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Water security key to progress, stability in Africa: experts

By Chrispinus Omar NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- African experts on Tuesday called for concerted efforts to ensure sustainable development, peace and stability in the Horn of Africa region to address water stress.

Policy makers, scientists and researchers attending a water dialogue forum in Nairobi said water insecurity might worsen civil disorder, poverty and marginalization in the Horn of Africa.

Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim said the Horn of African states will foster knowledge sharing to enhance water conservation.

“This region has endured acute water stress for too long and countries have resolved to address the root cause of this challenge. Sustainable management of water resources is a collective responsibility,” Maalim told Xinhua on the sidelines the forum.

He said countries in the Horn of Africa region have drawn lessons from the devastating famine of 2011 to invest in deterrent measures like water harvesting, storage and climate resilient agro- pastoralism.

Maalim said improved governance on trans-boundary water bodies will enhance food and energy security alongside regional trade.

“Water security has gained traction within the political establishment in the region. Governments are convinced the resource under-pins sustainable development and lasting peace,” he said.

The Horn of Africa region has one of the lowest human development indicators thanks to climatic shocks, conflicts and infrastructure gaps.

Eric Odada, a member of the United Nations Secretary General Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, noted the Horn of Africa has lagged in all the millennium development goals.

“Fresh water resources are distributed unevenly in the Horn of Africa while their governance has many loopholes. Pollution and siltation are major threats to water resources in the region,” Odada said.

Climatic shocks have intensified in the Horn of Africa region, yet countries have not scaled up investments in adaptation and mitigation projects.

Odada noted that local communities are ill-prepared to cope with recurrent droughts, floods and spread of communicable diseases.

“Desertification and loss of vital habitats has worsened in the Horn of Africa due to climate change. Human induced threats to water resources include population pressure and over-abstraction by industries,” Odada said.

Horn of Africa states have endorsed the Africa water vision 2025 that roots for equity and sustainable management of the resource to enhance regional cooperation.

Odada stressed that improved governance, dialogue and adoption of green technologies will boost water security in the region.

“There is need for sound policies and laws to strengthen the water-food-energy nexus. Countries should encourage public private partnerships to promote water use efficiency,” Odada told Xinhua, adding that regional cooperation and political dialogue are key to strengthen equitable sharing of fresh water resources in the Horn of Africa.

John Nyaoro, Executive Director with Nile Basin Initiative, also said water cooperation will help address conflicts and under- development in the region.

“An estimated 50 percent of water resources in this region are shared, and therefore we must establish an institutional framework to strengthen their management,” Nyaoro said.

He said the eight IGAD member states have initiated projects to promote conservation of freshwater resources in the face of serious threats.

Fred Mwango, a Water Resources Specialist at IGAD, said countries have shared expertise and best practices to achieve water security.

“Water is the backbone of our economies and has a direct bearing on regional security and peace. The resource should be at the center-stage of regional development priorities,” Mwango said, adding that the Horn of African states should borrow lessons from river basin organizations to establish robust policy, legal and institutional frameworks to enhance conservation of trans-boundary waters.

“Horn of African countries should harmonize policy and legal instruments to promote conservation of inland waters and aquifers, “ said Aruwa Bendsen, Program Officer with UNEP’s Freshwater Ecosystems Unit, urging  regional bodies to prioritize water cooperation to reduce conflicts.



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