Crisis proofing South Africa's water security

4 days 17 hours ago
Reliable water supply is essential for South Africa's development. Shutterstock

South Africa is often referred to as the 30th driest country in the world, a claim that’s based on its average annual rainfall of 500mm compared to the world average of 860mm. National rainfall averages have a purpose. They do, however, have limited value where regional and local rainfall distribution varies considerably and when water security is threatened by recurring droughts, or when water use is poorly regulated and managed. Average rainfall data is meaningless when water demand exceeds supply.

This is true in South Africa. Since 2013 nearly every region in South Africa has experienced some form of drought and water shortages resulting in water restrictions in urban areas and in the agriculture sector.

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Agreements that favour Egypt's rights to Nile waters are an anachronism

1 week 1 day ago
The Nile River during sunset in Luxor, Egypt. EPA-EFE/Khaled Elfiqi

Egypt has historically adopted an aggressive approach to the flow of the River Nile. Cairo considers the Nile a national security matter and statements continue to include threats of military action against Ethiopia should it interfere with the flow as set out in agreements signed in 1929 and another in 1959.

The first agreement was made between Great Britain, as the colonial power in eastern African, and Egypt. Cairo was favoured over other riparian countries as an important agricultural asset. In addition, the Egyptian-run Suez Canal was vital for British imperial ambitions.

The British riparian colonies – Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika (now Tanzania) – as well as Ethiopia had no say.

Under the terms, Egypt would receive 48 billion cubic metres water annually and Sudan 4 billion cubic metres. Egypt would not need the consent of upstream states to undertake water projects in its own territories but could veto projects on any tributaries of the Nile in the upstream countries, including the 43,130 square kilometre Lake Victoria. The world’s second largest fresh water lake is fed by direct precipitation and by thousands of streams from Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya, all located in the central east of Africa.

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