Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Africa's water future

The pressure is on for the nations of Africa to tap their water resources in an effort to promote agriculture and hydropower development -- both critical to improving economic conditions. The fear is that, if not done with careful planning, this precious resource could be exploited to benefit the powerful few, polluted or squandered.

The good news is that leaders from 53 African nations have vowed to work together to craft a coordinated (and hopefully sustainable) water development plan. (GW)

African ministers adopt $65b fund to develop water infrastructure

By Chinedu Uwaegbulam
The Guardian
December 22, 2008

Efforts at harnessing the continent's largely untapped water resources may soon be underway, following the backing of African ministers to a proposal attempting to secure billion-dollar commitments for the building of critical hydropower and agricultural irrigation systems across the continent.

The ministers attended a three-day a pan-African ministerial conference, which was hosted by Libya in Sirte, and anchored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in collaboration with the African Union, the African Ministers' Council on Water Development, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa, bringing together ministers from 53 African nations with the theme "moving from talk to action."

At the Water for Energy and Agriculture in Africa meeting in Sirte, Libya, FAO suggested convening a world summit of heads of State and government next year aimed at finding $30 billion a year for investment in the continent's water and rural infrastructure, needed to provide food and energy for its expanding population.

Sub-Saharan Africa - already suffering from the world's highest rate of malnourishment - needs to triple its food production by 2050 to feed a population predicted to balloon to two billion people, while also expected to be the hardest-hit by climate change.

In a final declaration, delegates noted that water is a key resource to economic and social development, as well as, to hunger and poverty eradication. The meeting was wrapped up with a pledge to work together in promoting water development throughout the continent and to fully exploit Africa's agricultural and hydropower potential.

Implementation of integrated water, agriculture and energy programmes to enhance sustainable development in Africa should be considered a priority, the declaration said, while noting that food and energy security are prerequisites for the development of Africa's " human capital."

While calling on donors, development partners and countries bordering on Lake Chad - once the world's sixth largest lake but has now shrunk to a tenth of its size - to help save the lake and its basin from a " looming human and environmental disaster," the Conference agreed to foster climate change research, as well as, promote the development of renewable energy and agriculture in Africa.

Under the proposal, FAO is pushing for a $65 billion, 20-year Blue Revolution water management programme designed to exploit Africa's natural resources by providing investment for water control at the village level, extensive irrigation systems and developing major river basins for agriculture and hydro-energy generation.

Water management is "a key element" in food security, FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf said at the conference on Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: the Challenges of Climate Change.

Delegates also adopted a joint declaration supporting water development at the national, regional and continental levels to fully exploit Africa's potential agriculture and energy sectors, ensuring the food security of the continent and meet its increasing food and energy needs.

The summit was expected to discuss the creation of a "rapid action fund" to revive local agricultural production in case of crisis, particularly in low-income countries heavily reliant on food imports.

On the ongoing global financial, economic and food crises, Diouf stressed that "the revival of agricultural production in poor countries is the only viable and lasting way to combat hunger. We must, therefore, invest more in agriculture."

He has called for a world summit of heads of state and government to "ensure greater coherence in the governance of global food security and lay the foundations of a new system of agricultural trade that offers farmers in the developed and developing countries alike the opportunity to earn a decent living."

FAO also issued a report today warning that the global economic slowdown threatens to reduce flows of investment and assistance to developing countries, including the support to agriculture that has helped many strengthen their potato sectors.

The drop in investment, trade and potato farmer's access to credit comes at a time when the vegetable has become an important staple food and lucrative cash crop in many developing countries, with China becoming the world's biggest producer, and Bangladesh, India and Iran among the leading potato consumers.

Developed countries may be tempted to raise trade barriers, while the banking crisis will leave many farmers with no credit to invest in production in 2009, according to a statement issued by the agency.


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