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Diminishing water resources threaten peace
The two countries went to war in the 1990s, prompting the Lake Chad Basin Commission to move in and help negotiate a truce. The commission failed; the case then was turned over to the International Court of Justice, which in 2002 ruled in Cameroon’s favor.
Nigeria at first challenged the ruling, but in 2007 agreed to relinquish the territory. Many Nigerians have never forgiven their government for giving away “their” land.
The U.N. secretary-general’s special adviser on conflict, Jan Egeland, called attention to the Sahel region when he visited last year. The United Nations says the region that divides the Sahara Desert from the rest of Africa is experiencing the worst effects of climate change in the world.
Mr. Egeland said he was informed that about 30 armed groups were in the Lake Chad area. The “potential for increased conflict is endless,” he said.
The 17 countries of the West African region, which share 25 trans-boundary rivers, also have been involved in wrangles over water.
Dozens of people died in a series of skirmishes between Senegalese and Mauritanian farmers along the River Senegal in 1989.
Increased barriers on the border have prevented open conflict in the years since, but tensions persist.
Ghana and Burkina Faso are at odds over competing claims for water from the Volta River.
For East Africa, the dispute over Migingo Island could be a taste of conflicts to come. Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile and the lifeline for millions of people, continues to lose water.
The Nile, which supports 160 million to 180 million people in nine countries, is also in trouble. Egypt has long warned that it would go to war to protect its access to Nile waters.
A recently released U.N. study, “Third World Water Development Report,” noted that while water-supply targets are being attained in much of the world, “sub-Saharan Africa and low-income Arab states are far from the target, and some risk backsliding.”
By 2020, the report said, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa may be exposed to increased water stress owing to climate change, and “conflicts will likely intensify.”
Kenyan journalist Ernest Waititu is reporting on East Africa water issues with support from a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
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