The world is replete with cases of water being used as a weapon to score either political or socio-economic goals, especially if many countries share the common resource.
Water wars in Africa are not new, given the growing populations and rising temperatures, especially where rivers are shared by more than one country. Experts have tied these wrangles to water usage rights and shortages. Some of the disputes have even resulted in serious conflicts.
Conservationists have pointed out over and again that these lead to droughts, soil erosion and other unfavourable environmental consequences.
Addis Ababa embarked on construction of the $4.2 billion Grand Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam (GERD) with 6,000MW electric power generation capacity in April 2011, possibly taking advantage of the Arab Spring, that distracted Cairo.
This move angered Egypt so much that at one point Cairo threatened military action against Ethiopia, though the parties later agreed to dialogue over River Nile’s governance.
Ethiopia adopted the Harmon Doctrine – an international resources law that holds that a country has absolute sovereignty over the water that flows through its territory, regardless of its impact on other riparian states. Cairo now views Ethiopia’s move as bullish and reads political sabotage
Egypt, however, adopted a hard line by holding onto the 1959 historical usage rights to exploit the waters and earlier treaties that the majority of Nile Basin nations never signed.
In 1990, armed clashes erupted between Nigeria and Cameroon over the use of Lake Chad water. This was fuelled by water and land scarcity. Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 per cent, though it remains the only large source of fresh water in the Sahel zone.
Nigerian fishermen who depend on the lake, followed the retreating water up to Cameroonian territory and established villages there, leading to the outbreak of conflict. The case was then taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled in Cameroon’s favour in 2002.
In Southern Africa, the Lake Malawi issue is the hot topic now with both Malawi and Tanzania claiming ownership.
The issue is being mediated by SADC even as Malawi threatens to take it to ICJ if they are not satisfied with the mediation. The dispute, which has been running since colonial times, was reignited last year when Malawi allowed gas and oil exploration to begin around the lake. The lake, which connects Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique, is the eighth largest in the world and sustains about 600,000 people.