Inter Press Service » The Southern Africa Water Wire http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 Aug 2014 11:24:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The South African Water Utility That Uses Shipping Containers and Sewer Water to Provide Water for Allhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/the-south-african-water-utility-that-uses-shipping-containers-and-sewer-water-to-provide-water-for-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-south-african-water-utility-that-uses-shipping-containers-and-sewer-water-to-provide-water-for-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/the-south-african-water-utility-that-uses-shipping-containers-and-sewer-water-to-provide-water-for-all/#comments Tue, 03 Jun 2014 09:37:10 +0000 Brendon Bosworth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134737 The Umgeni River system supplies drinking water to about five million people in the city of Durban, South Africa. But demand for water has outstripped supply for the past seven years. Pictured here is Howick Falls, which lies on the Umgeni River. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

The Umgeni River system supplies drinking water to about five million people in the city of Durban, South Africa. But demand for water has outstripped supply for the past seven years. Pictured here is Howick Falls, which lies on the Umgeni River. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

By Brendon Bosworth
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Jun 3 2014 (IPS)

South Africa’s eThekwini municipality may have come under fire from residents from proposing to purify wastewater so it can be used for drinking, but this municipality’s pragmatic approach to water management has made it one of the most progressive in Africa. 

Neil Macleod, head of water and sanitation at eThekwini municipality, which encompasses the port city of Durban, has reason to be proud of his colleagues.

The eThekwini municipality, which was created through joining smaller municipalities within Durban, the province’s urban centre, has overcome huge challenges following its formation in 2000. “They actually translated the constitutional rights of South Africans to have access to water by definition into reality — that’s very important." -- Joppe Cramwinckel, director of water at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

At that time, due to Apartheid planning, the city of Durban had first-world quality water services, serving about one million people, MacLeod told IPS. But there were another one million people living in the surrounding dormitory towns with neglected and degraded infrastructure. A further one million people living in the municipality’s rural areas had no access to proper water services, he explained.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution guarantees citizens the right to water, so over the years the municipality has rolled out water and sanitation services, often having to innovate in rural areas and informal settlements.

To provide sanitation services to citizens in informal settlements, the municipality has introduced modified shipping containers that house showers, wash troughs and toilets, Macleod explained.

Poor families also receive free water, an allocation of nine kilo-litres per month.

“We have about 300,000 families that receive free basic water and free basic sanitation — either a container toilet or a urine diverting toilet,” Macleod told IPS.

Last week, the municipality’s water and sanitation unit scooped the Stockholm Industry Water Award, which is given to utilities or companies that have achieved excellence in water management.

Jens Berggren, director of the Stockholm Water Prize and Stockholm Industry Water Award, tells IPS that the “[eThekwini municipality] has been addressing issues in a very pragmatic and understanding way.”

“Not from above, from a technical perspective, but based in reality — these are people’s lives that they have to live.”

Joppe Cramwinckel, director of water at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, one of the award’s partner organisations, told IPS “they’re operating under very difficult circumstances.”

“They have a large customer base to cover, and a variety of customers, and they have developed and experimented with some very novel approaches to deal with the big challenges they face.

“They actually translated the constitutional rights of South Africans to have access to water by definition into reality — that’s very important,” he said.

South Africa’s 232-kilometre Umgeni River is clean upstream but the closer it gets to the sea, the dirtier it becomes. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

South Africa’s 232-kilometre Umgeni River is clean upstream but the closer it gets to the sea, the dirtier it becomes. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

Water shortages on horizon

But Macleod and the water and sanitation department can’t afford to rest on their laurels, however.

As IPS reported in 2013, the municipality faces the prospect of future water shortages, due in part to its reliance on the oversubscribed Umgeni river system.

The recently built Spring Grove dam is now about 80 percent full, said Macleod, and with good rains recently, he is confident there won’t be shortages for the next two years.

“Statistically, we’re still okay until the end of 2015. Thereafter, who knows? If a drought hits and demand continues to grow the way it is then we move back into deficit,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you have rationing immediately, or restrictions, but the chances of it go up and up.”

Various water augmentation options for the region are currently on the table. The municipality has proposed treating and purifying its wastewater so it can be used as drinking water. The purified water would be mixed with conventional drinking water at a ratio of 30 percent re-used water to 70 percent conventional.

There has been some resistance to the idea, including a petition by concerned residents.

Since treated wastewater is discharged into rivers and then winds up in the drinking water supply, people are already drinking recycled sewage, said Macleod. “We’ve been drinking sewage for 40 years, quite happily, as has a lot of this country — Johannesburg included.” 

To buffer the water supply in future, state-owned company Umgeni Water, the largest supplier of bulk potable water in KwaZulu-Natal province, has proposed building two seawater desalination plants.

One of the plants would be on the south coast, adjacent to the Lovu River, and one would be on the north coast near Tongaat.

Each plant would be capable of producing 150 megalitres of water a day, enough to fill 75 Olympic swimming pools.

The proposed desalination plants could offer an alternative to building a costly and large dam on the uMkhomazi river, which would likely be operational by 2030.

Water would be sucked into the plants from one kilometre offshore, in the case of the Lovu plant, and 650 metres offshore in the case of the Tongaat plant, according to information supplied by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, which is doing the environmental assessment for Umgeni Water.

The saltwater would be converted to potable water at the plants by the process of reverse osmosis. This involves pumping saltwater at high-pressure through a semi-permeable membrane that retains the salt, and allows water to pass through.

“It’s feasible but it’s just very energy intensive and much more expensive than the other options,” said Macleod of the desalination plants. “The harsh reality is we don’t have the energy and we can’t afford the costs.”

While authorities are weighing up the pros and cons of the various water augmentation options — recycling sewage water, building desalination plants, or constructing a new dam — time is running short.

“Soon we have to make a decision,” said Macleod. “It has to be this year.”

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“Sanitation for All” a Rapidly Receding Goalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:10:32 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133616 An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate.

The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be the world’s largest ever to take place on the issue."Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine." -- Darren Saywell

Water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, constitute a key development metric, yet sanitation in particular has seen some of the poorest improvements in recent years.

Participants at Friday’s summit included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake as well as dozens of government ministers and civil society leaders.

“Today 2.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene,” the World Bank’s Kim said Friday. “This results in 400 million missed school days, and girls and women are more likely to drop out because they lack toilets in schools or are at risk of assault.”

Kim said that this worldwide lack of access results in some 260 billion dollars in annual economic losses – costs that are significant on a country-to-country basis.

In Niger, Kim said, these losses account for around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. In India the figure is even higher – around 6.4 percent of GDP.

Friday’s summit was convened by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s mandate is to protect the rights of children and make sure they achieve their full potential. WASH is critical to what we hope for children to achieve, as well as to their health,” Sanjay Wijesekera, associate director of programmes for UNICEF, told IPS.

“Every day, 1400 children die from diarrhoea due to poor WASH. In addition, 165 million children suffer from stunted growth, and WASH is a contributory factor because clean water is needed to absorb nutrients properly.”

Over 40 countries came to the meeting to share their commitments to improving WASH.

“Many countries have already shown that progress can be made,” Wijesekera said. “Ethiopia, for example, halved those without access to water from 92 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2012, and equitably across the country.”

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Good investment

Indeed, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water halved the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. Yet the goal to improve access to quality sanitation facilities was one of the worst performing MDGs.

In order to get sanitation on track, a global partnership was created called Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), made up of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners.

“Sanitation as a subject is a complicated process … You have different providers and actors involved at the delivery of the service,” Darren Saywell, the SWA vice-chair, told IPS.

“NGOs are good with convening communities and community action plans. The private sector is needed to respond and provide supply of goods when demand is created. Government needs to help regulate and move the different leaders in the creation of markets.”

In addition, sanitation and hygiene are not topics that can gain easy political traction.

“It is not seen as something to garner much political support,” Saywell says. “Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine.”

Saywell says that an important part of SWA’s work is to demonstrate that investing in WASH is a good economic return.

“Every dollar invested in sanitation brings a return of roughly five dollars,” he says. “That’s sexy!”

Sustainable investments

Friday’s summit covered three main issues: discussing the WASH agenda for post-2015 (when the current MDGs expire), tackling inequality in WASH, and determining how these actions will be sustainable.

“We would like the sector to the set the course for achieving universal access by 2030,” Henry Northover, the global head of policy at WaterAid, a key NGO participant, told IPS.

Although the meeting did not set the post-2015 global development goals for WASH, it was meant to call public attention to the importance of these related goals and ways of achieving them.

“Donors and developing country governments need to stop seeing sanitation as an outcome of development, but rather as an indispensable driver of poverty reduction,” Northover said.

WaterAid recently published a report on inequality in WASH access, Bridging the Divide. The study looks at the imbalances in aid targeting and notes that, for instance, Jordan receives 850 dollars per person per year for WASH while Madagascar, which has considerably worse conditions, receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year.

The report says this imbalance in aid targeting is due to “geographical or strategic interests, historical links with former colonies, and domestic policy reasons”. Northover added to this list, noting that “donors are reluctant to invest in fragile states.”

“In India, despite spectacular levels of growth over the past 10 years, we have seen barely any progress in the poorest areas in terms of gaining access to sanitation,” he continued. “Regarding inequality, we are talking both in terms of wealth and gender: the task falls to women and girls to fetch water, they cannot publicly defecate, and have security risks.”

Others see funding allocation as only an initial step.

“Shift the money to the poorer countries, and then, so what?” John Sauer, of the non-profit Water for People, asked IPS. “The challenge is then the capacity to spend that money and absorb it into district governments, the ones with the legal purview to make sure the water and sanitation issues get addressed.”

Friday’s meeting also shared plans on how to use existing resources better, once investments are made.

“If there is one water pump, it will break down pretty quickly,” WaterAid’s Northover said. “This often requires some level of institutional capability for financial management.”

Countries also described their commitments to make sanitation sustainable. The Dutch government, for instance, introduced a clause in some of its WASH agreements that any related foreign assistance must function for at least a decade. East Asian countries like Vietnam and Mongolia are creating investment packages that also help to rehabilitate and maintain existing WASH systems.

“This is probably one of the biggest meetings on WASH possibly ever, and what we mustn’t forget is that the 40 or 50 countries coming are making a commitment to do very tangible things that are measurable, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS. “That bodes well for achieving longer-term goals of achieving universal access and equality.”

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World Bank Clears Congo’s Controversial Dam Projecthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 00:04:19 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133133 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank Thursday approved a 73.1-million-dollar grant in support of a controversial giant dam project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

With another 33.4 million dollars approved by the African Development Bank late last year, the grant, which is being provided by the Bank’s soft-loan affiliate, the International Development Association (IDA), will be used to help establish the legal framework and state authority that will oversee the dam’s construction and operations.“If leaders of emerging economies are truly interested in the welfare of their citizens, they are better off laying grand visions of mega-dams aside.” -- Atif Ansar

It will also finance a number of environmental and social assessments to shape the development of the multi-billion dollar Inga 3 Basse Chute (BC) dam project.

“By being involved in the development of Inga 3 BC from an early stage we can help ensure that its development is done right so it can be a game changer by providing electricity to millions of people and powering commerce and industry,” said Makhtar Diop, the Bank’s vice president for Africa.

“Supporting transformative projects that expand people’s access to electricity is central to achieving the World Bank Group’s twin goals of helping to end extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity,” he added.

But the Bank’s support for the project drew criticism from some environmental and civil-society groups that have long opposed a project that is expected to cost at least 14 billion dollars.

“By approving Inga 3, the World Bank shows it has not learnt lessons from the bad experience of previous dams on the Congo River despite its claims to the contrary,” according to Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Director of the California-based International Rivers (IR).

“The Bank is turning a blind eye to the DRC’s poor governance and is taking short-cuts to the environmental assessment of the project,” he added.

That view was echoed by Maurice Carney, executive director of the Friends of the Congo, a Washington-based organisation with ties to community and environmental groups in the DRC.

“We see this decision as consistent with past World Bank projects that wind up as white elephants,” he told IPS. “There are a number of other alternatives for developing the DRC’s enormous energy capacity, including solar, wind, smaller-scale hydro and biofuel.

“The project is being presented as if it will help the population, but more often than not, these big dam projects end up serving industry at the expense of local communities many of which will be displaced once Inga 3 is fully developed.”

As currently envisioned, the Inga III dam would be the first in a series of hydroelectric installations along the Congo River, collectively referred to as the Grand Inga project. This would include a single 145-metre dam, which would flood an area known as the BundiValley, home to around 30,000 people.

