19 March 2020
  • horn of Africa
  • Watersecurity
  • climate security

Water security and governance in the Horn of Africa

This policy paper was first published by SIPRI on March 2020. 

The Horn of Africa—here defined as the member states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development—is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as droughts and floods. These impacts compound many of the region’s social, political and economic challenges and result in increased migration and displacement as well as loss of life. These risks are domestic and transnational in character, and add to the probability of political tensions and violent conflict within and among countries. There is a need for countries in the Horn of Africa to better prevent and manage risks, and to find a multi lateral response at the regional level. This report presents a regional analysis of environment, peace and security linkages in the region with specific focus on water security and governance. It provides entry points for the international community to address the multi faceted risk landscape in the Horn of Africa.

Water security hotspots: The Nile and Juba–Shabelle rivers

The Nile and Juba–Shabelle basins are of core relevance for the Horn of Africa because of the interaction and confluence of several political, social, economic and environmental processes. The Nile River—with its two major tributaries, the Blue Nile and the White Nile—is a main source of water, energy and food. The Blue Nile is of key importance for Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. As such the Nile has been a source of social and political tensions and low-intensity conflicts for most of the 20th century.

Tensions related to transboundary water relations retain a potential for violent conflict. The key contentious issue is the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile. The tensions among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan around the building of the GERD have become part of the larger geopolitical playing field in the Horn of Africa. The tensions are likely to be further complicated by the compounding impacts of climate change. If unaddressed at a regional level, tensions may amplify societal stress and relations and nega tively affect political dynamics at the communal, bilateral and regional levels.

Another complex set of security challenges is concentrated along the Juba and Shabelle rivers, shared by Ethiopia and Somalia and to a marginal extent by Kenya. Ethiopia and Somalia have the clearest domestic interests in the Juba–Shabelle Basin’s water resources and their development. The region around the basin, marked by three decades of civil war and state collapse, is dependent on the river for agriculture, drinking water and hydropower. Despite the significance of water access, there has never been a bilateral agreement surrounding inter national cooperation over the rivers’ usage. Domestic interests and interstate tensions— as well as Ethiopia’s role in the Somali civil war and state-building process— inhibit the potential of transboundary water cooperation in the Juba–Shabelle Basin. Due to its interaction with socio-economic and political factors, climate change will have a significant negative impact on water access, and subsequent multidimensional security in Somalia.

Read the full policy paper here


Photocredit: BRJ INC./Flickr