Once before Botswana and Namibia have (figuratively) fought over Sedudu Island and from what the African Natural Resources Centre (ANRC) is saying, two more conflicts “are arising.”
In a report titled “Maximising Benefits from Water for Tourism in Africa”, ANRC warns of combustible hydropolitics over shared water courses.
“Conflicts regarding water resources have been predicted and indeed already exist. Tourism is unlikely to develop in conflict zones,” says the Centre which is the non-lending arm of the African Development Bank.
One of the conflicts cited is between “Namibians and Batswana living along the Chobe River over different use types (tourism versus agriculture)” and another between Namibia and Botswana over the course of the border in Lake Liambezi. This information is based on a study that was carried out by the German development institute, Deutsches Institut f├╝r Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) on trans-boundary water issues in Africa in 2006. While the latter may be almost 10 years old, it analysis is forward-looking.
“As things stand now, the water yield in the Zambezi Basin still far exceeds consumption levels (except for recurrent drought periods that periodically assume the character of natural disasters). And for this reason there are at present no serious conflicts over the waters of the Zambezi.6 It should though, be noted that Angola and Zambia are the only riparians that will have sufficient water resources in the future. All the other riparians today or soon will be forced to contend with water scarcity. In view of this state of affairs it is impossible to rule out future conflicts between the riparians over water use and water allocation. As far as both crisis prevention and sustainable development are concerned, transboundary water management would therefore be the approach best suited to serving the needs and increasing the welfare of all riparians,” the ANRC report says.
What the Germans say has been echoed by two Africans. In 1995, Ismail Serageldin, an Egyptian who was vice-president of the World Bank, predicted that the wars of the 21st century would be fought not over oil or land, but water. Another, Saliem Fakir, Country Programme Coordinator of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, says that conflicts are inevitable given that most of the river systems in Southern Africa are already utilised and are inter-connected, ignoring political boundaries.
“Disputes have already taken place between Botswana and Namibia over abstraction of water from the Etosha or Okavango,” Fakir says in a paper titled Finding Future Water in Southern Africa: Avoiding Conflict and War.
“If, anything, crisis over water is the single most important factor likely to lead to political strife and possibly war.”
In terms of the Doctrine of Limited Territorial Sovereignty of international law, international rivers cannot be the subject of the exclusive appropriation by one state. The principle, which is the basis of international water law, ensures all riparian states reasonable utilisation of the waters of a shared course.