The full project could provide up to 40,000 megawatts of electricity, a power potential that has been eyed hungrily by the rest of the continent for decades.  The DRC’s total hydropower potential is estimated to be the third largest in the world after China and Russia.

While DRC’s chaotic governance, however, has stymied forward progress on the project for years, the Grand Inga vision received an important boost last year when the South African government agreed to purchase a substantial amount of power produced by Inga III.

The dam is now supposed to be built by 2020 and, according to Congolese government estimates from November, would produce around 4,800 MW of electricity. Of this, 2,500 MW would go to South Africa while another 1,300 MW would be earmarked for use by mines and related industry in the province of Katanga.

Construction is scheduled to begin by 2016. The Bank will rely heavily on its private-arm facility, the International Finance Corporation, to help DRC’s government establish an autonomous Inga Development Authority which will, among other things, be charged with deciding on construction bids and negotiating purchasing deals for the electricity generated by the dam.

According to Peter Bosshard, IR’s director, the selection of the contractor to build the dam could prove problematic.

He told IPS three consortia are currently in the running: SinoHydro and China Three Gorges Corporation from China, a Canadian-Korean consortium, and a third made up primarily of Spanish companies.

But one of the Canadian companies involved has been barred from receiving any support from by the Bank for past corruption, while SinoHydro has been suspended pending the outcome of a corruption investigation by the Bank, according to Bosshart.

“This means that, unless the DRC government picks the Spanish consortium, it won’t be able to get any World Bank Group loans for the actual construction,” he noted.

That could be a problem. According to Bernard Sheahan, the IFC’s director of infrastructure and natural resources, “the level of investment for Inga 3 BC is so high that neither the public sector nor the private sector alone could finance the full cost of development of the project.”

Huge hydro-electric dams have long been a controversial issue at the Bank which, for most of its history, was an enthusiastic supporter.

Protests by local communities and international human rights and environmental groups that documented the massive displacements and environmental damage these mega-dams often caused – not to mention their failure to deliver electricity to those most in need – resulted in a halt in approving new projects in the mid-1990s.

Indeed, while the 50-year-old Inga 1 and 2 dams were supposed to provide power to much of the country, only ten percent of DRC households have electricity.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress passed a landmark new law requiring the U.S. Treasury, which represents Washington on the Bank’s board, to vote against multilateral funding for large-scale hydro-electric projects in developing countries.

The U.S. representative abstained on the vote Thursday, according to knowledgeable sources.

Earlier this month, four researchers at Oxford Unversity Said Business School released a major study based on data from 245 large dams built since 1934 in 65 different countries.

It found that they suffered average cost overruns of more than 90 percent and delays of nearly 50 percent inflicting huge additional costs in inflation and debt service for the mostly public entities that built them.

“Proponents of mega-dams tend to focus on rare stories of success in order to get their pet projects approved,” said Atif Ansar, one of the Oxford researchers. “If leaders of emerging economies are truly interested in the welfare of their citizens, they are better off laying grand visions of mega-dams aside.”

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Climate Change Triggers Disease Risk in Tanzaniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/climate-change-triggers-disease-risk-tanzania/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-triggers-disease-risk-tanzania http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/climate-change-triggers-disease-risk-tanzania/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 09:15:18 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131726 The Jangwani slum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was flooded during the heavy rain at the end of 2013 and early this year. Credit: Muhidin Issa Michuzi/IPS

The Jangwani slum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was flooded during the heavy rain at the end of 2013 and early this year. Credit: Muhidin Issa Michuzi/IPS

By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Feb 18 2014 (IPS)

Residents in low-lying areas in Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, are potentially at risk of contracting waterborne diseases as heavy rains, which started last week, continue to pound the city.

Early this month, the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) announced that Dar es Salaam was among the areas in northern and southern Tanzania that would receive above-average rainfall and strong winds in the coming weeks, and urged residents to take precautions.

Tanzania’s eastern Morogoro Region was also affected in January as flash floods displaced over 10,000 people and damaged infrastructure such as roads and houses.

In Jangwani and  Kigogo, administrative areas in Dar es Salaam, residents who refused to heed the government’s call to vacate the area are being affected by the current downpour.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, the rain resulted in a lot of water here,” resident Maulid Ali told IPS.

Local residents from Kigogo told IPS that the water had become a serious health hazard because people are emptying their pit latrines into the flooded water, which resulted in human excreta spreading through the area.

“We drink water from the well but when it rains it is difficult to know if it is safe,” Riziki Mwenda, a resident of Kigogo, told IPS.

Public health experts have cautioned that residents in disaster-prone areas are potentially vulnerable to epidemic diseases.

Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Said Meck Sadick told IPS that waterborne diseases were endemic to the city because some residents did not observe good hygiene.

“We keep on reminding people in low-lying areas to take precautions and observe health regulations such as boiling water and using toilet facilities,” he said.

According to data from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Dar es Salaam is among five coastal regions with the highest number of cholera cases with incidents reported almost every year.

But these cases could increase as this East African nation experiences the visible impact of climate change.

A 2011 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health stated that risks to cholera increase by 15 to 29 percent with a one degree Celsius temperature increase.

Projections by the TMA show that mean annual temperatures here will increase between 2.1 to four degrees Celsius in northern, central and southern Tanzania by 2100.

The agency’s director of Research and Applied Meteorology, Ladislaus Chang’a, told IPS that increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events were likely to continue hitting most parts of the country.

He said that northern and southern Tanzania would experience an increase in rainfall ranging from five to 45 percent, adding that most parts of the country may experience a decrease in rainfall of 10 to 15 percent.

“A rapid increase or decrease of rainfall will hit most parts of the country, causing floods or droughts, which has contributed to malnutrition due to lack of food, increased infectious diseases and scarcity of clean water,” he said.

However, Herbert Kashililah, a technical advisor with global charity Water Aid, told IPS that the increasing number of epidemic diseases related to climate change in Dar es Salaam was largely exacerbated by existing policy gaps and lack of citizen accountability.

“The existing gap between policy and practice is attributed to lack of accountability from principal actors and overlap of authority between local governments and central ministry in enforcing existing laws controlling such diseases,” he said. Tanzania has no policy on climate change.

Kashililah said that public health enforcement should be taken seriously.

“The government should significantly invest in a clean water supply for every city resident but [should] also ensure waste water is properly managed,” he said.

Kashililah said that a majority of households obtain water from boreholes that are contaminated with sewage and sanitation effluents and still did not have access to running water.

The government admitted that communicable diseases still posed a serious public health risk across the country as a whole despite efforts to prevent and control it.

The Minister for Health and Social Welfare Dr. Seif Rashid told IPS that the government was committed to improving the health and well-being of Tanzanians by encouraging the health system to be more responsive to those at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.

“The policy is there and how we implement it very much depends on the funds allocated in the national budget,” he said.

Rashid said that the government would continue its public education campaign through community-based programmes so that people understand and take appropriate measures to prevent themselves from contracting diseases.

He added that the government hoped to improve water supply and sanitation services across the country through its donor-funded Water Sector Development Programme.

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Plugging South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Leakshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/plugging-south-africas-post-apartheid-leaks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plugging-south-africas-post-apartheid-leaks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/plugging-south-africas-post-apartheid-leaks/#comments Wed, 12 Feb 2014 08:35:03 +0000 Melany Bendix http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131447 Queenie Magubane, 38, of Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa, uses a bucket to collect the water that constantly leaks from her outdoor tap. It is one of thousands of faulty taps across South Africa. Credit: Melany Bendix/IPS

Queenie Magubane, 38, of Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa, uses a bucket to collect the water that constantly leaks from her outdoor tap. It is one of thousands of faulty taps across South Africa. Credit: Melany Bendix/IPS

By Melany Bendix
CAPE TOWN, Feb 12 2014 (IPS)

The South African government’s earnest rush to provide water to millions of people post-apartheid may have jeopardised its attempts to provide services to the country in the long run.

South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world, yet it is one of the fastest-growing water consumers. According to the National Treasury’s 2012 Budget Review, demand for the scarce resource is increasing so rapidly that it is set to outstrip supply as early as 2030.

But this nation is in a race against time to plug the holes in its leaky water supply system, which is allowing so much of the crucial resource to drip away that the country’s water security is now at risk.“Without water we cannot achieve our government’s priorities, such as infrastructure development and food security.” -- Rejoice Mabudafhasi, deputy minister of the DWEA

Jay Bhagwan, executive manager for water use and waste management  at the Water Research Commission (WRC), said that this water wastage was a natural result of the government having to quickly extend the water supply to a large majority of the country’s 51 million people post-democracy.

“After 1994 we had to give more than half the population access to water. This obviously put a lot of pressure on resources and capacity,” he told IPS.

“Maintenance just wasn’t a high priority and we are starting to see the consequences of that now.”

A 2013 WRC study revealed that South Africa is losing an average of 1.58 billion kilo-litres of water a year — the equivalent of 4.3 million swimming pools of water. The water wastage, attributed mostly to leaky pipes and theft, represents more than a third of all municipal water.

Shortage of Skilled Engineers

Kobus van Zyl, associate professor of hydraulic engineering at the University of Cape Town, whose speciality is water distribution systems, agreed that providing water to those who were denied this basic service under apartheid was a contributing factor to the current water woes.

But he argued that the mass exodus of engineers and project managers over the past 20 years was the key reason.

“The huge problem is that we’ve lost a lot of expertise, both on a local level in municipalities and at a national level within the Department of Water Affairs,” he told IPS.

“As a result there is a massive shortage of engineers and project managers, and you simply cannot manage a distribution system properly if you don’t have enough people with the necessary expertise to do so.”

Of the more than 230 municipalities in South Africa, 79 have no civil engineers or technicians and only 45 have civil engineers, according to a report by Allyson Lawless, a former president of the South African Institute of Civil Engineering.

To illustrate how extreme the situation is, Lawless’ report pointed out that there are more civil engineers serving the zoo infrastructure in Auckland, New Zealand, than in 86 percent of South Africa’s municipalities.

Water Loss Affects Development

Aside from costing the South African economy a hefty 642 million dollars a year, widespread water wastage jeopardises the country’s socio-economic development.

“Water is not just part of the economy, it is the lifeblood of our economy,” Christine Colvin, senior manager for the World Wide Fund for Nature’s freshwater programme in South Africa, told IPS.

“Expecting to maintain the economy and grow it without water is like expecting someone to carry on living after draining all the blood from their body.”

Rejoice Mabudafhasi, deputy minister of the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA), agreed.

“Without water we cannot achieve our government’s priorities, such as infrastructure development and food security,” Mabudafhasi told IPS.

She added that water shortages would derail the government’s plans to deliver this basic service to hundreds of impoverished communities throughout South Africa, who still do not have access to clean, running water.

Van Zyl pointed out that South Africa’s poorest areas are likely to be hardest hit by water shortages.

“The drier parts of the country will be the first to experience shortages. These are commonly areas where the previous ‘homelands’ were established, which are still radically impoverished,” he said.

He added that “warning signs are now very clear in South Africa — demand will outstrip supply unless immediate action is taken.”

It seems South African President Jacob Zuma has taken heed of these warning signs by asking DWEA’s minister Edna Molewa to reduce water loss by 50 percent in 2014.

Her department has stepped up its War on Leaks project, which focuses on getting communities and municipalities to work together to report and fix leaks.

As to whether the DWEA’s efforts will ensure South Africa has enough water for the future, van Zyl said the initiatives are positive but more needed to be done in order to turn around the crisis.

“With what is currently being done, the best we can hope for is to plug a few holes. We need to do more because time’s running out.”

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DRC Mega-Dam to Be Funded by Private Sector, Groups Chargehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/drc-mega-dam-funded-private-sector-groups-charge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drc-mega-dam-funded-private-sector-groups-charge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/drc-mega-dam-funded-private-sector-groups-charge/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 01:58:55 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131424 The Inga III dam would be the first in a series of hydroelectric installations along the Congo River, collectively referred to as the Grand Inga project. Credit: alaindg/GNU license

The Inga III dam would be the first in a series of hydroelectric installations along the Congo River, collectively referred to as the Grand Inga project. Credit: alaindg/GNU license

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Feb 11 2014 (IPS)

Watchdog groups here are warning that a deal has been struck that would see Chinese investors fund a massive, contentious dam on the Congo River, the first phase of a project that could eventually be the largest hydroelectric project in the world.

Discussions around the Inga III dam proposal, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have been taking place in some form for decades. They have picked up speed over the past year, however, under the auspices of the World Bank, the Washington-based development funder.“Handing the project over to a private investor will make it even less likely the country’s poor people would benefit from the project.” -- Peter Bosshard

On Tuesday, the bank’s board of directors were to have voted on an initial 73-million-dollar loan for the project, to be offered through the International Development Association (IDA), the institution’s programme for the world’s poorest countries. Last week, however, that vote was abruptly postponed.

