UN climate talks must address threats to water in Africa; impacts on people

3/22/2011

Cape Town, South Africa — As water in Africa is under grave pressure from climate change, and these threats will become more severe and complex in coming decades, the United Nations climate change body must formally address the need to integrate water issues with development aid, adjustment to climate change impacts, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This was the joint message from African ministers and water experts attending a three-day UN-Habitat World Water Day conference in Cape Town.

Water, agriculture and environment ministers from six African countries — South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mali, Cameroon, Libya and Tanzania — met yesterday to define a roadmap for water-related issues during the next UN climate talks (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting, also known as COP17) to be held in Durban, South Africa, in December. The meeting was hosted by the Global Water & Adaptation Action Alliance (GWAAA), a new alliance of governments, development banks and environmental organizations, including Conservation International and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

"Most people are feeling the direct effects of climate change in the form of water change. And by that I mean that they are having less access to abundant and clean water. Climate change is essentially water change, so if we get water wrong as the climate continues to move, then we'll make poor countries even more poor and create irreversible damage to our rivers, lakes, and wetlands," said Anders Berntell of SIWI and the Water and Climate Coalition.

Across Africa, shifts in precipitation and air temperature are already fueling negative impacts to economies through health care, agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystem degradation. Many researchers have already documented climate change impacts across Africa in the rift lakes, the Okavango swamp, and rivers such as the Congo, Marra, and Nile, impacting fisheries, livelihoods and ecosystems.

"This year, the UN will hold its climate change conference here in South Africa.  Placing water at the core of the dialogue in this African COP is critical. Africans know how important water is to developing their growing cities, for energy and food, to helping livelihoods and ecosystems adjust to the emerging climate. Water needs to be on the agenda at UN talks in Durban," said John Matthews of Conservation International and co-lead of the Global Water Adaptation Action Alliance.

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(***Images are not from the event but general photos to illustrate water issues in Africa. Please provide credits to the photographer as stated in the caption and metadata of each photo***)

About GWAA — Formed in 2010, the Global Water Adaptation Action Alliance is a partnership of development banks, aid agencies, and environmental organizations dedicated to promoting climate-smart sustainable water resource management. The GWAAA secretariat is managed by the World Bank and Conservation International.

About Conservation International (CI) — Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. For more information, visit www.conservation.org

About the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) — Independent, Leading-Edge Water Competence for Future-Oriented Action — The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) is a policy institute that contributes to international efforts to combat the world's escalating water crisis. SIWI develops and promotes future-oriented and knowledge–integrated policies, towards sustainable use of the world's water resources leading to sustainable development and poverty eradication. www.siwi.org