CONSIDERATIONS FOR WATER have become central to almost all aspects of life with the increasing cross-cutting relevance and impacts. The complexity involved is such that water has now come to be seen beyond the traditional and conventional, beyond mere commodity and beyond just a commonly-found natural resource. It is becoming clear that this complexity around water availability and accessibility requires water allocation policies built on pragmatism, equity and sustainability. Now that it is becoming more evident that water management issues will have far-reaching consequences, it is time to face the reality and act appropriately to forestall future crises originating from water.
Countries of the world are becoming aware of how water will influence their lives in many different ways, but the responses to these unfolding realities vary from place to place, bringing the concerns about the problems that are likely to arise in the future and the need for steps that need to be taken in response to them. The works of some research scientists, published in 2002 have become an important cornerstone in this case. “World Water and Food to 2025: dealing with scarcity,” was a futuristic publication that examined scenarios to anticipate in the years ahead. Twenty years on, the relevance of the publication is coming to light. Published from the shared interests of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the book provided ample details on how water and food-related policies will affect global, regional and local water scarcity, food production, food scarcity, the environment and livelihoods in the long run. The world in general and Africa in particular seem to be sleepwalking into the predictable grim future on water.
From the assertions in the book, it is a matter of time that exogenous shocks from water may cause commodity price and demand adjustment, and such adjustments would affect production and consumption as the outcomes are passed on to producers and consumers. Since this is a global phenomenon, it is important to understand how the impacts of water on major globally traded commodities affect the rest of the world. Thus, such effects need to be put into context locally, at the subnational, country and continental levels. If the transmission effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has so widely affected food and agrochemical commodity prices worldwide within six weeks to the extent that there are protests throughout Peru, it is easy to imagine what could happen if water crisis hits (and not war) had hit the same Ukraine. A lot of wheat — widely consumed globally — is produced in many of the former Soviet Union, particularly those in Central Asia and particularly mostly in Russia and Ukraine. What impacts would water scarcity in these wheat-producing regions have on global wheat prices? And how will this affect food security in far away Africa?
Under the IFPRI-IWMI collaboration, the International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT) appeared to have established that food scarcity will be inextricably linked with water scarcity as farmers will face heavy competition for water from households, industries and environmentalists. The reality now is that water shortages are beginning to lead to hunger as in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and in more extreme cases as in Somalia. They are also already exacerbating poverty and conflicts as evident in Ethiopia, Sudan and around the Lake Chad shared by Chad, Cameroon, Niger Republic and Nigeria. Crisis across national borders are becoming a recurring decimal and these are likely to increase both in frequency of occurrence and magnitude. Many countries in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa are facing serious water challenges and climate change may worsen the crises with time.
Ecological flow requirements have become serious constraints in water issues. Off-stream water supplies for domestic, industrial, livestock and irrigation are affected by seasonalities. Hydrologic processes, including precipitation, evapotranspiration and run-offs need to be considered in total renewable water policy thoughts, particularly in Africa. Ground water in wells, aquifers and springs need to be brought into consideration and proper inventory taken. Anthropogenic impacts of water use should occupy more attention of policy makers and implementers for their significance. The case of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is an example of temptations of a country to build more and bigger dams in attempts to fix internal water supply problems and in some cases to boost local electricity supplies. That dam is presently a bone of contention between three contiguous countries of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. It is hoped that the disquiet trailing the construction of this dam will not one day lead to war between Ethiopia and the other two countries. In addition to the crises that would arise between countries, intra-country crises need to be factored in as these could lead to hostilities and even wars if not properly managed.
In Nigeria, since 2018, an attempt by the Buhari administration to introduce a law centrally regulating the access to, and the use of, water has twice suffered setback. In the first attempt in 2018, it was presented to the legislative Congress (National Assembly) as “A Bill for an Act to establish a regulatory framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, provide for the profitable and sustainable development, management, use and
conservation of Nigeria’s surface water and groundwater resources, and for related matters” (HB. 921). It was roundly rejected. The said bill was repackaged, re-tilted “The National Water Resources Bill 2020” and sent back to the Congress, sparking off widespread outrage as many Nigerians interpreted the proposed law on central control of water resources from states as a power grab by the federal government. Although there are indications that the executive arm of the government is still determined to press on with the bill, there are clear indications that this portends some signals about possible hostilities and unrests that may trail central water control in Nigeria. If that prospect is anything to go by, it is not a good omen for a country as it can be replicated elsewhere in Africa with similar consequences.
Rightly or wrongly interpreted, suspicions by critics that the water resource bill seeks to bring all water resources (surface and underground) and the banks of the water sources under the control of the federal government have been followed by comments that, if passed into law, the bill may endanger national unity of the country as Section 2 (1) of the bill says: “All surface water and groundwater wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people, the use of which is subject to statutory control. There shall be no private ownership of water but the right to use water in accordance with the provisions of this Act.” Section 13 of the bill also states, that “in implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and groundwater resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.”
It has been surmised that the National Water Resources Bill 2020, if passed eventually, may disempower the communities and people living along waterfronts in the country, particularly Niger Delta Region, Lagos state and other aquatic areas in the country, will be deprived of their major source of livelihood, which is fishing. Some explanations which are worrisome include that the Bill aims at conferring ownership, control and management of surface and underground waters on the federal government. Implicitly, all waters in stream, lake, sea, river, underground (boreholes), river beds and banks found in and around any community in Nigeria becomes the exclusive preserve and property of the federal government, bringing water under the Exclusive Legislative List.
It is still early in the day, on water policies and their likely upsides and downsides in Nigeria, Africa and the world. What is predictable, however, is that the impacts of water management policies and practices will weigh heavily on the world peace, economy, food security, nutrition, health and prosperity. The politics around water has just begun. Where it takes the world in the future is what we need to save our breath and watch. But leaving things to chances or taking ill-informed policy decisions are what must be avoided as much as possible.