Now, civil society groups are reporting that the project may be going forward instead under the World Bank’s private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), with the backing of Chinese investors. Yet critics, who have long worried about the local social and environmental impact of the Inga project, worry that greater involvement by the private sector will result in skewed prioritisation of beneficiaries.

“Handing the project over to a private investor will make it even less likely the country’s poor people would benefit from the project,” Peter Bosshard, policy director for International Rivers, an advocacy group, said Monday.

“The IFC deal was arranged behind closed doors without any accountability to the DRC parliament, the World Bank’s board of directors, or civil society … Non-transparent deals such as the Inga 3 Dam are the best recipe for deepening corruption in the DRC. They will not strengthen the public accountability that is necessary for social and economic development.”

Citing multiple sources within the bank, Bosshard says the decision to change the Inga III funding modality appears to have been made between high-level officials from the World Bank, the IFC and USAID, the U.S. government’s main foreign-aid arm, reportedly bypassing the bank’s board of directors. Thus far, none of these institutions have publicly confirmed any deal.

“The World Bank Group is fully committed to supporting the Inga III hydropower project, which has the potential to improve the lives of millions of Africans,” a bank spokesperson told IPS in a statement. “We postponed presenting to our Board a Technical Assistance package related to the design of the project’s operation, but the project has not been cancelled, and our commitment to Inga III is unchanged.”

Primary beneficiaries

As currently envisioned, the Inga III dam would be the first in a series of hydroelectric installations along the Congo River, collectively referred to as the Grand Inga project. This would include a single 145 metre dam, which would flood an area known as the Bundi Valley, home to around 30,000 people.

The full project could provide up to 40,000 megawatts of electricity, a power potential that has been eyed hungrily by the rest of the continent for decades. While DRC’s chaotic governance has stymied forward progress on the project for years, the Grand Inga vision received an important boost last year when the South African government agreed to purchase a substantial amount of power produced by Inga III.

The 12-billion-dollar dam is now supposed to be built by 2020 and, according to Congolese government estimates from November, would produce around 4,800 MW of electricity. Of this, 2,500 MW would go to South Africa while another 1,300 MW would be earmarked for use by mines and related industry in the province of Katanga.

“There is little indication that the dam development schemes underway would address the issue of access to electricity for the population at-large; industrial users stand to be the primary beneficiaries,” Maurice Carney, executive director of Friends of the Congo, an advocacy group here, told IPS.

“Only 10 percent of Congo’s population has access to electricity and the situation is even worse for rural population, where only 1 percent has access to electricity. For a country like the DRC that is endowed with a plethora of alternative energy options, smaller-scale renewable energy technologies would be the best way forward.”

Carney and others are calling for a cumulative assessment of the Grand Inga scheme, to include study of all social and environmental impacts. Indeed, these have been longstanding concerns, but now some development advocates worry that greater private sector involvement in the Inga III project will further exacerbate such issues.

“We have questions about whether the scheme can deliver any development at all in the hands of the private sector,” Joshua Klemm, manager of the Africa programme at the Bank Information Center, a watchdog group here that focuses on the World Bank, told IPS.

“For good or bad, if this project belongs to the Congolese government, there’s at least some hope to expand electricity access in the country. That would go out the window if we’re talking about a purely private sector project.”

Duelling U.S. stances

As the Inga III project picked up momentum in recent months, USAID too expressed its interest in the proposal. The agency’s administrator, Rajiv Shah, visited the Inga III dam site in mid-December, and stated that the proposal could be added to a new, large-scale initiative by the United States to significantly increase electrification across Africa.

Although USAID was unable to comment for this story by deadline, any involvement by the agency in brokering a deal with the IFC would be interesting. Just last month, the U.S. Congress passed a landmark new law requiring the U.S. Treasury to formally vote against multilateral funding for large-scale hydroelectric projects in developing countries.

The new provisions, contained in a huge appropriations bill funding the federal government, impact both on bilateral U.S. funding through agencies such as USAID, as well as on the significant contributions that the United States provides to multilateral development institutions, particularly the World Bank. (The U.S. Treasury was unable to comment by deadline.)

“Under the [appropriations] language, the United States will have to oppose the Inga III dam at the IFC as much as it would have had to do this if it were an IDA project,” International Rivers’ Bosshard told IPS. “There’s no difference there, but it is ironic that the USAID administrator would have pushed the deal.”

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For Better or For Worse – Fracking in the Rustic Karoohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/for-better-or-for-worse-fracking-in-the-rustic-karoo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-better-or-for-worse-fracking-in-the-rustic-karoo http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/for-better-or-for-worse-fracking-in-the-rustic-karoo/#comments Mon, 25 Nov 2013 07:23:10 +0000 Gavin du Venage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129045 Quiet Karoo towns could be changed forever should gas exploration go ahead. Credit: Gavin du Venage/IPS

Quiet Karoo towns could be changed forever should gas exploration go ahead. Credit: Gavin du Venage/IPS

By Gavin du Venage
KAROO, South Africa, Nov 25 2013 (IPS)

To the casual passer-by, Petrus Kabaliso and his wife Cynthia present a disarmingly rustic sight, seated as they are under the shade of a date palm at a truck stop in the scorching Karoo desert, in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, a battered umbrella held jauntily over their heads.

“We find it very hard to live here,” Petrus, 59, tells IPS. “We find old metal, and sometimes the trucks that stop here leave bottles in the rubbish. We can change this for money, and buy pap [maize meal porridge] and sugar.”

Colesburg is more prosperous than many little Karoo towns. Trucks and cars ferrying people from up country to the coast make regular use of it as a stopover. Bed-and-breakfasts line the streets, with vacancy signs on display. But its wealth is relative: like most towns in the Karoo, the very lack of economic prospects is what has kept it away from the attention of developers.

But all this could change. There are plans to exploit potentially vast shale gas reserves under the earth here through hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

According to a study by financial research organisation Econometrix on behalf of energy multinational Shell, up to 480 trillion cubic feet of gas is available. To put this into context, Mossgas – the gas-to-liquids refinery situated on South Africa’s south coast – has provided five percent of the country’s fuel needs over the last 20 years using only one trillion cubic feet over this time, according to PetroSA, the refinery’s operators.

According to Econometrix, to exploit just 10 percent of the gas will create 700,000 new jobs.

But it has generated substantial controversy, with much of the debate focussing on how it will alter the Karoo landscape, some 400,000 square kilometres in central South Africa, which many believe should be left unspoiled.

“It will be better for all of us,” Ricardo Josephs, a petrol pump attendant in the picturesque town of Graaf Reinette, two hours from Colesburg, tells IPS. “Creating new jobs will mean my friends and family can come home. Everybody here is losing people who move to Cape Town or Jo’burg looking for work. Our people are all over and they don’t come back.”

Josephs concedes that the industrialisation of the Karoo may change its nature. “It will be a problem for the rich guys, the farm guys. They don’t want it to change. But for me, and the guys in the street, it will mean more jobs and better pay.”

Around 63 percent of the people in the Karoo live on or below the poverty line, Professor Anthony Leiman, an environmental economist at the University of Cape Town, tells IPS. “The finding of gas is like the discovery of gold all over again. It will profoundly change the future of the country.”

He notes that such large resources will inevitably disrupt life in the Karoo. In North Dakota, a sparsely-populated state of the United States, the discovery of large-scale gas reservoirs has turned life in many small towns upside down. The flood of male gas workers has seen towns swell to 10 times their population, and a rise in social problems from drug abuse to prostitution.

So far, much of the criticism has focused on possible environmental contamination, particularly of the Karoo’s scarce groundwater. The fracking process involves pumping thousands of litres into fissures kilometres below the ground. This fractures the rock, allowing gas to seep into a central well that carries it to the surface. In the U.S., incidents of badly prepared wells have led to groundwater contamination.

But Leiman dismisses this as a significant threat. “Poverty is a far greater hazard to the environment than fracking.”

Not so, counters the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), the main lobbyist organisation campaigning against the extraction of shale gas. The organisation claims the long-term consequences, particularly water pollution, will fall hardest on the poor.

Up to 20 million litres of water are needed per well in the fracturing process, says TKAG, which will put the gas companies in competition with locals for an already scarce resource.

A bigger issue, say opponents of the process, is possible pollution of the water table. The water injected into underground wells is laced with chemicals to aid the process. This, say critics of the technology, risks contaminating existing ground water reserves. Elsewhere in the world contamination has led to illnesses in humans and cattle, especially due to BTEX chemicals – a group of chemicals derived from petroleum – known for causing endocrine disruption and cancer, says TKAG.

In September, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa declared fracking a “controlled activity”, effectively compelling gas companies to obtain a separate licence from her department. This will go some way to controlling water use by companies in the area, but critics are unlikely to be satisfied with this.

The TKAG also takes issue with the social disruption gas extraction will bring. Jeannie le Roux, the TKAG’s director of operations, tells IPS the experience in shale gas rich areas in the U.S. has been severe social disruption, a point Leiman agrees with.

Alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution and social vices are quick to follow where young men with money, and not a whole lot to spend it on, are found.

“The social impact on a boom town brings lots of problems,” Le Roux says. “And the advantages it brings don’t last. Mining is a boom-bust activity. When the boom ends, the area is left with surplus labour.”

Although jobs will doubtlessly be created, Le Roux questions the benefits to affected communities. “History shows that the riches of mining seldom reach the people on the ground. Instead they end up with companies, and when the resource runs out, they depart, leaving the environmental degradation that local communities have to live with.”

It need not be this way, says Chris Nissen, chairman of the Karoo Shale Gas Community Forum, set up to represent the region’s poor in the fracking debate. The organisation was established a year ago to counter what he calls the “voice of the wealthy” who are fighting development of the region, Nissan tells IPS.

Nissen believes that vigorous enforcement of South Africa’s environmental laws can protect the landscape; and proper planning for the influx of migrant workers that could swamp small towns would ensure many potential problems could be averted.

“The Karoo is beautiful, but it is also a very sad place. In winter, you see children walking to school bare without shoes, through the frost.”

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Power Struggle Rises Over Tanzania’s Pangani Riverhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/power-struggle-rises-over-tanzanias-pangani-river/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=power-struggle-rises-over-tanzanias-pangani-river http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/power-struggle-rises-over-tanzanias-pangani-river/#comments Thu, 24 Oct 2013 08:11:32 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128330 (l – r) Residents of Hale township Jumanne Mazimbu, Rodrick Nzowa and Said Ngonyani negotiate their way on the muddy Pangani River in a canoe. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS.

(l – r) Residents of Hale township Jumanne Mazimbu, Rodrick Nzowa and Said Ngonyani negotiate their way on the muddy Pangani River in a canoe. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS.

By Kizito Makoye
PANGANI, Tanzania, Oct 24 2013 (IPS)

As farmers and herders fight over dwindling water levels in the Pangani River Basin in northeastern Tanzania, a new dispute is emerging between farmers and the state-run power utility firm over this precious resource.

The Tanzania Electric Supply Company or TANESCO manages three hydropower plants located on the Pangani River near Muheza district, which are meant to provide 17 percent of the country’s electricity.

Subira Mgalu, the Muheza district commissioner, told IPS that conflict was rife between farmers and TANESCO, particularly in downstream areas where the hydropower plants are located. She said that the government was trying to “find a lasting solution” to the dispute.

“Insufficient water has been the main source of the clashes between irrigators and TANESCO, but we have tried to use wisdom to resolve them by ensuring that the available resources are shared equally between the parties,” Mgalu said without elaborating further. This East African nation’s water policy does not exclusively grant water rights to any agency and considers water a national resource that should be shared equally by all Tanzanians.

For the last four years, northeastern Tanzania has been experiencing a drought that locals say is the worst to have ever hit the region. Thousands of farmers and herders who earn a living here have been affected.

Jumanne Mujuni, a councilor from Mombo town, which is located a few kilometres from the Hale hydropower station in Muheza district, told IPS that the drought has pushed many to the brink as they compete with TANESCO for dwindling water supplies. He added that many locals are now embroiled in disputes with the state-run utility.

“All these problems that we face are rooted in the drought. There were hardly any [problems] when there was enough water in the river,” he said.

Hydropower from the Pangani River, which has a capacity to provide 17 percent or about 97 megawatts (MW) of the country’s electricity demand– enough to light 100,000 homes – is experiencing generation output of less than 30 percent due to insufficient water. This has caused a deficit on the national grid.

