The Source, our Annual Review 2019

It’s now possible how best to optimise water sharing and define the threshold levels below which we could anticipate conflict

In 2019, we were working in many parts of the region to head off such disasters, helping governments to secure better water allocation, and wetland communities to make best use of what they have. Our strategy is to promote di- alogue around water as the key natural resource on which all others depend, as a route to conflict prevention and resolution. In Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, we have organised local and Dutch experts to analyse ways forward in the Ziway-Shalla, an in- land basin whose lakes are being emptied for irrigation by both smallholders and giant European flower growers. Lake Abijatta, famous for its flamingos, has lost a third of its sur - face area and may disappear entirely within two decades. To prevent that, we are working with farmers’ coopera- tives, public authorities and others to alleviate the threats, through everything from more efficient farming to a new properly-enforced water allocation plan. In 2019, we worked with the Maki Batu Union of some 9000 farmers to help them adopt drip irrigation, which could reduce their water needs by 25-30 per cent. But national action is not enough. Many rivers in the Sahel cross borders. We need to build international political will. So at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in Septem- ber 2019, we announced a commitment to establish the Blue Lifelines for a Secure Sahel initiative (BLiSS). The aim is

It is now possible to quantify how best to share water among different stakeholders to optimise benefits for different users , and to define the threshold levels below which we could anticipate conflict arising,” says Madgwick. “It looks possible to enhance agriculture, energy and safe- guard the delta. But it will take political will.” Luckily, political will does remain. In 2019, we successfully anchored wetland conservation and restoration in the new Malian National Water Policy. And we helped four municipal- ities establish development plans that will manage water to protect major wintering grounds for water birds from Europe. Wetlands such as the Inner Niger Delta have long been the Sahel’s most important natural resources: economic en- gines, ecological jewels and life-saving human refuges dur- ing droughts. But they are almost everywhere in decline. Dams and irrigation diversions, intended to harness water for economic development in this arid region end up dis- possessing those people most dependent on its free flow. The result is conflict -- sometimes exploited by militants – and outmigration. Many Africans taking boats to Europe come from villages caught up in conflicts over the Sahel’s diminishing wetlands. Since 2013, more than two million people have fled the shores of Lake Chad, which has been reduced to a tenth of its former size by the abstraction of water from the rivers that once fed it.

Lake Abijata is in rapid retreat as water is abstracted from the interconnected lakes of Ethiopia’s Central Rift Valley. The biggest users of water are giant European flower growers.


Wetlands Annual Review 2019

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