Transboundary Water Resources Management: A Case Study of Africa

By Ian Teñido

This assignment is a partial fulfillment of the program requirements for the degree of Master of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech.

 

Contents

  1. Introduction: Transboundary Water Resources Management: A Case Study of Africa 
  2. Transboundary River Basins in Africa and Ecosystem Thinking 
  3. Transboundary Water Resources Governance in Africa- Nile, Niger & Senegal 

3.1      Nile River 

3.2      Niger River 

3.3      Senegal River

  1. The Way Forward for Transboundary Water Resources in Africa

4.1      Institutional Development

4.2      Establishing new financing options

4.3      Enhancing the roles of all participants

4.4      Creating conditions for agreement

 

Bibliography

 

List of Tables

Source: FAO Corporate Document Repository

3.1 Nile Basin: Areas and rainfall by country

3.2 Niger Basin: Areas and rainfall by country

3.3 Senegal Basin: Areas and rainfall by country

 

List of Figures

3.1 Figure 3.1: Nile River |Photo Cred. ThingLink

3.2 Figure 3.2: Niger River | Photo Cred. WorldBank

3.3 Figure 3.3: Senegal River | Photo Cred. Dorsch Gruppe

4.0 Figure 4.0: International River Basins of Africa | Photo Cred. UN Water Courses Convention

 

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1. Transboundary Water Resources Management: A Case Study of Africa

Water resource management is not only a hot debate on the global scene but also a contentious issue in many regions of the world. Just like any ecosystem service, water resources know no regional or national boundaries or even local boundaries. When a river or a stream starts to flow, it follows the gravity and cuts across hills and valleys on its way to the seas. However, humans have invented ways to capture part of the waters or the whole of it to enable them to derive the utility of what water can do. It should be noted that numerous communities, countries and regions may lie along the course of these water flows either at the middle, headwaters or the lower side of the course. Any activity carried out along the course of the water courses affects the life of the entire water resource and this may, mostly, result to water resource conflict.[1] In this case study, specific attention is paid to the African Transboundary water resource management which is one of the primary courses of sustainable environmental degradation, poverty and ecosystem disconnections.

The 21st century has been touted as a water crisis century. In effect to this, there are numerous problems being experienced in the world’s greatest water courses as well as local and smaller water courses. With the earth being a water planet, the distribution of water where people live has been invariably limited and as more water is locked up in the Antarctic and Greenland and some of it in seas and oceans, more people living in inland areas continue to struggle with limited or no water at all. With the increased climate change, there seems to be an exacerbation with the already hot areas getting hotter and already troubled areas getting excessive flooding. This has made the transboundary water resource management among countries and states not only a fundamental priority but also an objective for better living standards as well as a way of fostering peace and unity among nations.

2. Transboundary River Basins in Africa and Ecosystem Thinking

Ecosystem thinking projects the importance of systems thinking which states that every part of a system is related to one another as a sub-system and failure in a sub-system jeopardizes the achievement/functioning of the system as a whole. This is very similar in all ecosystems. In fact, every ecosystem derives its name from the richness of flora and fauna found in the location. For instance, the marine ecosystem is known for its brackish waters, mangroves, beaches and a range of other marine life. This is similar to terrestrial ecosystems which are found inland with thick forests and a huge diversity of flora and fauna. These ecosystems exist and continue to thrive under the pretext that when you remove any of its parts without replacing it appropriately, then the entire ecosystem is earmarked for a bigger problem which is a threat to its sustainability.

The above scenario is very similar to riparian landscapes that depend on the Africa’s rivers. Ecosystem thinking in the management of these river basins requires that every aspect of the river along their entire courses must be integrated for the purposes of ensuring a uniform sustainability. Being transboundary in nature, these rivers are likely to encounter different treatments as they flow into different countries with the impact of poor management being felt most by countries in lower waters. In all the rivers (Niger, Senegal & Nile) there are pockets of unsustainability which threaten the long-term sustainability of the rivers. The Nile River is predominantly controlled by Egypt yet it passes through several poor countries. Also its sustainability depends on the efforts of all the basin countries. Equally, River Niger gives its waters to 9 countries and River Senegal to four countries. Therefore, it is vital that the management of these rivers uses the model of ecosystem thinking to ensure that every country and part of the river basin plays its critical role in enhancing the quality and sustainability of the rivers.