TANESCO has blamed the farmers for overusing water for irrigation without bearing in mind that the river’s flow must be maintained to enable the hydropower plants to operate.

“Those activities are straining water supply to the production facilities. We have often experienced inadequate water flow, which is below the minimum mark required to run the generating turbines effectively,” Danstan Mramba, the TANESCO manager who oversees the Pangani hydropower stations, told IPS.

He explained that the New Pangani Falls and Hale hydropower plants had capacity to produce 21 MW and 68 MW respectively but were now only able to produce 9 MW and 32 MW respectively.

Director of Water Resources Protection at the ministry of water, Naomi Lupimo, told IPS that the traditional furrow irrigation schemes used by small-scale farmers in the upper Pangani basin were the major source of the dispute as they used water inefficiently.

“These people have probably forgotten their traditional ways of conserving water sources, that’s why they use it haphazardly as if there is no tomorrow. They must be reminded that the water belongs to the state and everybody has the right to it.

“In the past, traditional furrow irrigation was concentrated in the highlands. But as more people keep coming into the basin, this system has spread to the lowlands, putting enormous pressure on water resources,” Lupimo said.

She explained that in a bid to protect water sources, the government would, among other things, start charging for the resource in some areas.

Smallholder farmers, however, view this move as a deliberate effort to safeguard TANESCO’s interests. Some told IPS that their share of the water was not adequate as TANESCO was “too selfish” to share the water with indigenous people.

“We have lived in this area all our life. How come today some people point an accusing finger blaming us of encroaching on water sources?” Mwamedi Jecha, a farmer at Hale village in Muheza district, told IPS.

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Tanzania’s Coastal Communities Forced to Drink Seawaterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/tanzanias-costal-communities-forced-to-drink-seawater/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tanzanias-costal-communities-forced-to-drink-seawater http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/tanzanias-costal-communities-forced-to-drink-seawater/#comments Tue, 22 Oct 2013 07:36:49 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128283 Pangani Basin Water Board officials Arafa Maggidi (green shirt) and Lillian Mkongo (seated) collected water samples to measure salinity at one of the tributaries of Pangani River in September 2013. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Pangani Basin Water Board officials Arafa Maggidi (green shirt) and Lillian Mkongo (seated) collected water samples to measure salinity at one of the tributaries of Pangani River in September 2013. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

By Kizito Makoye
PANGANI, Tanzania, Oct 22 2013 (IPS)

The freshwater drinking supply of the coastal town of Pangani in northeast Tanzania is becoming increasingly contaminated as salt water steadily seeps in from the Indian Ocean.

The 500 km Pangani River and underground aquifers are the main sources of drinking water for thousands of residents in Pangani town, located about 400km north of the capital, Dar es Salaam. Over the last few decades, the rising ocean has been siphoning away freshwater and leaking salt water into aquifers and wells.

Dwindling rainfall has also made it difficult to replenish freshwater supplies. But Pangani town residents tell IPS that some underground wells that were previously resilient to the seeping salt water have now been contaminated.

“The rate at which dissolved salt is leaking into freshwater sources is quite alarming, we have to be extra-vigilant to monitor this situation,” Hamza Sadiki, a researcher with Pangani Basin Water Board tells IPS. He says most water sources have been contaminated, leaving people with no other option but to drink salty water.“It’s a pity that most people drink salty water whose salinity exceeds acceptable standards, but we simply can’t tell them don’t drink it.” -- Mohamed Hamis, a water engineer with the Pangani Town district authority

Scientists have linked the growing problem partially to climate change. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as sea levels rise, water from the ocean will inundate wetlands and other low-lying lands, intensify flooding and increasing the salinity of rivers and groundwater tables.

According to a 2011 study titled “Economics of climate change in Tanzania”, published by the Tanzania government in collaboration with the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, changing weather patterns in this East African nation will make its coastal communities more vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Already, many along the coast have been forced to drink water with high levels of soluble salt and many are bracing for a bleak future as they desperately wait for the government to improve the quality of their water.

“Salt water is a huge problem here, but we drink it anyway since fresh water has become scarce. All the wells are supplying salt water – we need help,” Amran Shamte, a 65-year-old local resident tells IPS. He recalls his school days in the 1960s when crocodiles were commonly seen close to the river mouth. He says that today they have moved further upstream as they cannot withstand the salt water seeping into their freshwater supply.

According to the World Health Organisation, the acceptable level of dissolved salts in freshwater from lakes, rivers and ground water is from 20 to 800 milligrams per litre (mg/L).

But water samples taken by researchers from the Pangani Basin Water Board show that the total soluble salt levels downstream of the Pangani River are far beyond acceptable standards at 2,000 mg/L.

“It is for this reason that the government decided to set its own standards of salt water to enable people in coastal communities to drink this water,” Arafa Maggid, an engineer from Pangani Basin Water Board tells IPS.

Sabas Kimboka, a nutritionist from the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre, tells IPS that drinking salt water over a long period of time could potentially be hazardous to human health since salt dehydrates the body.

“There is no safe amount of seawater to drink, the salt makes you more dehydrated and requires you to drink more fresh water [that] you probably don’t have,” he explains.

Mohamed Hamis, a water engineer with the Pangani Town district authority, tells IPS that salt water intrusion has gone 10 km upstream of the river, making it difficult for the authority to supply fresh water, especially during high tide. The town authority now pumps water only during low tide and plans to move the pump further upstream, he says.

“Some of these villages are very close to the ocean, and the water table is already deeply percolated with dissolving salts,” Hamis says. They have not yet conducted a census to establish how many people are affected.

He adds that the government is considering hiring experts to drill salt water barrier wells to protect underground aquifers from contamination, but this project will depend on the availability of funds.

According to Hamis, in some villages two out of three large underground wells are highly contaminated by saline intrusion. As a result some residents have been forced to travel longer distances to find fresh water.

To help stem this growing problem, the government is encouraging local communities who live close to the Indian Ocean to move further inland where water sources are less contaminated. But many say they cannot afford to move anywhere since they do not have the means to do so.

“It’s a pity that most people drink salty water whose salinity exceeds acceptable standards, but we simply can’t tell them don’t drink it,” Hamis says, showing his concern for the government’s decision to raise the acceptable standards of water salinity beyond international norms.

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Conflicts Over Water Rise in Tanzaniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/conflicts-over-water-rise-in-tanzania/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflicts-over-water-rise-in-tanzania http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/conflicts-over-water-rise-in-tanzania/#comments Fri, 18 Oct 2013 08:51:17 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128250 (l-r) Jumanne Kikumbi, the chairman of Langoni village; Hamza Sadiki, an official from Pangani Basin Water Board; and Joseph Mwaimu walk on a muddy section of a dried Pangani River bed. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

(l-r) Jumanne Kikumbi, the chairman of Langoni village; Hamza Sadiki, an official from Pangani Basin Water Board; and Joseph Mwaimu walk on a muddy section of a dried Pangani River bed. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

By Kizito Makoye
PANGANI, Tanzania, Oct 18 2013 (IPS)

Conflicts over water are increasing in the sprawling Pangani River Basin in northeastern Tanzania as farmers and herders jostle for dwindling water resources in the face of climate change. Over the past decade, Maasai pastoralists from the northern areas of Moshi and Arusha have been streaming towards the basin with tens of thousands of their cattle in search of water and grazing pasture.

Hafsa Mtasiwa, the Pangani district commissioner, told IPS that the Maasais’ traditional land was strained by overuse of water resources and overgrazing. She said in the last three years 2,987 herders with 87,1321 cows and 98,341 goats moved into the basin’s low land, destroying arable land.

“This issue should have been resolved a long time ago had there been clear demarcation." -- Omar Kibwana, a local government official

She said that although the government of this East African nation was trying to control the influx into the basin, a lack of policy coordination between relevant regional authorities made this difficult.

“This is a very complex issue whose solution requires a general consensus between the fighting groups. You don’t simply chase away cattle keepers. We must educate them on the need to respect the rights of the others,” she said.

The Pangani River Basin, which sprawls across 48,000 square kilometres, is already stressed as it faces continued demands on its water resources and ecosystems.

According to the Water and Nature Initiative of the International Union of Conservation of Nature, the basin has a population of 3.4 million people, “80 percent of whom rely on small-scale farming. Ecosystems are in decline and, with aquatic resources supplying up to 25 percent of household income in parts of the basin, the poorest are those most affected by declining water levels.”

Statistics from the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) show rainfall patterns across many parts of the Pangani River Basin have drastically dropped in the past 10 years. Some areas that recorded 990 mm of rainfall a decade ago receive almost half of this now.

“The impacts of climate change are very difficult to foresee, they keep changing from time to time. It could start with drought then abruptly switch to floods, the important thing is for the people to adapt,” TMA’s director general Agnes Kijazi told IPS by phone.

What little water there is, is mostly used for irrigation and electricity generation. The Clim-A-Net project, which aims to develop scientific knowledge on climate change, states on its website that “almost 90 percent of the surface flow in the Pangani Basin is used for irrigation and hydropower generation.”

“We are spending sleepless nights just finding water, the little we get we feed our cattle. We have lost so many cows … The people here should also understand the situation we are in,” Vincent Ole Saidim, a Maasai youth living in Pangani, told IPS.

But farmers here complain about the number of cattle that enter their fields, destroying crops and irrigation structures in the process.

“These Maasai are very selfish people, they think they are always right, even when they destroy other people’s lives. I can’t bear them, they should go back to where they belong,” Mwasiti, Isinika a farmer in Pangani, told IPS.

Residents from the region told IPS that over the last six months tensions between farmers and herders have been ongoing and many feel that there is no end in sight.

The most recent incident that IPS noted occurred in August in Makenya village, a community of 600 people located about 19 km from the basin’s Pangani Town. According to residents, a scuffle involving farmers and pastoralists ensued when 24 herders attempted to take over the village’s central water source in order to feed their animals. The villagers managed to remove them and no deaths were reported.

However, two years ago in Mbuguni village, which is about 18 km from Pangani Town, four farmers were hacked to death by angry Maasai morans (warriors) as they tried to stop a group of cattle from trampling on their maize seedlings.

Omar Kibwana, a local government official from Mbuguni village, told IPS that conflict was rife because the government was reluctant to create borders separating farmers from pastoralists.

“This issue should have been resolved a long time ago had there been clear demarcation,” he said.

The Pangani Basin Water Board said it was aware of the challenges here.

Arafa Maggidi, an engineer from Pangani Basin Water Authority, told IPS that while climate change was the main reason for the reduced water supply here, other factors such as deforestation, increasing number of livestock, and an expansion of farming activities contributed.

“The threat of climate change and the need to adapt cannot be over emphasised. We are trying our very best to educate the people to change their life styles, they must understand by destroying environment they are preparing for their own suffering,” Maggidi said.

“We strongly believe that successful management of the water resources has to integrate all environmental, economic and social demands,” he said. Going forward, scientists predict increasing temperatures, reduced rainfall and ultimately less water.

According to Pius Yanda, a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam who is also a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a rise of between 1.8 and 3.6 degrees Celsius, decreasing rainfall and increased evaporation in the river basin can be expected before the end of the century.

But as they face an uncertain future, people here recall better times when the river was full and its flow was guaranteed throughout the year.

“The river has lost all its old glory, some of the fish species have also disappeared, how disgusting,” Fundi Mhegema, a villager at Buyuni village in Pangani, told IPS.

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From Toilet to Tap for Water Scarce Cityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/from-toilet-to-tap-for-water-scarce-city/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-toilet-to-tap-for-water-scarce-city http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/from-toilet-to-tap-for-water-scarce-city/#comments Tue, 01 Oct 2013 10:33:59 +0000 Brendon Bosworth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127653 The Umgeni River system supplies drinking water to about five million people in the city of Durban, South Africa. But demand for water has outstripped supply for the past seven years. Pictured here is Howick Falls, which lies on the Umgeni River. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

The Umgeni River system supplies drinking water to about five million people in the city of Durban, South Africa. But demand for water has outstripped supply for the past seven years. Pictured here is Howick Falls, which lies on the Umgeni River. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

By Brendon Bosworth
KWAZULU-NATAL, South Africa, Oct 1 2013 (IPS)

In a few years, residents of the eThekwini municipality in the port city of Durban in South Africa could be drinking water that was once flushed down their toilets, as authorities are planning to recycle some of the municipality’s sewage and purify it to drinking quality standards.

“We’re going through a crucial water shortage, which is increased by the water demand of eThekwini,” Speedy Moodliar, the municipality’s senior manager of planning for water and sanitation, told IPS.

