By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
June 25th, 2023
Whenever water issues are raised, the Horn of Africa States region is one of the few places that come to mind. But this is a phenomenon that is no longer unique to the region. It is becoming a feature in other parts of the world such as the United States, and Europe where water issues are becoming acute and problematic. Some predict that water wars may occur in the future, which would make this world less safe and less secure as Kamala Harris, the United States Vice President recently noted. She further said that “water security is now one of the focal points in America’s strategy”.
Water security and water availability is being delineated by many countries as an important strategic issue and the Horn of Africa with the current shortages of rains, generally reported to be the worst in over forty years, should not be taken lightly by the region’s leadership. The story of the GERD and Egypt is, perhaps, one of the well-known issues related to water in the region. However, the growing population of the region itself and their need for water, for themselves and for their large livestock populations, would not only affect lives in the region but also other parts of the world as people would move through migration processes, legal or illegal, as thirst and hunger drive people out of their normal abodes and ways of life.
A UNICEF ADVOCACY BRIEF on investing in water security for children in the Horn of Africa generally noted that more and more people are exposed to water insecurities in the region, which they wrongly define as inclusive of some East Africa Community countries such as Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan. The statistics for the region from the UNICEF thus remain tainted as they are not specific to the Horn of Africa States region which consists only of the SEED countries (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti).
Although climate change in the region is blamed for most of the food insecurities, the issue of terrorism which prevents people from working on their small farms and herding of livestock, appears to be more dangerous than the climate induced shortages. In some parts of the region deluges have affected more than rain shortages, while in others, governments struggling fighting terror groups both tribal/ethnic and religious, play significant roles. In effect most of the problems appear to be man-made, than really natural. NGOs living off the backs of poor people keep calling for assistance for the region, and collect people in camps scattered throughout the region, which assistance never reaches the region. Perhaps only some 5 to 10 percent of the funds collected, on behalf of the region only, reach the intended populations. The balance is consumed by the fat administrations of the NGOs and even the United Nations organs and other international institutions, who enjoy bosh hotels and residences in Nairobi and other cities of the region.
The onus remains to be on the leadership of the region, which includes not only the ruling parties but also the opposition groups which play into the hands of the interfering foreign parties. They would need to devise and come forth with solutions and strategies that address the issues of water security in the region. A region such as the Horn of Africa States would always attract foreigners because of its geostrategic location and, therefore, its leadership should take advantage of such opportunities to develop and improve the lives and loves of the region’s population and especially when it comes to water availability and water security.
The Guardian in a report on April 27th, 2023, warned of devastating droughts in the region, including members of the EAC countries. The report was not HAS-specific, indeed, but a warning anyway for the region. The report noted that the droughts in the region could not have happened without human actions. Human actions come from near and far. Those that are coming from afar include the usage of fossil fuels in other parts of the world, while the local actions of humans pertain to the continuing civil strives in the region, which does not allow people to grow their own foods, resulting in fallow fields and hence less greeneries and less vegetation. This leads to poor soils and inabilities of people to retain rainwater which comes as flashes and runs away.
The region created in the past a specific organization to deal with and manage droughts and desertification in the region. The institution was called the Inter-governmental Authority for Droughts and Desertification (“IGADD”) but the leaders of chaos that came after the collapse of the socialist leaning military regimes of Ethiopia and Somalia, changed the mandate of the institution to one that is more political and security-oriented than actually dealing with the original purpose for which it was created. Whence the leaders decide to stay only in politics and social issues, nothing really happens in any other front, be it economic or dealing with the plights of the populations related to droughts and water shortages and, indeed, food shortages.
Water shortages is no doubt a major issue in the region, and it needs to return to its traditional food production processes, even at the subsistence level as most families used to produce their own foods, whether this was tilling the lands or herding of animals. Perhaps, they would need to revisit the issue of herding which need not continue in the traditional model of nomadism or moving from place to place in search of water and fodder. They could settle and herd the animals in fixed locations drilling wells and growing fodder for the animals. Some projects in this regard have been started in various locations and so far, they appear to have been successful. It is where governments can help in providing resources which the ordinary citizen cannot afford.
A collective approach of the governments of the region with respect to water issues remains necessary as it was in the past. Perhaps there is a need to reform the IGAD organization to its original IGADD and hence mandate. While politics would always determine the way people of the region react to issues, there is a need for the region’s leadership to put their heads together and sketch together ways of handling the issue of water shortages of the region and its consequences. The region, which remains to be the roof of Africa would have to deal with the waters of the Nile and the GERD and other rivers that descend from the plateaus of the region. Water management thus remains to be one important area where the regional leaders need to be working together instead of working against each other.
Regional ownership of the issue is important, and this should aim at restoring some of the forests and trees the region lost out of negligence and out of focus in the past. The world is changing, and its climate is warming, and the region needs to work out processes of dealing with the oncoming disasters of water shortages and climate change. The region, while welcoming assistance from beyond, should be working more and together on its own solutions as well.
The issue of water and water security remains challenging with respect to the economies of the region which remain small and underdeveloped. A lot of damage to the environment has already been done by others from beyond the region. The individual states of the region alone, therefore, stand little chance of confronting these challenges but working together would, no doubt, allow them, at least, to have a bigger bargaining chip when it comes to seeking respite and assistance from the industrialized world, which have caused most of the damage to the environment.
Yet this does not negate the drive of the regional leadership to raise awareness of the issue of water security and water shortages and its effects on the environment within the societies of the region. This can be done through introduction of the matter through educational systems. This remains a focal issue which the populations of the region need to be all working on. It is where even the governments of the region need help from an aware citizenry.
Tackling water issues and generally environmental issues remain no ordinary challenges and would require not only governmental interference but also population involvement using all the possible means at their disposal, be it economic, political, social and scientific. It is maintaining, at least, something for the future generations of the lands, rivers, lakes, seas, and lives thereon, of the region.