3. Transboundary Water Resources Governance in Africa-Nile, Niger & Senegal

The management of Transboundary Rivers has been a big issue in Africa for many years. The issue has gradually mutated beyond being a local conflict to now a continental concern. The transboundary water resource management has increasingly become an influencing factor in elections. The primary reason for strife among the co-basin countries is associated with lack of treaties and proper regulations for water allocation among them. Although the UN established the Law of Non-Navigational uses of International Watercourses and which was overwhelmingly approved in 1997, its ratification has been slow meaning that most of the co-basin countries are still clouded in the concrete push and pull for their rightful use of the water resources passing through their land.[2] In Africa, the transboundary water resource management is not only a management and a governance issue; it is also a cultural issue which has made it complex for co-basin countries to equitably use the existing water resources. For the purposes of this case study, Nile, Niger and Senegal Rivers are assessed including the military use, conflicts, ecosystem thinking, and governance issues on each.

3.1 The Nile River

river nile
Figure 3.1: River Nile|Photo cred. ThingLink

River Nile (Fig.3.1) crosses the territories of ten countries which are: Kenya, Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo and Ethiopia. The Nile flows from Lake Victoria (the largest lake in Africa) to the Mediterranean covering 3,349,000 square kilometers. The average discharge of the river is 300 million cubic meters per day. The Nile basin receives an average of 650 millimeters of rain annually. Egypt is the largest beneficiary of the Nile waters with almost zero rainfall excluding the stretch along the Mediterranean and some parts of the Peninsula; it gets 87% of its waters from the Nile. It is vital to note that the Nile River flows through 6 of the poorest countries in the world and its riparian land is estimated to be home to 300 million people, majority of whom live in rural areas.[3]

Table 3.1: Nile basin: areas and rainfall by country [4]

Source: FAO Corporate Document Repository

Country Total area of the country Area of the country within the basin As % of total area of basin As % of total area of country Average annual rainfall in the basin area
(mm)
(km2) (km2) (%) (%) min. Max. mean
Burundi 27 834 13 260 0.4 47.6 895 1570 1110
Rwanda 26 340 19 876 0.6 75.5 840 1935 1105
Tanzania 945 090 84 200 2.7 8.9 625 1630 1015
Kenya 580 370 46 229 1.5 8.0 505 1790 1260
Zaire 2 344 860 22 143 0.7 0.9 875 1915 1245
Uganda 235 880 231 366 7.4 98.1 395 2060 1140
Ethiopia 1 100 010 365 117 11.7 33.2 205 2010 1125
Eritrea 121 890 24 921 0.8 20.4 240 665 520
Sudan 2 505 810 1 978 506 63.6 79.0 0 1610 500
Egypt 1 001 450 326 751 10.5 32.6 0 120 15
For Nile basin 3 112 369 100.0 0 2060 615

 

While the Nile Basin is shared among ten nations, Egypt has undue influence over the use of the Nile waters and because of its military power and staunch governance than most of the basin partners in sub-Saharan Africa, it has managed to bulldoze the usage of Nile waters upstream and for fear of their national security, the other countries have seemed, for centuries now, to have thrown in the towel. Actually, because of Egypt’s economic and military power, it has managed to keep away any armed conflict over the Nile waters for several decades. However, the stability of Egypt continues to perpetrate underdevelopment and restricted development in the upstream countries like Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Uganda. For instance, Ethiopia and a host of other upstream countries have a significant underdevelopment in hydroelectric and irrigation potential. Countries such as Kenya are going through tough times of food insecurity yet a huge potential for irrigation lies in the passing Nile waters.

The rate of underdevelopment in the upstream countries raises the big question about ecosystem thinking along the Nile basin. While Egypt is enjoying entirely all the benefits from the Nile, other countries are battling with food insecurity, water shortages and poverty yet the very countries are mandated to protect the same Nile in the interest of Egypt.[5] In addition to this, Egypt is still the most vulnerable with respect to water. If for any natural act the Nile waters stop flowing, then Egypt will be plunged into a water crisis situation. The further development of Aswan High Dam enabled Egypt to increase its water utilization to near full at the expense of all other Basin countries, yet still very vulnerable.

There have been numerous treaties and agreements including- between Egypt and Sudan in 1929 and another agreement later on in 1959 which have mostly favored Egypt. There have been efforts through the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) from 1990s which aim at efficient utilization of Nile Basin resources including the environmental protection, sustainable agriculture, socio-economic development among others. Going into the future, with the emergence of Eritrea and now, South Sudan as new nations along the Nile, and with increased climate change, unless there can be a sustainable way of ensuring that all countries benefit from the Nile Basin, then a recipe for conflict is in the making. Equally, with the massive land use changes as well as poor land ethics in the region, the basin will likely be a source of disputes as the need for water and issues surrounding transboundary water resource management become central along the region.

