An analysis of regime capacity and a nascent environmental conflict in the Orange-Senqu, the Nile and the Niger River basins
Mahlakeng, Mahlakeng Khosi
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For much of the past century, the hydropolitical landscape of African transboundary river basins has been affected by water scarcity. The analysis of hydropolitics is referred to here as the politics of water, which symbolises the most complex relations and interactions between states that share river basins. According to Elhance (2000:202), such hydropolitics is a function of two variables: the rate of change in the hydrologic system and the institutional capacity to absorb that change. The United Nations (UN) identified the Orange-Senqu, the Nile and the Niger River basins, along with six other African river basins susceptible to potential water-induced conflict, as being at risk of tensions and/or conflict. The discourse and interest of this study in water as a potential source of conflict concentrates largely on the Orange-Senqu, the Nile and the Niger river basins. This study takes a comparative perspective of these transboundary river basins and outlines foreseeable transboundary river challenges for regional security, considering the impact of environmental scarcity. The selection of these basins is prompted by these regions being marked by serious environmental challenges that are detrimental to combustible hydropolitics over such shared water resources. Moreover, these cases are situated in three different regions and are aligned to different already functional regimes, with protocols and/or charters on shared watercourse. As such, they make for a helpful comparative case study analysis. These cases provide ideal and fascinating examples of the links between climate variability and change, water resources, human security, conflict, adaptation and regime capacity. The transboundary Orange-Senqu River Basin, located in the Southern African region is, after the Congo and the Zambezi river basins, the third largest river catchment in Africa. The basin stretches over four countries that includes all of Lesotho, a large portion of South Africa, southern Namibia and southwestern Botswana. The Orange-Senqu basin faces challenges of water scarcity due to soil erosion, wetland degradation, pollution, irrigation, mining, industries, population growth, power generation and domestic consumption. The unequal distribution of freshwater resources is also a fundamental factor posing a threat to the economic and social development of the Southern African region The Nile River Basin (NRB), located in the region of North East Africa is an international river shared by eleven riparian countries. These are Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan and South Sudan. This makes it the world’s longest river at about 6,700km or 4,100 miles. The NRB faces considerable challenges including rapid population growth, water scarcity as the NRB countries are known for their arid and semi-arid conditions, poverty, environmental degradation and uneven distribution of the Nile waters. The NRB is centrally challenged by disputes over the unequal use of water between upstream and downstream riparian countries. The Niger River, located in West Africa, is the third longest river in Africa after the Nile and Congo, flowing for 4,200 km and extending into 10 countries (Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria). The Niger River Basin also faces challenges of population growth (with a total population of approximately 100 million and a growth rate of around 3%), agricultural run-off, oil production (the source of a host of environmental issues) and climate change, among other challenges. Regarding the institutions and institutional capacity required to promote cooperation among member countries and ensure the integrated development of resources, the study focuses on the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM), the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), and the Niger Basin Authority (NBA).
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