)

Water withdrawals increase in most of sub- Saharan Africa under the Policy First and Sustainability First scenarios, yet by considerably less than in the other two scenarios - due to a combination of technology transfer and additional policies that encourage water savings. With such policies in place, even water withdrawals in Northern Africa are tempered, mainly by restructuring the irrigation sector. Efforts are made to enhance transboundary basin-wide management of water resources, and water quality issues receive particular attention by policy-makers, especially as these are linked to human health. Nevertheless, as population growth continues, the number of people living in areas with severe water stress still doubles in Africa under these two more reform-oriented scenarios.

The net result of all these effects is that the numbers of people living in areas experiencing severe water stress increase in all sub-regions in all scenarios, but most notably in Markets First and Security First. The percentage of people affected rises only slightly in Policy First and Sustainability First for the region as a whole, but varies within the region. Southern Africa, for example, sees a decline in these scenarios whereas Western Africa has a marked increase. Under Markets First and Security First there is an increase in all parts of the region except the Western Indian Ocean islands. In all scenarios, the most striking increases, in terms of percentages of the population affected, occur in Eastern Africa. Arid Northern Africa continues to have the highest percentage of the population impacted, whereas wet Central Africa and the Western Indian Ocean Islands have the fewest. Of course, the ability to cope with the stresses on freshwater supply will differ across the scenarios and sub-regions.

Number of people living in areas with severe water stress: Africa (million persons)

All the pie charts show total region impacts. The top left pie shows the current situation, the relative size of the others reflects the magnitude of impacts by 2032 under the four scenarios.

Source: WaterGAP 2.1 (see technical annex)

Population living with hunger: Africa (million persons)

All the pie charts show total region impacts. The top left pie shows the current situation, the relative size of the others reflects the magnitude of impacts by 2032 under the four scenarios.

Source: PoleStar (see technical annex)

Trends in water and land, along with more broadly distributed economic growth and effective social and economic policies, are reflected in the incidence of hunger in the region (see charts above). Although the percentage of people experiencing hunger falls in all scenarios, the reduction is more than offset by a rise in total population in Markets First and Security First over this period. In Security First the numbers of people at risk rise by more than 50 per cent. Rising inequality in both scenarios serves to negate any benefits of economic growth. Dramatic improvements are possible, though, as seen in Policy First and Sustainability First. A key here is the broader distribution of economic growth, both between Africa and other regions, but also within Africa itself.

Increased food aid and reduced conflict also have direct effects. The fundamental shifts in Sustainability First allow the total numbers to be cut by more than half. Despite the progress made, however, certain subregions remain problematic. Most notably, hunger levels in Eastern Africa remain above 10 per cent, even under Sustainability First.

Imagine ... an Environmental Protection Commission for Africa

The African Union (AU) established by African countries in 2001 to replace the Organization of African Unity launches an African Environmental Protection Commission (AEPC) in the near future. The activities of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) are subsumed within the AEPC. The goal of this body is to be an environmental watchdog in the region with powers to monitor and sanction states violating regional and sub-regional environmental agreements and threatening sustainable development in the region.

This is the first time that African countries have a regional organization specifically dealing with environmental issues. Although it falls under the aegis of the AU, the AEPC charter guarantees its autonomy from political influence, though member states contribute directly to its budget. The mandate of the AEPC is to not only promote the adoption of new regional and sub-regional environmental agreements, but also monitor national-level implementation through sub-regional organizations. Strong links are established with the United Nations Environment Programme.

In the case of ...

Markets First
  • Enforcement of conventions and protocols is compromised by the need to encourage foreign direct investment.
  • Rising debt in the region fuels destructive natural resource exploitation in defiance of policy responses to Multilateral Environmental Agreements.
  • Delayed impact of AEPC on sub-regional institutions hinders national enforcement of environmental measures.
Policy First
  • National governments commit themselves to strengthening AEPC by paying annual dues to the Commission.
  • Governments endorse the establishment by AEPC of two standing committees of senior officials responsible for social and economic planning to boost sustainable development policy formulation and implementation.
  • Regional, sub-regional and national institutions responsible for the environment are revamped to better respond to the AEPC mandate.
Security First
  • Budgetary constraints reduce AEPC to a token force funded by donors. National interests weaken AEPC initiatives, which are overruled by strict insistence on sovereignty claims.
  • The role of AEPC remains peripheral at the global level as the environmental agenda continues to be set by rich countries that are reluctant to fund environmental programmes.
  • Linkages with similar organizations in other regions are minimal as each region focuses on internal issues.
Sustainability First
  • National governments cede some of their authority to the AU and AEPC.
  • Traditional environmental programmes are linked to innovative social and economic programmes addressing poverty in rural and urban areas in order to reduce overexploitation of resources.
  • The AEPC introduces stringent measures to protect the region's intellectual property rights, thereby strengthening Africa's role in the global biotechnology trade.

The lessons
Regional and global environmental institutions are only as strong as the commitments made to them by national governments. Without continued support, both financially and politically, their efforts are less effective and liable to lose out to conflicting interests. Nations may need to sacrifice some sovereignty in order to achieve broader environmental benefits.