The municipality relies on the Umgeni river system for water. But demand on the system, which supplies drinking water to about five million people and fuels industry in the economic hubs of Durban and Pietermaritzburg, a town 66 kilometres from the coast, has outstripped supply for the past seven years.

To boost supply in future, the South African government has proposed building a dam with a capacity of 250 million cubic metres on the uMkhomazi river, the third-largest river in KwaZulu-Natal, and transferring water to the Umgeni system.

But this scheme will only be operational by 2024 at the earliest, said Moodliar. “Between now and when the uMkhomazi [project] comes online, [wastewater] re-use will be our mitigation measure.”

In dry countries like Israel, Egypt, and Australia treated wastewater is used for industry, landscaping and agriculture. But worldwide few countries put it directly into their drinking water supplies.

Singapore uses purified wastewater to meet 30 percent of its water needs, although just a small percentage goes to drinking water and the majority is used by industry. Citizens of Windhoek, the capital of South Africa’s arid northwestern neighbour Namibia, have been drinking recycled wastewater for over 40 years.

In 2011 the Beaufort West municipality, which serves close to 50,000 people, began treating its sewage for use as drinking water after a vicious drought, making it the first in South Africa to do so. According to a 2012 World Bank report “The future of water in African cities: why waste water?” few cities in Africa have functioning wastewater treatment plants and “only a small proportion of wastewater is collected, and an even smaller fraction is treated.”

eThekwini municipality plans to upgrade two of its existing, and underperforming, wastewater treatment plants – the KwaMashu and Northern treatment works, Moodliar explained.

To remove contaminants and clean the water to drinking quality standard, a three-stage system that treats effluent through ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis, as well as disinfection by ultraviolet light and chlorine would be used. The treated water would also be stored and tested before being released.

The purified water will be mixed with conventional drinking water at a ratio of 30 percent re-used water to 70 percent conventional, said Moodliar. It will feed the municipality’s northern regions, including Umhlanga, Durban North, Reservoir Hills, and KwaMashu.

Re-using wastewater in this way will add 116 megalitres of tap water to the municipality’s supply daily. This is enough to fill just more than 46 Olympic-size swimming pools. It is roughly 13 percent of the municipality’s current daily consumption, and will provide an estimated seven years of water security.

While it will cost more to produce drinking water through wastewater recycling – about 75 cents per kilolitre compared to 50 cents per kilolitre for conventional treatment – the municipality sees it as “the best fit,” said Moodliar.

The municipality has touted the effectiveness and safety of the proposed system, but there has been opposition to the plan, including the submission of a 5,000-signature petition during the public participation process last year.

Citizens have raised concerns about the safety of drinking the re-used water. “Recycling of toilet water to drinking water is a death sentence to the general public because of health implications,” wrote Jennifer Bohus in an email to Golder Associates, the firm that produced the basic assessment report for the wastewater recycling proposal.

The municipality, however, maintains that the water will be fit to drink.

“The technology is advanced enough that the quality of the water being returned is high,” Graham Jewitt, director of the Centre for Water Resources Research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and chair of water resources management for state-owned Umgeni Water, told IPS. “Many cities all round the world use recycled water.”

“About 14 percent of water use in South Africa is actually water that’s being re-used, most of it indirectly,” Niel van Wyk, chief engineer with the Department of Water Affairs, responsible for strategic water resource planning in KwaZulu-Natal, told IPS.

Citizens opposing the plan also said the municipality, which loses 36 percent of its water annually, largely through leaks and illegal connections, should focus on fixing leaking pipes. Others proposed investment in seawater desalination plants, instead.

The potential for sucking seawater from the Indian Ocean and converting it to freshwater for the region is currently under investigation. But the process of seawater desalination, which involves pumping saltwater at high-pressure through a semi-permeable membrane that retains the salt, and allows water to pass through, remains costly.

Umgeni Water, the state-owned company that is the largest supplier of bulk potable water in KwaZulu-Natal, is doing a feasibility study for two desalination plants: one on the south coast, adjacent to the Lovu River, and one on the north coast near Tongaat, Shami Harichunder, corporate stakeholder manager for Umgeni Water, told IPS.

If built, these plants would be the largest desalination operations in the country, each capable of producing 150 megalitres of water a day. By comparison, the largest desalination plant in South Africa, in Mossel Bay in the Southern Cape, produces a tenth of that amount.

The cost to build one of the proposed plants is as much as 300 million dollars, according to Harichunder. The required technological components, like high-pressure pumps, are expensive, he said.

Desalination plants, however, can be built more quickly than large dams and transfer infrastructure, and also scaled up in future if needed, said the Department of Water Affairs’ van Wyk.

Umgeni Water’s feasibility study is to be completed in December this year. And the feasibility of building desalination plants will be compared to that of the proposal to dam the uMkhomazi river, said Harichunder.

 

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Water Scarcity Could Drive Conflict or Cooperationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/water-scarcity-could-drive-conflict-or-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-scarcity-could-drive-conflict-or-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/water-scarcity-could-drive-conflict-or-cooperation/#comments Mon, 02 Sep 2013 14:59:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127239 Refugees dig for water in a dried-up watering hole in Jamam camp, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

Refugees dig for water in a dried-up watering hole in Jamam camp, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 2 2013 (IPS)

When the General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC) three years ago, the U.N.’s highest policy-making body was conscious of the perennial conflicts triggered by competition over one of the world’s most critical finite resources.

Current and past water conflicts and marine disputes have included confrontations between Israel and Jordan, India and Pakistan, Egypt and Ethiopia, Palestine and Israel, and Bolivia, Peru and Chile.

Picking up the cue from the United Nations, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) is focusing its weeklong meeting this year on the theme “Water Cooperation – Building Partnerships.”

The 23rd annual meeting in the Swedish capital, attended by over 2,500 delegates, is due to conclude Friday.

Striking a more optimistic note, SIWI’s Executive Director Torgny Holmgren told IPS historically, water has been a source of cooperation more often than not. Over the past 50 years, he noted, there has been almost 2,000 interactions on transboundary basins of which only seven have involved violence and 70 percent have been cooperative.

“I think the future situation depends very much on our ability to deal with the water demand challenge,” said Holmgren, a former ambassador and head of the Department for Development Policy at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

“If we are able to increase water productivity so that we can free up water resources for protecting our environment, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the supply, and allowing for new users and uses, it will be easy to cooperate,” he said. “If we aren’t able to manage demand, and water management becomes more of a zero-sum exercise, avoiding conflict will be a challenge.”

Irina Bokova, director-general of the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the lead U.N. agency which will oversee IWYC, points out that there are numerous examples in which transboundary waters have proved to be a source of cooperation rather than conflict.

Nearly 450 agreements on international waters were signed between 1820 and 2007. And over 90 international water agreements were drawn up to help manage shared water basins on the African continent, she said in an interview with IPS last March.

According to the London-based WaterAid, nearly 768 million people in the world live without safe water, roughly one in eight people. Some 2.5 billion others live without access to sanitation, about 39 percent of the world’s population.

The U.S. intelligence community has already portrayed a grim scenario for the foreseeable future: ethnic conflicts, regional tensions, political instability and even mass killings.

During the next 10 years, “many countries important to the United States will almost certainly experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will contribute to the risk of instability and state failure, and increased regional tensions,” stated a National Intelligence Estimate released last year.

In a report released Monday, SIWI says in a world where the population is growing fast and the demand for freshwater is growing along with it, “the fact that we all depend on the same finite water resources is becoming impossible to ignore.

“Cooperation between sectors is fundamental if we are to successfully share and manage our most precious resource,” the group says.

The water problem is not something that can be solved only by experts, says the report titled “Cooperation for a Water Wise World: Partnerships for Sustainable Development.”

“We need to cooperate with actors outside the water sector, to foster collaboration between the various decision-making institutions, between the private, public and civic sectors as well as between actors who work in research, policy and practice,” it says.

“Only through sound and forward-looking partnerships can we achieve a water wise world,” Holmgren noted.

Addressing delegates Monday, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said in a world of population growth and pressures on water resources within and among nations, sound and fair water management “is a huge task and a clear imperative for all of us. And we have no time to waste.”

The 2015 deadline for the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is rapidly approaching. And there is good news in some areas, he said. Since the adoption of the MDGs in the year 2000, global poverty rates have been reduced by half. Two hundred million slum dwellers live better lives. School enrolment rates have increased dramatically.

“And last year we were able to announce that the world had reached the target for access to improved sources of water,” Eliasson said.

But water quality to a large degree still fails to meet basic World Health Organization (WHO) standards, he cautioned.

One of the main factors that negatively affects water quality is the lack of sanitation. The sanitation target is among the most lagging of the MDG Goals, with more than 2.5 billion people around the world without adequate sanitation – more than one-third of humanity, said Eliasson.

Asked if water and sanitation should stand alone as one of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently under discussion as part of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda, Holmgren told IPS, “I think we need a dedicated water SDG that stresses both the productive and protective roles of water resources management and the sustainable of water and sanitation.”

In addition, he said, the intimate connections between water, food, energy, security, biodiversity, and other issues must be spelled out, either in the water goal or in other goals.

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Southern Africa Shows the Way With Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/southern-africa-shows-the-way-with-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=southern-africa-shows-the-way-with-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/southern-africa-shows-the-way-with-water/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 09:23:17 +0000 John Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126663 Professor Anthony Turton, a trustee of the Water Stewardship Council of Southern Africa, says water will be key to the growth of the Southern African Development Community. Credit: John Fraser/IPS

Professor Anthony Turton, a trustee of the Water Stewardship Council of Southern Africa, says water will be key to the growth of the Southern African Development Community. Credit: John Fraser/IPS

By John Fraser
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 20 2013 (IPS)

Water remains a key component in development policy. And, as the Southern African Development Community discusses how best to develop the region, the effective management of watercourses will be key, says Professor Anthony Turton, one of the foremost experts on water policy in southern Africa and a trustee of the Water Stewardship Council of Southern Africa.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has an ambitious 500-billion dollar regional development plan that aims to develop the region’s roads, rails, and ports. The generation of power, and establishment of communication lines and meteorological systems have also been outlined as important to the region’s development.

Turton told IPS in an interview that the SADC Water Protocol, which outlines the practical implementation of management, protection and use of the shared watercourses in the region, is regarded globally as a model example of regional water integration. Currently, about 70 percent of the region’s water is shared between two or more countries.

“Energy is a national developmental constraint for many countries, but if the hydro potential of SADC is fully realised then regional energy security will replace national deficiencies,” Turton said.

“To do this we need regional [cooperation] over water, which is why the SADC Water Protocol was the first signed after South Africa joined the grouping. The private sector is now starting to come to the party, most notably in the mining and agribusiness sectors, where water and energy constraints are being recognised.”

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: What is the track record of past cooperation, in terms of success on the plus side or inefficiency and corruption on the other?

A: The SADC region is often cited in the global water sector as being the best example of water cooperation in transboundary resource management. The SADC Water Protocol is the foundation document for SADC regional integration, and serves the same purpose as the original coal, iron and steel agreements played in the creation of the European Economic Community and later the European Union. Cooperation over shared water in SADC is thus high.

Regarding corruption, the best case was that of Masupha Sole who was a senior executive in Lesotho Highlands water scheme who was indicted and imprisoned for corrupt dealings involving major construction companies in the 1980s and 1990s, some of which were South African. That case became one of the world’s first in getting a conviction, so I guess it is actually a good news story."Water is to SADC as coal, iron ore and energy was to the creation of the European Economic Community (which later became the EU)." -- Professor Anthony Turton

Q: In practical terms, do any worthwhile future or potential regional water projects come to mind?

A: On a grand scale there are major inter-basin transfer projects such as the Lesotho Highlands between Lesotho and South Africa; the North-South Carrier in Botswana; the Eastern National Water Carrier in Namibia and the Cunene-Cuvelai project between Angola and Namibia. Another interesting project is the first major desalination plant at Trekopje in Namibia. I believe this will be the first of many in the SADC region.

Q: Do you believe that climate change is a real threat to the region, and if so how might it have an impact?

A: In short yes. Greenhouse gas concentration is likely to raise ambient air temperatures by as much as four and maybe even six degrees Celcius in some parts of southern Africa – assuming a global rise of two degrees Celcius is “acceptable”. This will fundamentally alter the conversion ratio of rainfall to runoff, but it will also increase evaporative losses off dams.

An appropriate mitigation strategy is Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) (also known as Managed Aquifer Recharge – MAR), now a mainstream technology in places like California, Texas and Australia, but not yet in widespread use in the SADC region. I am currently working with an Australian technology provider to introduce this into Botswana. This stores water underground rather than in dams, preventing the losses to evaporation and thus greatly improving the sustainable yield of a given system.