3.2 Niger River

Niger river
Figure 3.2: Niger River|Photo cred. WorldBank

The Niger River (Fig.3.2) is the third largest/longest in Africa. It flows along 4,100Km through ten African countries. These countries include Guinea, Benin, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’lvoire and Algeria. Most of these countries are located in desert region of Africa and thus, the waters from this river are heavenly. Equally, the countries in this basin are some of the least developed and poorest in the world. The waters of Niger are relied upon by an approximate of 84 million individuals who are growing at a rate of 3 per annum. These waters are exclusively international and transboundary natural resource which has an increasing importance in the wake of devastating effects of climate change.[6]

Table 3.2: Niger River basin: Areas and rainfall by country [7]

Source: FAO Corporate Document Repository

Country Total area of the country (km2) Area of the country within the basin (km2) As % of total area of basin (%) As % of total area of country (%) Average annual rainfall in the basin area
(mm)
min. Max. mean
Guinea 245857 96880 4.3 39.4 1240 2180 1635
Côte d’Ivoire 322462 23770 1.0 7.4 1316 1615 1466
Mali 1240190 578850 25.5 46.7 45 1500 440
Burkina Faso 274000 76621 3.4 28.0 370 1280 655
Algeria 2381740 193449 8.5 8.1 0 140 20
Benin 112620 46384 2.0 41.2 735 1255 1055
Niger 1267000 564211 24.8 44.5 0 880 280
Chad 284000 20339 0.9 1.6 865 1195 975
Cameroon 440 89249 3.9 18.8 830 2365 1330
Nigeria 770 584193 25.7 63.2 535 2845 1185
For Niger basin 2273946 100.0 0 2845 690

 

A quick overview of the Niger basin shows that Chad and Algeria together cover about 9% of the basin yet these countries have no any-renewable water resources. It is also fascinating to note that Guinea covers only 4% of the total area of the basin but all the sources of the river are located in this country. In addition to this reality, the Niger River and its tributaries experience a great deal of seasonal fluctuations that seem to stretch the need and management of water resources along the basin.

The economic and social factors along the basin play the main role in how the perception of this transboundary resource is managed. The numerous inhabitants along the river subsist with an array of other means of support and therefore, they do not rely on the river entirely. However, their alternative livelihoods are subsistence in nature, trapping them in the need for a constant supply of water. The river basin has great potentials that are not yet tapped at the moment; such as irrigation and hydroelectric power.

One of the primary problems endangering ecosystem thinking within this basin is poor politics, conflicts and inadequate cooperation from all the partners involved in the use and management of the Niger Basin. Although there is a visible cooperation than one would think of the conflict among the countries in the basin, Financing also seems to be the pegged problem on the Basin’s development.[8] The Niger Basin Authority has 9 countries minus Algeria which is considered inconsequential in the management issues of the basin. While the objectives of the Niger Basin Authority are clear, there seems to be disconnections in the manner the basin benefits the communities that directly use and manage the river system. There also seems to be a huge governance problem in the basin which has jeopardized the potential of the River to produce a harmonized transport system in the basin as well as forestry service, water resources, agriculture and energy exploration.

3.3 Senegal River

Senegal river
Figure 3.3: Senegal River|Photo cred. Dorsch Gruppe

Senegal River (Fig.3.3) is the second largest river in West Africa draining an area of 483,181 square kilometers. This river basin spreads over 4 countries which are: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Guinea.

TABLE 3.3: Senegal River basin: areas and rainfall by country [9]

Source: FAO Corporate Document Repository

Country Total area of the country (km2) Area of the country within the basin (km2) As % Of total area of basin (%) As % of total area of country (%) Average annual rainfall in the basin area 
(mm)
min. Max. mean
Guinea 245857 29475 6.1 12.0 1120 2100 1475
Mali 1240190 139098 28.8 11.2 455 1410 855
Mauritania 1025520 242742 50.2 23.7 55 600 270
Senegal 196720 71866_ 14.9 36.5 270 1340 520
For Senegal basin 483181 100.0 55 2100 550

 

The Senegal River basin has a population of about 3.5 million and nearly 90% of them live near to the river. Unlike the other river basins discussed in this case study, the Senegal River embraces irrigation and it is considered the motor of development. This is very visible in the delta and valley regions of the basin. An average of 100,000 hectares is cultivated annually. Equally, pastoralism is practiced along the river basin during the seasonal fluctuations of the river. Fishing is the designated and the largest economic activity in the basin after riparian farming. However for the past few decades, fishing productivity has declined immensely largely due to overfishing and hard economic times. In addition, the river basin has undergone massive development resulting to eutrophication, increased salinity, proliferation of water plants and changes in its flow.

