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AfDB puts water on top table at climate change forum in Durban

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African Development Bank (AfDB) experts stressed the severity of the impact of climate change on water resources in Africa and the importance of putting water at the center of climate negotiations, at a discussion held during the COP 17 climate conference in Durban.

The experts said that climate change is being felt mostly in water-related natural phenomena, and Africa, they reported, is the continent that is most vulnerable to changes in weather patterns affecting water resources because of the low adaptive capacity.

Sering Jallow, the director of Water and Sanitation at the AfDB, began the discussion by setting the context, drawing clear links between water and climate change.  He said: “most of the impact of climate change can be seen in the water sector, with changes in water quality, the rise of sea-levels, unpredictable rainfall, changing weather patterns impacting on agriculture.”

The AfDB delegates were joined by other water and climate experts to discuss ways to push the subject of water management higher on the agenda of COP 17.

At the event, Alan Miller of the International Finance Corporation pointed out that economic growth in Africa was fuelling a demand for a rising standard of living, which had an effect on the demand for water.  

He said: “As incomes increase people are eating more meat,” he said, “and a meat-oriented diet requires more water than a vegetable-rich diet.  This is one of the hidden ways that our lifestyles are contributing towards climate change.”

Patience Damptey, one of the African Group of Negotiators, agreed, saying: “We are looking at the signs of climate change being a development issue, not a science issue.  It cannot be separated from other critical sectors like agriculture.”  

Ania Grobicki, of the Global Water Partnership, stressed that: “Very few people realize that water is the ultimate non-renewable resource.  The proportion of fresh water is diminishing.  There is urgent need to manage this fresh water.  Africa must increase its water storage.”

Ken Johm of the AfDB pointed out that investment in water storage could bring further development opportunities:  “In Africa at the moment, 60 percent of people depend on agriculture for their livelihood.  A water management strategy must include increasing small storage infrastructure.”  

He added that water management and storage planning strategies could not be done on a country-by-country basis. “Water does not observe national boundaries.  African countries must collaborate and pay attention to shared water resources” he said.

Both the panel and the public participants agreed that unless there was prompt action of water resources management – especially in Africa – there would be the risk of a popular uprising.

“It might come to that,” said panelist Mr. Sanusi Abdullahi of the Lake Chad Basin Commission.  “The young people of Africa are the ones who are most interested in their future on this continent.  If the young people have no food, no employment – they might lose hope.  This is why we need to do something now.”

The best summary of the urgency for African countries to develop integrated water management strategies to adapt to climate change came from a comment from the floor:  “We cannot talk about priorities and planning, and waiting for frameworks to be put into place.  We cannot wait – climate change is not waiting.”

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