Q:   Why is there a need for SADC countries to cooperate over water issues?

A: The four most economically diverse countries in southern Africa are highly water constrained (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe), whereas some of the neighbouring states are water abundant (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia). Water is to SADC as coal, iron ore and energy was to the creation of the European Economic Community (which later became the EU). Water cooperation in the SADC region will enable regional integration to mitigate these risks by allowing regional water, food and energy security to be guaranteed at regional rather than at national level.

 

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Africa’s Largest Hydroelectric Project May Hit the Rockshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/africas-largest-hydroelectric-project-may-hit-the-rocks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-largest-hydroelectric-project-may-hit-the-rocks http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/africas-largest-hydroelectric-project-may-hit-the-rocks/#comments Sat, 17 Aug 2013 10:42:00 +0000 John Fraser and Maurice Wa ku Demba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126576 Analysts are concerned that there is a security risk in transferring power from the soon to built Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa. Pictured here is the city of Atlantis, on the outskirts of Cape Town South Africa, where people access power illegally. Credit: Lee Middleton/IPS

Analysts are concerned that there is a security risk in transferring power from the soon to built Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa. Pictured here is the city of Atlantis, on the outskirts of Cape Town South Africa, where people access power illegally. Credit: Lee Middleton/IPS

By John Fraser and Maurice Wa ku Demba
JOHANNESBURG/LUBUMBASHI, Aug 17 2013 (IPS)

There are big aspirations for Africa’s largest hydroelectric project, the Inga III that is set to be built in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But analysts are sceptical that such an ambitious project will ever be realised.

In May, Congolese Minister of Energy Bruno Kapandji made the announcement that the project was moving forward, adding that that Inga III would generate 4,800 megawatts (MW). The project will be constructed on the site of two existing dams on the lower Congo River in western DRC. It will be built on one of the largest waterfalls in the world, the Inga Falls, where the Congo River drops almost a hundred metres and flows at an enormous speed of 43 cubic metres per second. South Africa is both a partner in and the major client of the project.

Independent economist Ian Cruickshanks praised the vision behind Inga III, but expressed concerns about whether it would ever go ahead.

“The potential of this project is enormous and exciting and could make a huge difference to sub-Saharan Africa,” he told IPS.

“It could provide cheaper and cleaner electricity than is currently produced in coal-fired power stations. The river is there – you need to put in the turbines and to build the power lines.”

Inga III will require 12 billion dollars in total, with dam construction costs estimated at 8.5 billion dollars of this amount. The project will take six years to complete.

As a first step, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB) have to approve a 63-million-dollar technical assistance package for the project. According to the World Bank information sheets on the project, 43 million dollars will come from its concessionary funding arm, the International Development Association, and the remainder would come from the AfDB.

However, Cruickshanks cautioned that it will be a challenge to transport electricity over the long distance to South Africa. “My one concern follows experiences of the Cahora Bassa Dam project on the Zambezi River in Mozambique. [It] generates electricity, but the transmission to customers in South Africa isn’t efficient,” Cruickshanks said.

“Then there is a huge security problem of giant power lines [running] across the DRC, which is at war with itself.”

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the security situation in eastern DRC has been precarious since July 2011.

Fresh fighting between M23, an armed group started by former Tutsi soldiers who mutinied in April 2012, the DRC army, and other local armed groups, has uprooted thousands more. Some 2.2 million people were displaced internally.

Independent engineer and commentator on energy issues Andrew Kenny told IPS that regional projects are essential for developing Africa’s electricity supply, which are key for development.

“Transmission lines linking different countries are vitally necessary. Since actual demand in most African countries is so small, many generating projects will provide more power than the whole country needs, and the excess should be passed on the neighbours in need,” he argued.

“Grand Inga is only possible if it is a regional project providing power to many other countries. Similarly with a large coal station that Botswana was considering.”

He echoed Cruckshanks concern about the instability in the DRC.

“At the moment investors would fear political and commercial risk from an unstable government in a country wracked with bloody conflict.

“There would also be risks in payments for the electricity, operation and maintenance of the hydro plants, sabotage, confiscation, nationalisation and inability to repay debt. They would also fear risk from surrounding countries owning transmission lines: risks of confiscation, imposition of very high tariffs and incompetent maintenance.”

Senior research and strategy analyst at Frontier Advisory, Simon Schaefer, told IPS that he shares Cruickshanks’ concerns that such an ambitious project would be possible in a troubled part of Africa.

“I think the Inga III project has to be seen in the greater context of the political situation of the country and the region,” he said. “The DRC is very fragmented internally. It is questionable whether the government in Kinshasa actually exercises effective control/power of all parts of the country.”

He also noted that the project has been on the cards for many years. However, he suggested that the size of the project, the complex political landscape and problems of the DRC and the region were key obstacles to its implementation.

“The political situation in the DRC is instable and the country has often been described as a failed state. Other major problems in the DRC are rampant corruption and the lack of credible institutions. All these factors are not the ideal starting point for multi-billion dollar project with a long investment horizon,” he said.

However, he did emphasise the benefits of collaboration between African nations in tackling power challenges – an issue which was highlighted by U.S. President Barak Obama on his recent trip to Africa, when he pledged billions of dollars in U.S. funding to support energy infrastructure in Africa.

“I think African countries are well advised to tackle power deficits by developing cross-board projects and to focus on integrated transmission networks across multiple countries,” Schaefer told IPS.

“This would allow countries to share the financial burden of the project and ensure absorption of the generated electricity. South Africa’s commitment to purchase a set amount of electricity from the DRC is a first step to increased integration in the power sector. While the key objective of the DRC may be the generation of revenues and job creation from the construction of the dam, the country has to be realistic about the off-take of power by countries in the region.”

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Saving an Overburdened Riverhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/saving-an-overburdened-river/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saving-an-overburdened-river http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/saving-an-overburdened-river/#comments Wed, 14 Aug 2013 08:49:44 +0000 Brendon Bosworth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126486 South Africa’s 232-kilometre Umgeni River is clean upstream but the closer it gets to the sea, the dirtier it becomes. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

South Africa’s 232-kilometre Umgeni River is clean upstream but the closer it gets to the sea, the dirtier it becomes. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

By Brendon Bosworth
HOWICK, South Africa , Aug 14 2013 (IPS)

Over the course of a 28-day trek down South Africa’s Umgeni River, which flows from the pristine wetlands of the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve to the Durban coastline, Penny Rees, a coordinator for the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust, witnessed the polar opposites of river health.

The trust is a nonprofit organisation that works to conserve the Umgeni and its tributary, the Msunduzi river. At the Umgeni River’s source the water ran clean and was good enough to drink for Rees, and the four volunteers who joined her in walking the length of the 232-kilometre river and documenting its health. Further downstream, after the river had wound past agricultural land and urban terrain, the water became sludgy and smelly.

“Sometimes you can smell it, like [we could] in Durban the last time we crossed the river,” Rees told IPS during an interview at her home in Howick, 97 kilometres north of the port city Durban. “You get to know the colour of the water – [it has] this grey, grungy look, and it stinks of sewage.”

The Umgeni River supplies drinking water to more than five million people, and is the main source of water for the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg town 66 kilometres from the coast. Rees’s sojourn further highlights the work of scientists who have pinpointed pollution problems in the river.

Ongoing sewage sagas

Like other rivers in South Africa, the Umgeni is under pressure from untreated sewage entering it. Poor infrastructure and surcharging sewers in places like Mpophomeni, a low-cost housing settlement upstream of Midmar Dam, have led to high levels of E. coli and nutrients flowing into the dam, Simon Bruton, a hydrologist with environmental consulting firm GroundTruth, told IPS. Midmar Dam is a large dam with a capacity of 235 million cubic metres of water on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.

While Mpophomeni accounts for just 2.4 percent of Midmar Dam’s catchment area, it produces about half of the E. coli and 15 percent of the phosphorous entering the dam, according to a 2009 study by GroundTruth.

Projections indicate that the sewage pollution entering the Umgeni River, combined with nutrients from run-off from dairy, pig and poultry farms, could lead to Midmar and the nearby Albert Falls Dam becoming “eutrophic” – rich in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous that promote algal growth – by 2019.

When dams enter this nutrient-rich state, algae grows in them.

“A lot of the algae that blooms can be toxic to human contact so you wouldn’t be able to use the water for recreational purposes any more,” said Bruton. “The other problem it creates is that it significantly pushes up the water treatment costs because that biomass of algae causes problems for water purification, and it’s quite costly to remove.”

Overburdened wastewater works

Wastewater treatment plants that empty treated effluent into the river are also oversubscribed, adding to contamination issues. At four of the plants operated by state-owned company Umgeni Water, compliance rates for the quality of treated water pumped into the river dropped to 71.6 percent in June 2013, according to an Umgeni Water audit report. A compliance rate of 95 percent is considered acceptable.

The overall lack of compliance was chiefly due to problems at the Darvill plant, which treats industrial and domestic wastewater from the city of Pietermaritzburg.

The Darvill plant is overloaded, Shami Harichunder, corporate stakeholder manager for Umgeni Water, told IPS. The company has put out a tender valued at millions of dollars to increase the plant’s capacity by over 50 percent, and has spent about 500,000 dollars on additional aeration facilities, which are soon to be commissioned, he said.

Companies that pump industrial effluent to the plant, and fail to meet their permit obligations for the quality of effluent they discharge, also “significantly” affect the plant’s ability to process wastewater, Harichunder said.

However, compliance at the Howick plant, which is running near to full capacity, was at 90 percent for June 2013.

Downstream pollution

Earlier this year, the Umgeni River made headlines as “one of (the) dirtiest” rivers in South Africa, based on the release of a study for South Africa’s Water Research Commission. The study analysed levels of viral and bacterial contaminants in the section of the river that stretches from Inanda Dam, close to Hillcrest, to the river mouth in Durban.

The researchers found bacteria, including salmonella and shigella, as well as viruses, such as Hepatitis B, in every sample they took.

Many of the bacteria and viruses found in the samples are potentially pathogenic to humans and have demonstrated the ability to kill human tissue cultures, one of the study’s authors Johnson Lin, who is based at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, told IPS.

The river water failed to meet the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry’s water quality guidelines for recreational and drinking use. The results “would raise concerns for people who may consume water directly from the river without any form of treatment,” the researchers concluded.

Lin points to outbreaks of diarrhoea as a potential risk to those who drink contaminated river water. And the paper highlights that in South Africa, 2.6 percent of all deaths are attributable to unsafe water supplies, and inadequate sanitation facilities and hygiene.

River shows its strength

During their month-long sojourn, Rees and her team documented other negative impacts on the important river. They saw the detrimental effects of sand mining operations, illegal dumping of trash on the river’s banks, along with the proliferation of invasive aquatic plants that thrive in high nutrient conditions created from agricultural run-off and sewage contamination.

Despite this, Rees was struck by the fact that, based on the water sampling the team did, water quality could once again improve in sections of the river that were not impacted by human activity for long stretches.

“The miracle is that if you give [the river] a long enough gap without any impact, the water returns to top quality,” she said.

With that in mind, Rees is advocating designation of untouched buffer zones between major contamination points along the river. “You’re always going to have a spill from a wastewater works, sooner or later,” she said. “At least then you know that if there’s a problem you need x-number of kilometres where there is no impact and the river will [be] clean.”

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Slum Farmers Rise Above the Sewershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/slum-farmers-rise-above-the-sewers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=slum-farmers-rise-above-the-sewers http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/slum-farmers-rise-above-the-sewers/#comments Fri, 09 Aug 2013 08:40:33 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126373 Alice Atieno attends to her vegetables, right on the doorstep of her shanty in Kibera slum. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Alice Atieno attends to her vegetables, right on the doorstep of her shanty in Kibera slum. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 9 2013 (IPS)

Tucked deep in Kenya’s sprawling Kibera slum is the shanty that Alice Atieno calls home. It is just one among many small, badly-lit shacks built close together in this crowded slum where an estimated one million people live on about 400 hectares.

But right on her doorstep stalks of green leafy vegetables grow in soil-filled sacks. For the mother of six, these kale plants are the source of her livelihood.

Her children have learnt to go about their play without knocking the plants over. “Children in the slum understand hunger, they stay clear of the plants. They know that it’s where their food comes from,” Atieno tells IPS.

This is urban farming for slum dwellers. “I grow seedlings in sacks filled with soil. I usually grow vegetables like kales, spinach, sweet pepper and spring onions,” Atieno says.

According to Map Kibera Trust, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to improve the participation of Kiberan residents in policy processes by providing them with information, sack farming increases weekly household income by at least five dollars and can produce two or three meals per week.