Out of the three river basins discussed in this study, Manikowski[10] notes that Senegal basin seems to be more vibrant and productive because of the fewer members sharing the basin. The governance of the basin is simplified and agreements are reached easily. Equally, the fundamental economies of the members depend on similar resources making it easy for stakeholder participation through common interests. However, the continued development along the river basin as well as in the river basin is affecting the ecosystem integrity of the river basin especially when dams are erected to attenuate the flow of the water. According to Adams[11] these developments are affecting the aquatic life whose impact on fishing in the basin is already visible. Although there are no conflicts or any military interventions as of now, continued disregard for the ecological thinking in the entire basin may catalyze the deep seated need for control of the water resources among the communities depending directly from the river; and this would mean war.

4. The Way Forward for Transboundary Water Resources in Africa

A cross-sectional analysis of the transboundary water resources in Africa as revealed by the three River basins discussed in this study show that there is either poor governance or no governance at all in the management of these resources. As stated at the start of this study, water crisis has metamorphosed into an ogre that is not going anywhere from the global scene unless proper mechanisms are put in place to manage the global water resources (especially those with transboundary nature) in a manner that embraces equity and sustainability. One of the persistent deficiencies spotted across the managements of these river basins is lack of ecosystem thinking. For instance, in the River Nile case, the entire waters from Kenya running across other 8 countries does not benefit them directly because they do want to upset Egypt. This implies that these other countries do not connect with the Nile the same way Egypt does, thus further making Egypt vulnerable and putting Nile basin in a sustainability quagmire. In order to make transboundary water resource management in Africa equitable and sustainable, the following recommendations should be implemented in all River basins existing in Africa:

4.1 Institutional Development

Setting up institutions that are politically feasible is important for transboundary water resource management. It should be noted that all the countries that share the territories of the water resources are closely linked to the political environments and are also, sensitive to every changes in these environments. Mostly, the institutional arrangements in every country have a lifetime similar to that of the administration that established the institution. The subsequent administrations either squash such institutions or ignore them completely; making their existence inconsequential.[12] The importance of a politically feasible institution that lives beyond any administration is vital in ensuring that sustainability of the river basins is achieved and that equitable distribution of the river basin resources is realized. In fact, effective institutions can be the best vehicles to promote peace building activities at the regional level. A peaceful river basin is for sure the begetter of sustainability.

One way of creating enduring riparian institutions is by enhancing and improving on the communications undertaken among the members in the riparian areas. There should be clarity on what the institutions aim to achieve in addition to good faith and commitment by the host governments. The communications should be structured at both the public and technical level. The institution must have an all-encompassing vision which should address the plight of both the weakest and strongest partners in the basin. Equally, the riparian countries might not achieve this on their own, however with the support from the international organizations such as World Bank and IMF, they can have an arbiter that would ensure that the functions of the intuitions are clearly mapped out and implemented for the benefit of all. The river basins can be considered as a common resource and given an opportunity; every country would want to get the most out of it. Institutions should be there to correct this notion and mainstream the practices of sustainability.

4.2 Establishing new financing options

The financing of the river basin initiatives seem to be the overall problem plaguing any efforts of sustainability. The financial commitment from each member country seems to be insignificant in enabling the basin to achieve sustainability. Getting an institution into place as well as lobbying for the right courses of actions requires that a suitable and sustainable fund for the river basins be established through common good. The funding to the river basins can be accomplished in three different levels.

The first level involves initiating the processes. Process initiation can cut across numerous themes pegged on the sustainability of transboundary water resources. For instance, an initiative to ensure that plastic bags are removed or do not get into the water system can be an initiative that should be funded for its own good. Secondly, the funding can go to institutional management where programs such as the one mentioned above can be implemented structurally. This second level of funding is very vital in ensuring that the programs that are initiated in the basins are enduring and remain beneficial for the original purpose for which they were initiated.

Lastly, the funding/financing can be directed towards investment in regional water management facilities. Unlike places like Europe and North America where there is adequate institutions, facilities and management capabilities to manage transboundary resources, the African basins seem to lack these vitals in every measure. Investing in the regional water management is the next frontier for water resource management. The funding for the management can be crow-sourced from the individual country members in the basins in addition to international water funds and ecosystem funding that aim at achieving more holistic ecosystems in river basins.

4.3 Enhancing the roles of all participants

Every basin has a pool of stakeholders that would play significant roles if enrolled in the management of the basins. One of the most vibrant groups is the civil society. All over the world, the civil society is known for their astute assessments of the situations and thus, them being part of the management process enables the sustainability goals of the basins to be achieved. Civil society are not the only ones to be incorporated in the process of river basin management, there are numerous others like the NGOs with specific interests in transboundary water management  as well as the specific government departments of different basin countries dedicated in water management. The roles of all these stakeholders must be enhanced by clearly establishing the role of each one of them as well as allowing them space to carry out their roles.

