Article: Preventing Water Wars in Northern Nigeria

[Crosslinked from Future Challenges Organization’s blog]

Access to safe, clean water is a human right without which it is near-impossible to survive or live in peace.  Water scarcity due to human water usage and climate change is a known factor in conflicts all across history.  The danger of internecine conflicts over water rights is that factionalism along ethnic lines will further undermine national unity.  In Northern Nigeria, water scarcity can be posited as a stressor in ethnic conflicts. In September 2010, the opening of two dams in the Kano and Jigwa states of northern Nigeria caused flooding that displaced 2 million.

In July 2010, the United Nations‘ General Assembly declared that „Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights.“

The resolution received 122 votes in favor, none against with 41 nations abstaining.  What is needed now is a clear definition and expansion of what „access“ to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation means.  Access is more than proximity- it means that the infrastructure needed to procure water is accessible also.

At present, access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a privilege as 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

It is estimated that 1 in 5 children, about 400 million, do not have access to safe water.

An oft-neglected factor in access is infrastructure. In the global south, one legacy of colonial economies (designed to complement rather than to compete) is insufficient infrastructure.  This includes taxation structures and water infrastructure.

In Africa, near the southeast portion of the Sahara Desert, Lake Chad has decreased in volume by 95% in 40 years. At one time, Lake Chad was the 3rd largest body of water on the continent of Africa.  Lake Chad is bordered by Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria.  Some 20 million people depend on its reservoirs.  Increased desertification, exacerbated by the lake‘s shallowness (10.5 meters at the deepest point, with an average depth of 1.5 meters) have contributed to instability in the surrounding areas.  This instability includes food insecurity, water scarcity, drought,

A factor in Lake Chad‘s shrinkage is climate change. Climate change has affected regions in the Global South moreso than regions in the northern hemisphere.  Greenhouse gases from consumption and production processes are typically concentrated near the equator, which contributes to increased average temperatures and more indirectly, increased demand for water. In parts of Niger, the diversion of water has resulted in mass emigration.

A second factor in the shrinkage of Lake Chad is inefficient damming and irrigation methods.  In this respect, the situation does not vary from the Aral Sea, which saw a 90% decline in volume after decades of water diversion due to Soviet water irrigation projects to arid areas like the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.

Hikes in the price of water and the resultant upheaval indicate a need for more efficient water infrastructure- e.g. water treatment plants, dams, reservoirs, basic low-pressure plumbing and sewage systems.  However, the cost of these measures must be offset by investment or tax revenue.

In April 2007, BBC published a story entitled „Water Wars in Arid Northern Nigeria,“, highlighting the effect that increased water scarcity has had in an area already constrained by limited infrastructure, poverty and unstable political leadership. Centering the story on women in Kagadama, an impoverished neighbourhood in Bauchi town in the semi-arid North-east Nigeria.  The conflict is over the right to use the water tap- which only runs every other day due to limited electricity, due to insufficient infrastructure.

Reinforcing and expanding pre-existing water infrastructure is one of many important steps that must be taken to ensure that everyone in the Chad Lake Basin has access to safe and clean drinking water, as well as water for basic sanitation.  This includes, but is not limited to expansion and improvement of dam networks in the Chad Lake basin, sewer systems, water filtering plants and plumbing.  By expanding the definition of „access“ beyond ‚proximity,‘ it is possible to make universal water access a reality.

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