Water is a limited resource on our planet. We can only rely on what we have, which translates to approximately 2.5 percent fresh drinking water. Of this amount, only 0.4% currently exists in lakes, rivers and moisture in the atmosphere. The pressure of this limited supply is increasing day by day and as this continues, the detrimental impact will continue to be felt in places least equipped to find alternative solutions, especially the African continent.

The world population is estimated at around 9.6 billion people by 2050. That’s triple the number of humans on the planet just a few decades ago, having to exist with the same amount of water, not counting non-human animals and plants that also depend on water to survive. .

More than a third of the world’s population without access to clean, safe water lives in sub-Saharan Africa. And nearly two-thirds—some four billion people— live in areas where water is scarce. As this number is expected to increase steadily, the United Nations predicted that around 700 million people worldwide could be “displaced by intense water scarcity” by 2030.

Scarcity conflict and crisis

Every year, the world experiences extreme water-related events, including heat waves and droughts. In 2021 on the African continent alone, Madagascar, Kenya and Somalia have experienced severe water shortages. And with scarcity, conflict tends to follow.

A number of African conflicts are fueled by competition for dwindling natural resources. At the state level, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were engaged in ongoing conflict on fresh water in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Similar problems arise at all levels of society.

Cameroon, for example, experimented a violent conflict over water between fishermen and herders in a town near the Chad border in December 2021. The disagreement over water rights found in a declining Lake Chad has resulted in the deaths of 22 people and 100,000 others displaced from their homes as the two groups fought.

“Once conflicts escalate, they are difficult to resolve and can negatively impact water security, creating vicious circles of conflict,” said Susanne Schmeier, lecturer in water law and diplomacy at IHE Delft.

This conflict-fueled negative feedback loop is further compounded by the effect on water quality, agriculture and forced migration. “With very few exceptions, no one dies of literal thirst,” said Peter Gleick, director of the Pacific Institute, based in Oakland. “But more and more people are dying because of contaminated water or conflicts over access to water.”

This idea reflects the complex interplay between water scarcity and conflict. According to research from the Pacific Institute, the impact of water on agriculture plays an even greater role in contributing to conflict, a view supported by the fact that agriculture represents 70 percent of freshwater use in Africa.

Another conflict factor is the social impact of water shortages. With up to a quarter of the world’s population faced with severe water shortage at least one month a year, people are forced to migrate. In 2017, at least 20 million people from Africa and the Middle East have left their homes due to food shortages and conflict caused by severe drought.

Food insecurity due to impact on wildlife and agriculture

Food insecurity caused by water shortages is compounded by the disappearance of wildlife. With a decline in their rainy seasons, Kenya’s sheep, camels and cattle are in decline. This has led to a threat of 2.5 million people potentially going without food due to drought, according at the United Nations.

The impact of the drought is taking a heavy toll on agriculture, especially in counties where it is the mainstay of their economy. In South Africa, for example, agriculture is key to the functioning of the country when it comes to job creation, food security, rural development and foreign exchange.

Water shortages in the country affect both commercial and subsistence farmers. But it is subsistence farmers who are the hardest hit by droughts, according to a 2021 study paper published by a group of international scientists in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

While commercial farmers are able to compensate for a lack of rain through alternative water supplies, as well as storage and irrigation technologies, subsistence farmers who depend on rain, the scientists write, ” are particularly sensitive to drought because they are highly dependent on climate-sensitive water”. Resources.” They also point out that the impact is compounded by the fact that this form of farming is tied to farmers’ own food security.


There is no way to avoid the impacts of water scarcity and drought. The best thing to do is to manage and mitigate risk where possible. A tool offers by the group Water, Peace and Security is an early warning monitor capable of tracking information on rainfall, crop yields and political, economic and social factors. According to the group, this tool would “predict water-related conflicts up to a year in advance, allowing for mediation and government intervention”.

Water-sharing agreements are another common risk reduction approach in the event of conflict. Since the end of the Second World War, 200 of these Agreements have been signed. Despite this, the UN has consistently failed to introduce a water convention that would see more than 43 countries sharing cross-border rivers and lakes.

A good example where a water-sharing agreement has avoided conflict is in southern Africa. In 2000, as tensions mounted over shared resources, an agreement was reached between Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia that avoided further problems.

Reducing water losses remains the most recommended method that countries should adopt to avoid future disasters. Agriculture and mining, in particular, are two industries that could do more to limit their water waste. Another policy, suggested by Icelandis to increase the price of water in relation to its supply, in order to help reduce water waste.

Desalination is also a popular method used to release more water, using seawater to increase supply. Saudi Arabia, for example, uses desalination provide the country with at least 50% of its water supply. The recycling of so-called “grey” water is another inexpensive alternative used by farmers to offset the impact of drought.

As water scarcity becomes more common, so will these mitigation and adaptation strategies. The question is, will they be enough?

Robin Scher is a writer based in South Africa. He is a graduate of New York University’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism program. Find him on Twitter @RobScherHimself.

Source: This article was produced by Earth | Food | Lifea project of the Independent Media Institute.