Water as a national security issue

The Zambezi River

CONVENTIONALLY security has to do with the political, economic, societal, environment and military threat. However, it was felt such definition was limited and thus should be broadened to include human security concerns by citizens.

Security has now come to mean human security and its achievement through development. Water fits within this broader definition of security, as it acts as a link between political, health, economic, personal, food, energy, and environmental and other concerns. The availability of water is crucial to all life and the economic, environmental and social systems of a country. Water drives development in all its facets. Therefore, th

Dr Vincent M. Mwange
Dr Vincent M. Mwange

e scarcity of water is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Population growth, expanding economies and climate change are putting global water resources under massive pressure, making reliable access to safe water a growing challenge. Consequently, water resources are likely to cause conflicts and should be considered as vital to our national security as any other germane considerations.

For centuries war and conflict have been tied to the protection of water resources. Accessible water improves the living standards of people and drives urbanization. Regrettably, the increase in population and the growing economy makes it difficult to secure potable water sources. With the risk of water shortages in Namibia and around the world becoming more and more of an issue, water has become the fuel of certain conflicts in many regions around the world. Ordinarily, interruptions in sustainable supplies and distribution of clean water and conflicts over water resources become major security issues for government officials. Land use, human population, use patterns, technological advances, environmental impacts, management processes and decisions, transnational boundaries and so forth often influence disruptions. Therefore, water security is a critical factor in government planning. Water as a resource could be comparable to oil in the sense that it is essential to all daily human activities. Water is becoming a very valuable commodity, yet freshwater resources are scarce.

This scarcity of water has caused anxiety in countries that already have little access to water, let alone consistent water supplies. In many parts of Africa, water shortages are a part of everyday life. Many countries share one water resource that is used by both their populations. A large proportion of these countries, including Namibia, are reliant on the weather to provide suitable irrigation to the agricultural industry, since water resources are scarce. As suggested above, safe and adequate fresh water resources are essential to the economy and national security. With the increasing demand for water resources, conflicts appear virtually unavoidable, especially with many African governments’ history of poor management of resources and insufficient conflict resolution mechanisms.

Namibia suffers from extreme water scarcity. The only perennial rivers such as the Zambezi, Kavango, Chobe and Kwando form part of Namibia’s international borders. A large-scale utilization of water from these shared rivers requires the consent of the neighbouring countries. It has been reported that Namibia has suffered the worst drought in over thirty years. Local newspapers carried headlines such as “Namibia inevitably heading for a water shortage” and “Water scarcity – bleak future for Namibia.” This indeed is a security concern. Water has become a key strategic security issue for most governments. There is an increasing risk of political insecurity and instability in regions where access to water is a problem. Diminishing freshwater supplies around the world, unequal access to water and corporate control of water, together with imminent climate change, have created a life-or-death situation worldwide. It is my humble submission that to reduce the possible risks of conflict, we should do a threat analysis on Namibia’s water resources. More attention could also be given to the availability and possible utilization of the underground water at Omundaungilo in the Ohangwena Region and elsewhere in Namibia to solve the scarcity of water in the country. In the final analysis whether we treat water as a public good or as a service that can be bought and sold, will largely define whether our future is peaceful or terrifying.

• Dr Mwange is employed by the Ministry of Defence and is seconded to the University of Namibia (Unam) where he is a lecturer in security and strategic studies, but writes this opinion in his private capacity as a Namibian citizen.

By Dr Vincent Mwange


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