THIS past week, the spotlight was on water, sanitation and climate change at the continental level due to the holding of the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) General Assembly in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The AMCOW General Assembly was preceded by the 6th Africa Water Week which commenced on July 18 to 22 with the theme “Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on water security and sanitation”.
In keeping with previous water conferences, African governments were urged to take bold and decisive actions to address the water-related challenges the continent is facing. Regrettably for many African governments, such indabas are merely an annual gathering of technocrats, who meet to repeat themselves in speeches without action.
However, the poignant truth facing this continent is that water challenges will continue to escalate as the years go by. Even though nature has abundantly blessed the African continent with the resource, poor policy implementation and degradation of the environment have combined to deprive many on the continent of potable water.
This is compounded by climate change, which is already wreaking havoc on the continent and beyond. According to scientists, in 20 to 30 years, we could experience the harsher impacts of a 2ºC warmer world. A warmer world will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat-waves, and more intense cyclones.
The United Nations has predicted water-related conflicts will influence the third world war.
The challenge will hit Sub-Saharan Africa hardest, with food security under greater threat from droughts, flooding, and shifts in rainfall. Studies suggest that damages from climate change, relative to population and gross domestic product, will be higher in Africa than in any other region in the world.
Across eastern and Southern Africa, millions of children are struggling to cope with food insecurity, lack of water and disease. After two years of erratic rainfall and drought in some countries, one of the most powerful El Nino weather events for 50 years is wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods.
El Nino is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years. It raises sea surface temperatures and impacts weather systems around the globe so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.
In Southern Africa in particular, drought is making life even more precarious for children affected by HIV, according to a UNICEF study. It could also be further compounded by the coming La Nina, which would bring more erratic weather conditions.
Sub-Saharan African countries including Lesotho will need to diversify their economies away from agriculture. A low level of economic diversification and strong reliance on agricultural products and exports will be most severely impacted. Our economy needs to evolve to mostly producing primary goods to adding value so that there are other means of income.
Lesotho will also need to formulate adaptive approaches to minimize the adverse effects of climate change on rain-fed agriculture and livestock systems. These include, but not limited to, initiating reforestation and afforestation activities, improving irrigation efficiency and conserving soil moisture through appropriate tillage methods.