Dushanbe — Mozambican Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina said on Tuesday, in the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe, that the government gives primacy to decisions reached by consensus to solve differences over rivers that Mozambique shares with neighbouring countries.
“We have made noteworthy progress in overcoming the challenges inherent to cooperation in cross-border water resources, through the principle of solving disputes through consensus”, said Vaquina at the first day of the UN-sponsored High Level Conference on Water.
The conference seeks to stimulate cooperation in the management of shared watercourses, in the recognition that they are a potential source of conflicts between states.
Nine international rivers flow to the sea through Mozambique - they are the Zambezi, the Maputo, the Umbeluzi, the Limpopo, the Save, the Incomati, the Pungue, the Buzi and the Rovuma.
Mozambique's geographical position makes the country highly dependent on its neighbours for water. Water is drawn off intensively from the rivers, particularly for irrigation, in the upstream countries, before they flow into Mozambique. The reduced flow of the rivers leads to increased saline intrusion, as sea water moves further upstream.
The country is also highly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as droughts and floods.
Mozambique also has a weak capacity for storing water: much of the country does not have topographically favourable conditions for building water storage infrastructures. This is partly why over 90 per cent of the country's water storage capacity is in one place, the reservoir behind the Cahora Bassa dam in Tete province.
Such considerations were doubtless behind Vaquina's stress on “the urgent need for cooperation in the area of water in support of human and economic development”.
Aware of its dependence on international rivers, Mozambique has been signing agreements on the joint use of water resources, taking into consideration the preservation of the environment and the minimum flow of water needed for Mozambican estuaries. Mozambique has also played a significant role in developing the regional mechanisms for cooperation in this sphere in southern Africa.
Currently, about 60 per cent of the Mozambican population has access to safe drinking water, and the government's target is to reach the entire population in the medium to long term. The government, Vaquina said, thus gave priority in its five year programme to improving the provision of drinking water.
“By making clean water and sanitation available we are also fighting against diseases such as cholera”, the Prime Minister stressed.
Speaking at the opening session, the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, warned that efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger depend on adequate and appropriate use of water resources. Although progress had been made in the past two decades “there are still 768 million people in the world drinking water that is unfit for consumption, and 2.5 billion people lack basic sanitation”, he said.
For his part, the special envoy of the World Bank for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Mahmoud Mohieldin, announced the damning statistic that “about 5,000 children under the age of five die every day because they re drinking unclean water and because of defective sanitation that prevents basic hygiene”.
The current chairperson of the UN General Assembly, John Ashe, warned of “a crisis of epic proportions for the poor and marginalised individuals in rural and urban communities throughout the world”. That would be the consequence of the global consumption of water, which is still growing exponentially to meet demand from industry, agriculture and for domestic consumption.
The UN has named 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation, pointing out that more than half of the world's 276 international river basins do not have any form of cooperative management.