“This is significant since the average household earns between 50 and 100 dollars per month,” economist Arthur Kimani tells IPS.

Statistics from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute show that more than 10 million of this East African nation’s total population of 40 million are food-insecure – the majority of whom live on food relief. For these, sack farming is proving to be a much-needed solution.

Kiama Njoroge, an agricultural extension officer in Central Kenya, says that sack farming is healthy and costs little, since the materials are readily available and the low-labour way of producing wholesome foods is simple.

“Foods grown in a sack are also free of chemicals,” he tells IPS.“Children in the slum understand hunger, they stay clear of the plants. They know that it’s where their food comes from.” -- Kibera sack farmer Alice Atieno

Peris Muriuki, a sack farmer, agrees. “One sack costs about 12 cents, some farmers buy the soil for close to a dollar but most of us just collect it from where we live. Stones are readily available, on the roads, and can even [be found on] construction sites,” Muriuki tells IPS.

Courtney Gallaher is an assistant professor at Michigan State University researching food systems and sustainable agriculture. Her research on urban agriculture in Kibera reveals that “most households in Kibera spend 50 to 75 percent of their total income on food. Sack farming can generate about 20 to 30 dollars in revenue per month for farmers that sell some of their vegetables, excluding water expenses.”

“Urban slum areas have become notorious for sewer farming, placing unsuspecting consumers at great risk for diseases such as cholera, amoeba, typhoid and even cancer,” Patrick Mutua, a public health expert with the Ministry of Health tells IPS.

According to the Ministry of Health, Kenya’s under-five mortality rate is about 77 deaths per 1,000 live births. In local urban slums, however, it is 151 per 1,000 live births. Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of these deaths.

“The sewers that these farmers use comes from industries and contain heavy metals such as lead and mercury, placing consumers at risk of cancer and kidney failure,” Patricia Mwangi, another public health expert, tells IPS.

“Not only does exposure to lead interfere with the development of the nervous system, it can also lead to permanent learning and behaviour disorders,” Mwangi says.

But unsuspecting Kenyans have been consuming foods rich in such heavy metals. Some of these foods have been grown by Kibera resident Fenice Oyiela.

Showing great tolerance for the stinging stench of open sewers, and oblivious to the health implications, Oyiela uses her bare hands to direct sewer water through the narrow troughs she has dug in her land.

Oyiela, who has been growing vegetables such as kale, African amaranth and arrowroot at a sewer line adjacent to the Kiberana slums, says that her market base is overwhelming.

“There are days I sell up to 10 bags of vegetables. Lorries collect them from me to take to Nairobi’s leading food markets such as Marikiti, Gikomba and Muthurwa,” Oyiela tells IPS.

The Ministry of Agriculture statistics for 2010 show that of the 30 percent of Nairobi residents engaged in urban farming, the majority use sewer water.

Consequently, sack farming is emerging as a solution, especially among those with no land on which to farm.

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Steps to Protect South Africa’s Wattled Craneshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/steps-to-protect-south-africas-wattled-cranes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=steps-to-protect-south-africas-wattled-cranes http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/steps-to-protect-south-africas-wattled-cranes/#comments Mon, 05 Aug 2013 07:26:08 +0000 Brendon Bosworth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126242 There are an estimated 80 breeding pairs of wattled cranes remaining in South Africa, and the total population is less than 260. Credit: Ian White/CC By 2.0

There are an estimated 80 breeding pairs of wattled cranes remaining in South Africa, and the total population is less than 260. Credit: Ian White/CC By 2.0

By Brendon Bosworth
KWAZULU-NATAL MIDLANDS, South Africa, Aug 5 2013 (IPS)

On a winter’s afternoon in late July, potato farmer John Campbell and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Tanya Smith surveyed the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve from a hilltop on Ivanhoe Farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Separated from Smith’s binoculars by a swathe of golden brown grass, the water pooled in the wetland basin that sources the Umgeni River glistens in the mild sunshine as it winds its way for 265 km to meet the ocean at Durban’s coastline.

“We’ve got two pairs [of wattled cranes] nesting in here at the moment,” Smith, a senior field officer with the African Crane Conservation Programme told IPS. A week earlier she had flown over the wetland for an annual aerial survey of the critically endangered birds. The birds can grow taller than five feet and are characterised by a bumpy red patch of skin between their beaks and eyes.

There are an estimated 80 breeding pairs of wattled cranes remaining in South Africa. The total South African population is less than 260.

To maintain Umgeni Vlei’s biodiversity and protect the regal cranes’ habitat, the South African government declared the reserve a Ramsar Site in April this year, giving it special protection as a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty on the protection of wetlands.

“On the Ramsar-designated wetland we’ve had up to seven breeding pairs of wattled cranes, but the number fluctuates every year,” said Smith. “If you include [the surrounding] wetlands we’ve had up to 13 breeding pairs – it’s a huge proportion of the country’s breeding population.”

Wetlands on the land owned by Ivanhoe Farming Company, of which Campbell is a director, serve as home to up to six breeding pairs of wattled cranes. To help conserve them, Campbell has designated 800 hectares of farmland which buttress the reserve.

This is a protected area with nature reserve status through the KwaZulu-Natal Biodiversity Stewardship Programme run by provincial government body Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.

“I think cranes and agriculture can co-exist,” Campbell told IPS. “Most farmers, I find, are conservation-minded.”

Wetland preservation key for wattled crane survival

South Africa’s population of wattled cranes dwindled through the 1980s, largely due to deaths related to flying into power lines, as well as intentional and unintentional poisoning, Smith said. Population numbers bottomed out in the early 2000s and have gradually increased since, thanks to conservation efforts and increased tagging of power lines, she said.

Tanya Smith, of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, looks for wattled cranes at the Ivanhoe Farm in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, while Ivanhoe Farming Company director John Campbell surveys the surrounds. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS

Tanya Smith, of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, looks for wattled cranes at the Ivanhoe Farm in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, while Ivanhoe Farming Company director John Campbell surveys the surrounds. Credit: Brendon Bosworth/IPS


The cranes are the most wetland-dependent species of crane in South Africa and use their spear-like beaks to forage on bulbs in wetland regions, Smith said. The birds are highly territorial and rely on the permanent wetlands at the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve and surrounding private land for food, mating and nesting.

The KwaZulu-Natal province is at the heart of wattled crane activity and is home to about 90 percent of the country’s population. Many of these cranes reside in the Umgeni iver’s upper catchment area.

“If we lose the birds in these territories then we won’t have a viable population in the country,” said Smith.

Since wetlands are the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems, according to South Africa’s 2011 National Biodiversity Assessment, the cranes’ survival is closely tied to wetland conservation. At the same time, the birds serve as an “indicator species” – their presence signals good wetland health.

“If you have wattled cranes [on wetlands], you know you have good water quality and the biodiversity is in good stead,” Ann Burke, conservation projects manager at the KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation told IPS.

Stewardship protects wetlands and birds

While the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve’s designation as a Ramsar site offers protection to wattled cranes, it is only a small sliver of land of 958 hectares. Campbell is helping protect the birds, and ensure they have areas where they can breed unhindered. He has designated an 800-hectare segment of his farmland as reserve, and has agreed to manage it as such.

The reserve status granted to the designated land at Ivanhoe will be written into the title deeds of the farm. The protected land remains privately owned, and does not become government land, but the reserve status is binding if it is sold to new owners.

Such stewardship agreements offer longstanding protection against development and farming practices that could put fertiliser run-off into the wetland system, the World-Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Susan Viljoen, who is facilitating negotiations between landowners and the government for the biodiversity stewardship agreements told IPS.

“It’s a far stronger guarantee that your land, and those farms, will be managed in a way that is compatible for the birds and for their breeding,” said Viljoen. “The main thing is that you’ve got this permanently open relationship and communication between conservation groupings and the landowner.”

Another landowner in the region has signed a similar stewardship agreement for 635 hectares of land, while the WWF is negotiating with six other landowners to protect portions of their lands, which total 7,569 hectares, said Viljoen.

“To someone who doesn’t really understand the detail of this process it almost might sound like that’s not very many,” she said. “But what I’ve learned through facilitating this process myself is stewardship is long and it’s slow, but the thing is – once it’s in place it’s forever.”

Two wetland areas on the Ivanhoe Farm that were drained and converted to pastures for cattle grazing decades ago will also be rehabilitated through the government’s Working for Wetlands programme. Although it could take up to 10 years for the wetlands to return to a state where they can support wattled cranes, Campbell hopes to see birds inhabiting them in future.

“We can see what we’ve done wrong in the past,” said Campbell. “And this is a chance to correct it.”

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Angola Slow on Drought Response as People Die of Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/angola-slow-on-drought-response-as-people-die-of-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=angola-slow-on-drought-response-as-people-die-of-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/angola-slow-on-drought-response-as-people-die-of-hunger/#comments Fri, 28 Jun 2013 06:52:04 +0000 Louise Redvers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125295 In southern Angola lack of regular food has forced many people to eat leaves and roots, which they mix with salt and oil to make a paste, and tree berries. Courtesy: Joao Statmiller

In southern Angola lack of regular food has forced many people to eat leaves and roots, which they mix with salt and oil to make a paste, and tree berries. Courtesy: Joao Statmiller

By Louise Redvers
DUBAI, Jun 28 2013 (IPS)

Church groups, local NGOs and international aid organisations have launched appeals to get supplies to drought-stricken southern Angola where people are reported to be dying from a lack of food and water. It is estimated that between half a million and 800,000 people have been affected.

The drought has destroyed thousands of hectares of agriculture and livestock pastures in the hardest-hit parts of Cunene, Namibe, Huila and Kuando Kubango provinces in southern Angola, where, in addition to people, crops and animals are also dying.

“We need urgent help. People are dying of hunger and getting sick from drinking unclean water,” Pascoal Baptistiny,director of Mbakita, a small Angolan NGO based in Menongue, the capital of Kuando Kubango Province, told IPS.

“People who still have crops are not going to the fields because they are hungry or sick, and children are dropping out of school, partly due to hunger, but also because their parents are sending them off to find water for the animals.”

Riverbeds and boreholes have dried up and large swathes of arable land have gone to seed.“There are two narratives in Angola: what the government tells you and what is really happening - it is very sad.” -- Father Jacinto Pio Wakussanga

The lack of regular food has forced many people to eat leaves and roots, which they mix with salt and oil to make a paste, and tree berries, IPS was told.

The government of this southern African nation has formed an emergency response committee but many say aid is not getting through fast enough and more needs to be done to help those in need.

In May, the government created an inter-ministerial commission to address the drought. According to state media, hundreds of tonnes of food aid has been mobilised, along with emergency water supply tanks, to different communities.

This week, a new water supply system was announced for the Gambos municipality, one of the worst hit areas in Huila Province.

But Father Jacinto Pio Wakussanga, who is commonly known as Father Pio and is the director of Associação Construindo Comunidades, a Huila-based NGO, said the official response was insufficient, and described it as too little too late.

“I know there have been high-level meetings and various fact-finding missions, but not enough is being done on the ground. In my parishes people are dying,” he told IPS.

“In my view this is more than a food situation, it’s about rethinking for the long term so people plant more resilient crops and have better access to water through irrigation, so they are less vulnerable to drought situations.

“We have a lot of water under our soil; we need to give people a way to get it.”

Although agriculture only accounts for a tiny part of oil-rich Angola’s GDP, it is the main source of employment in the country where millions live hand-to-mouth on rain-dependent subsistence farming.

This is the second consecutive year that Angola has been affected by drought after several seasons of heavy rainfall and flooding.

In 2012 some parts of the country experienced 60 percent less rainfall than average and the Ministry of Agriculture reported that 1.8 million people, close to 10 percent of the population of 19.2 million, were affected by food shortages and crop failures.

In conjunction with the government, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) set up emergency feeding centres in four central provinces where agricultural yields were hardest hit and cases of severe infant malnutrition rocketed to over 500,000.

Now it seems, however, that the problem has moved south.

According to a Monitoring Agricultural Resources report produced for the European Commission and published in June, the provinces of Cunene and Namibe have had their driest spells from January to April for 25 years.

Huila, south-western Benguela and Kuando Kubango provinces have also seen significant drops in rainfall leading to crop failures, a lack of water, and food security issues.

IPS was unable to access UNICEF estimates for child malnutrition rates in these areas, but community workers paint a worrying picture.

Catholic Church-funded Caritas Angola described the situation as “critical” and urged people to give money to a fund they were setting up to help support the most vulnerable.

