Countries in eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa agreed this week to strengthen cooperation on trans-boundary water resources management in order to reduce conflicts, poverty and ecological depletion.
Ministers and policymakers from the region endorsed action plans to promote water cooperation during a water dialogue forum in the Kenyan capital on December 8th. The forum was organized by regional trade bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), whose members include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda.
“Water security underscores regional development and sustainable peace, hence the need to initiate joint programs to conserve this resource,” said Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohammed.
Horn of Africa states share similar challenges of recurrent droughts, food insecurity, population growth and resource-based conflicts, she said.
Mohammed emphasized that improved water governance is key to fostering regional development and political stability.
“We need to harness shared waters to transform food production systems, expand access to energy, and foster regional trade. Dialogue will help minimize conflicts over shared water resources,” Mohammed told delegates.
She urged governments in the region to build the capacity of regional bodies to promote water governance.
An estimated 82 percent of the greater Horn of Africa is arid and semi-arid. Climate change has worsened water and food insecurity in the region.
Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources Judi Wakhungu said harmonizing policy and legal frameworks will strengthen management of shared waters.
“The Horn of Africa region has its fair share of environmental challenges, which are to blame for rampant poverty and conflicts. We must coordinate efforts to address water stress, hunger and malnutrition,” she said.
IGAD countries have endorsed joint infrastructure projects to address water, food and energy insecurity.
Wakhungu said a common IGAD water policy will emphasize investments in irrigation systems, hydropower and ecosystems restoration.
“New technologies and policy reforms will strengthen water governance in a region where the resource is facing multiple threats,” she said.
IGAD Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim said water scarcity has triggered conflicts in the region.
“The Horn of Africa region is classified as water scarce, while climate change, population growth and urbanization has only worsened the challenge,” he said.
He challenged countries in the region to promote dialogue and leverage local innovations to strengthen management of freshwater resources.