IT is sometimes said that the next ”great” war will be fought over water supplies and this prospect seems ever more likely as evidence of rising temperatures and falling water levels accumulates. Yesterday the United Nations Environment Programme published a report, The Atlas of African Lakes which includes satellite images of all of Africa's 667 major lakes. More often than not such satellite images offer us beautiful and breathtaking views of planet earth but in this case they show only the deterioration taking place in virtually all of the lakes pictured. The report compares satellite pictures taken in the early 1970s and in this century; Lake Chad can be seen to have shrunk by 95 per cent in just over 30 years, partly because of poor rainfall and partly from the demand from increased areas of irrigated land. The water level of Lake Victoria, the source of the White Nile, has dropped by one metre over the past ten years and 150'000 sq km of surrounding land has been affected by soil degradation; lakes in Ethiopia feeding the Blue Nile have been similarly affected. The Nile may be one of the flash-points in any war over water. It serves the needs of several countries on its way to Egypt and the Mediterranean and there is constant pressure in these countries for more water to be taken from it as its passes through or for dams to be constructed. Rapidly increasing populations, climate change, deforestation, poor farming methods and pollution contribute to the changes which the UN report predicts could lead to new conflicts across the African continent. It has to be remembered that even now millions of Africans lack access to clean drinking waer; it is estimated that two–thirds of the rural population and one-quarter of the urban population are without safe water. The executive director of the UN Environment Programme told a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, that urgent action was needed. He said that the broad targets being set to end poverty and meet development goals in Africa by 2015 are in danger if greater action is not taken to conserve and restore the lakes which are crucial to basic existence in many parts of the continent.


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