Geneva-based ACT Alliance, a network of Protestant and Orthodox church groups, which carried out a rapid assessment in Angola earlier this month, has also launched an emergency appeal.

It says it needs to raise 700,000 dollars to pay for food, water and community support for people affected by the drought in Huila and Cunene.

Mairo Retief, East and Central Africa emergency coordinator for  the Lutheran World Federation, which is an ACT Alliance member, told IPS: “Aid agencies will need to act fast to ensure that neither Angola nor Namibia turn into a Sahel drought situation.”

Opposition parties have also been critical of the government’s response, claiming that communities who support the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) were receiving priority treatment and that local party branches and officials were promoting themselves through aid distribution.

Francisco Filomeno Vieira Lopes, secretary general of Bloco Democrático, a small party that has no seats in parliament but is vocal on social issues, told IPS that the government was too preoccupied with attacking those who were trying to publicise the problem, rather than actually helping those in need.

He said sounder food security policies were required and lamented the lack of available data and apparent monitoring of previous schemes that could help inform future decisions.

Alcides Sakala, a senior member of União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA), the country’s second-largest party, told IPS: “Not enough is done to help these rural families in general. More needs to be done to diversify the economy so people are not living in these precarious situations in the first place.”

The growing alarm over the devastating impact of the drought in the south of the country sits uncomfortably with Angola’s recent award from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO).

Agriculture Minister Afonso Pedro Canga travelled to FAO headquarters in Rome earlier this month to collect the award for Angola meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

While accepting that progress had been made since the end of Angola’s long civil war, which began in 1975 and continued at intervals until 2002, Father Pio said he felt the timing of the award – and the announcement that Angola would be donating 10 million dollars to the FAO’s Africa Solidarity Trust Fund to promote food security – sent the wrong message.

“People here are starving and they are giving all this money to the FAO. This is very upsetting,” he said, also referring to a front page headline of the state-owned newspaper about the FAO prize that boldly claimed, “Angola beats poverty”.

He said: “People assume that Angola is a rich country and that it is providing for its people, but it is not, it is quite the opposite, and despite all the money here, many people are suffering.

“There are two narratives in Angola: what the government tells you and what is really happening – it is very sad.”

UNICEF, which has been working with the government on its response strategy, declined to be interviewed for this report and was unable to give updates on its feeding programme or estimates of how many children were now at risk from malnutrition.

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Farming in the Mauritian Seahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/farming-in-the-mauritian-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farming-in-the-mauritian-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/farming-in-the-mauritian-sea/#comments Tue, 25 Jun 2013 06:38:15 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125182 Lallmamode Mohamedally, a Mauritian fisher at the port near Les Salines, a fishing town close to the country’s capital Port Louis. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Lallmamode Mohamedally, a Mauritian fisher at the port near Les Salines, a fishing town close to the country’s capital Port Louis. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Jun 25 2013 (IPS)

“No fighting, please. Everybody will get their fish. Give us time to empty the crates and weigh today’s catch,” Patrick Guiliano Marie, leader of the St. Pierre Fish Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, shouts at the crowd jostling impatiently at the fish landing station in Grand Gaube, a fishing village in northern Mauritius.

People bump into each other to buy the fish that this cooperative society has just harvested from cages out in the lagoon.

“We don’t get fresh fish all year round. We have to buy frozen ones. This is an opportunity for us to eat some fresh ones,” one customer Marie-Ange Beezadhur tells IPS as she tries to negotiate her way through the crowd.

In the lagoon, about 500 metres from the coast, two platforms have been set up, each with four underwater cages.

In one average-size cage of four square metres, there are about 5,000 fingerlings, or young fish, which are fed pellets and seaweed collected from the lagoon.

It takes eight months for the fish to grow to about 500 grammes, with a small cage producing about four tonnes of fish, and a large one producing about 25 tonnes.

To date, aquaculture has been introduced to three areas in the surrounding ocean here, while a further 19 sites have been identified.

The cages, nets, fingerlings, and feed have all been provided for free by the government and the European Union (EU) under the Decentralised Cooperation Programme.

Marie and the 14 members of this cooperative society catch fish on a line for seven months of the year and for the remaining five months they aquafarm – they were trained to do this by the Albion Fisheries Research Centre.

A decade ago, fishers could just throw their nets in the lagoon and catch as many fish as they wanted. But things have changed.“The idea is also to help protect the lagoon, to let our sea breathe.” -- chairman of the Syndicat Des Pêcheurs, Judex Rampaul

“Our catches have now diminished because of industrial pollution. There is also a lack of surveillance of the lagoon and the recklessness of some fishers, who have been catching small fish over a number of years, has put the sustainability of the fish resources at stake,” Marie tells IPS.

He says that fish farming “is more for the youth who can learn the trade and develop it in the future instead of taking a fishing line and some nets and going out to sea. This is a tough job.”

In February 2012, local fishers complained that an agreement between the EU and Mauritius, which allows European vessels to catch 5,500 tonnes of fish a year for three years, made it difficult for local fishers to earn a living.

That year, the production by local small fishers was only 5,100 tonnes and local fishers complained to IPS that because of the EU agreement, their catch had gone down by 50 to 60 percent.  The country produces a total of 29,000 tonnes of fish a year.

But Minister of Fisheries Nicolas Von Mally met with the fishers at Grand Gaube on Jun. 13 and told them that aquaculture was meant to raise the standard of living of some 2,200 traditional fishers who were finding it difficult to survive because of decreased fish stocks.

“We have no intention to fill the lagoon with these floating cages around the island, but only to install a few so that they can produce the maximum amount of fish without polluting or blocking the lagoon,” Von Mally tells IPS.

But not everyone is happy with the solution and some fishers and environmentalists say that fish farming will negatively impact the marine ecosystem.

The St. Pierre Fish Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, has begun fish farming in the lagoon just off Grand Gaube, a fishing village in northern Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

The St. Pierre Fish Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, has begun fish farming in the lagoon just off Grand Gaube, a fishing village in northern Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

“We have observed that many fish and predators, like sharks, roam around the floating cages. They are attracted by the great number of fish in the same place and by the food,” one fisher from Bambous Virieux, in southern Mauritius, tells IPS.

Environmental engineer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo agrees.“Too many fish in small spaces means a concentration of fish urine. The fish are fed with pellets that contain antimicrobials and antibiotics. This can harm the marine ecosystem,” he tells IPS.

Judex Rampaul, chairman of the Syndicat Des Pêcheurs, an association that defends the rights of fishers, believes that fish farming is similar to the industrial rearing of chickens.

“They are different from the fish that live in a natural state in the lagoon. I believe the government is putting too much emphasis on aquaculture. Our fishing space is also reduced in the lagoon,” he tells IPS.

Rampaul and other fishers say that they would prefer for the lagoon not to be used for fish farming.

“The idea is also to help protect the lagoon, to let our sea breathe,” Rampaul says.

But Von Mally says that aquafarms around the island will benefit fishers and their customers alike. Presently, about 50 percent of the fish that Mauritians consume is imported.

“Demand for seafood is increasing and thus pressure on marine resources is rising. In this regard, marine ranching can provide a worthwhile means to sustain marine resources in Mauritius,” he says.

“We don’t know if the lagoon will keep on producing enough fish in the future, but aquaculture can become a big business and should help eradicate poverty among the fishing community.”

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Zanzibar’s Encroaching Ocean Means Less Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/zanzibars-encroaching-ocean-means-less-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zanzibars-encroaching-ocean-means-less-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/zanzibars-encroaching-ocean-means-less-water/#comments Wed, 12 Jun 2013 05:23:45 +0000 Erick Kabendera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119751 Over the years Zanzibar’s sea levels have risen to erode beaches and contaminate some of the island’s fresh water supply. Credit: Giandomenico Pozzi/CC by 2.0

Over the years Zanzibar’s sea levels have risen to erode beaches and contaminate some of the island’s fresh water supply. Credit: Giandomenico Pozzi/CC by 2.0

By Erick Kabendera
ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, Jun 12 2013 (IPS)

Khadija Komboani’s nearest well is filled with salt water thanks to the rising sea around Tanzania’s Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar.

And until recently, the 36-year-old mother of 12 from Nungwi village in Unguja on the northernmost part of Zanzibar, spent most of her day walking to her nearest fresh water supply to collect safe drinking water.

“The water is very salty so it can’t be used for anything. You will use a lot of soap and water if you use it for washing clothes or dishes. Another difficulty is that you can’t use it for cooking or drinking. That is why we had to walk for long distances to collect water from fresh water wells,” Komboani tells IPS.

According to Zanzibar’s Department of Environment, rising sea levels have resulted in seawater mixing with fresh water supplies and contaminating the wells here. Zanzibar does not have rivers and the main source of water remains groundwater, which depends on the currently erratic rainfall. "The villages used to be far from the shore, but now everyone lives close to the ocean." -- Masoud Haji

But thankfully, for Komboani, the experience of spending hours collecting water is now just a memory, since the implementation of a project to supply clean and safe water to households in her village.

In October 2012, the Africa Adaptation Programme (AAP) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) constructed an eight-km pipeline from Kilimani village, in the interior, to Nungwi village, which lies along the coast. A huge water tank near Kilimani village sustains the water supply.

The AAP, a climate change programme implemented in 21 African countries, aims to assist Tanzania with the development of climate-smart policies and climate change adaptation projects.

Meanwhile, the 15,000 people from Nungwi village now have access to water 24 hours a day, which can be sourced from taps and reservoir tanks.

Komboani says that since the water project was introduced, she now has more time to concentrate on her business of selling snacks. She says she earns approximately five dollars a day from this.

“I don’t have to worry about waking up early to collect water anymore. I use the time to engage in other productive activities, such as selling snacks and working in my vegetable garden.

“My husband used to accuse me of being unfaithful when I would return home late from the well. I am now glad that we have peace in our home,” she says.

Not only has it brought peace to Komboani’s home, but the easy access to drinking water has saved many women and girls from unwanted marriages.

Zanzibar’s North A district commissioner, the equivalent of a governor, Tatu Mganga, says her office had to intervene several times when they heard about women being married off so they could be used to fetch water for their new husbands.

“Such incidents were common and we had to intervene and rescue girls when we heard these stories,” Mganga tells IPS.

She says that while everyone in Nungwi village was affected by the shortage, women and children suffered the most because they were responsible for fetching water for their families.

Mganga says that the lives of the people from Nungwi village and its surrounding areas have now changed for the better.

“Almost all the people living in the area now have access to clean and safe water. Families can now wash their hands and clothes, and bathe properly. Subsequently, there has been improved sanitation,” says Mganga.

UNDP country director for Tanzania, Philippe Poinsot, tells IPS that the AAP is focused on improving the supply of clean and safe water to households through pilot projects.

“Women and children were walking for too long to fetch water from dirty surface water points (and consumption of this water) had accelerated ill health,” Philippe says. The rampant use of unclean water in Nungwi village led to an increase in pneumonia and skin diseases. Local health authorities say there has since been a decrease in these cases.

Ally Jabir Haiza, Zanzibar’s district health officer, tells IPS that the water from shallow wells along the island’s coast was tested and found to be excessively salty. This, he explains, impacted on healthcare in the area. In Unguja, a newly built maternity ward could not be used because of the shortage of clean water.

“Students too could not concentrate on their studies because they were frequently worried about fetching water when they returned home. And they were already tired when they commenced their lessons in the morning (from going to fetch water before school).

“Sometimes new mothers from Nungwi, who were experiencing postpartum stress, were forced to walk down the three-km road to fetch water from the nearest fresh water well,” says Hiza.

But now that fresh water is being piped in, the residents of Nungwi village have access to more water – some 20 litres per day compared to the five litres a day they collected from their nearest fresh water wells.

According to Sheha Mjanja, director of environment in Zanzibar’s Vice President’s Office, several surveys conducted over the past 10 years have confirmed that the island is vulnerable to the impact of climate change, particularly rising sea levels and beach erosion.

“The impact of climate change in Nungwi village is one of the biggest challenges at the moment. The water is quickly eating into the land and we fear the situation could worsen,” Mjanja tells IPS.

Mjanja adds that rising sea levels could cause a serious water shortage on the island as salt water is increasingly seeping into the ground water supply.

He says that the government is currently preparing a strategy paper to address the impact of climate change here and hopes to involve the private sector in implementing solutions.

Meanwhile, the elders here are witness to the impact climate change has had on this island. One community elder, 58-year-old Masoud Haji, tells IPS that over the years sea levels have risen about 80 metres.

“In December, we didn’t see any rains, compared to when I was young. The ocean was far from the shore, but it has now risen … the villages used to be far from the shore, but now everyone lives close to the ocean,” Haji says.

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