4.4 Creating conditions for agreement

Agreeing on similar transboundary water goals is a hurdle that most African basins need to overcome. The conditions for agreement are hostile with each country. The one with superior military power are especially salivating for the giant’s share of the resource. Proper procedures and protocols must be established at all levels of the governments and by strengthening the transboundary water institutions. Legislations within the respective governments must be tailored towards sustainable water management.[13]

africa map
Figure 4.0: International River Basins of Africa, TFDD

 

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Bibliography

  • Adams, Adrian. The River Senegal: Flood Management and the Future of the Valley. International Institute for Environment and Development. 2000
  • Akamani, Kofi & Wilson, Patrick Impero. Toward The Adaptive Governance of Transboundary Water Resources. Conservation Letters. 4 (6): 409-416. 2011
  • Allan, J. Anthony. The Nile Basin: Evolving Approaches to Nile Waters Management. SOAS Water Issues Group. Occasional Paper 20. 1999
  • Crespi, V. Preliminary Study on the Fishery Resources of the River Niger in the Upper Niger National Park, Guinea. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 5: 201–208. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2400.1998.00093.x. 1998
  • Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). Irrigation Potential in Africa: A Basin Approach. FAO Land and Water Bulletin 4. UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome. http://www.fao.org/docrep/w4347e/w4347e00.htm#Contents. 1997
  • Gould, M. &. Zobrist, F. An Overview of Water Resources Planning in West Africa. World Development, Vol. 17, No. 11, pp. 1717-1722. 1989
  • Manikowski, Stanislaw & Strapasson, Alexandre. Sustainability Assessment of Large Irrigation Dams in Senegal: A Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Senegal River Valley. Frontiers in Environmental Science 4. 2016
  • Onyutha, Charles & Willems, Patrick. Space-Time Variability of Extreme Rainfall in the River Nile Basin. International Journal of Climatology. doi:10.1002/joc.5132. 2017

 

Footnotes

[1] Akamani, Kofi & Wilson, Patrick Impero. Toward The Adaptive Governance of Transboundary Water Resources. Conservation Letters. 4 (6): 409-416. 2011

[2] Allan, J. Anthony. The Nile Basin: Evolving Approaches to Nile Waters Management. SOAS Water Issues Group. Occasional Paper 20. 1999

[3] Allan, J. Anthony. The Nile Basin: Evolving Approaches to Nile Waters Management. SOAS Water Issues Group. Occasional Paper 20. 1999

[4] Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). Irrigation Potential in Africa: A Basin Approach. FAO Land and Water Bulletin 4. UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome. http://www.fao.org/docrep/w4347e/w4347e00.htm#Contents. 1997

[5] Akamani, Kofi & Wilson, Patrick Impero. Toward The Adaptive Governance of Transboundary Water Resources. Conservation Letters. 4 (6): 409-416. 2011

[6] Gould, M. &. Zobrist, F. An Overview of Water Resources Planning in West Africa. World Development, Vol. 17, No. 11, pp. 1717-1722. 1989

[7] Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). Irrigation Potential in Africa: A Basin Approach. FAO Land and Water Bulletin 4. UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome. http://www.fao.org/docrep/w4347e/w4347e00.htm#Contents. 1997

[8] Manikowski, Stanislaw & Strapasson, Alexandre. Sustainability Assessment of Large Irrigation Dams in Senegal: A Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Senegal River Valley. Frontiers in Environmental Science 4. 2016

[9] Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). Irrigation Potential in Africa: A Basin Approach. FAO Land and Water Bulletin 4. UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome. http://www.fao.org/docrep/w4347e/w4347e00.htm#Contents. 1997

[10] Manikowski, Stanislaw & Strapasson, Alexandre. Sustainability Assessment of Large Irrigation Dams in Senegal: A Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Senegal River Valley. Frontiers in Environmental Science 4. 2016

[11] Adams, Adrian. The River Senegal: Flood Management and the Future of the Valley. International Institute for Environment and Development. 2000

[12] Crespi, V. Preliminary Study on the Fishery Resources of the River Niger in the Upper Niger National Park, Guinea. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 5: 201–208. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2400.1998.00093.x. 1998

[13] Akamani, Kofi & Wilson, Patrick Impero. Toward The Adaptive Governance of Transboundary Water Resources. Conservation Letters. 4 (6): 409-416. 2011

 

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