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 News :. Africa Could Face Water Wars If Continent's Rivers Aren't Managed Better

African countries could face water wars if the power of their mighty rivers isn't properly harnessed and shared, Associated Press reports officials from across the continent said Tuesday.

Government ministers from 19 African nations discussed how to streamline and better utilize three main river basins-the Nile, the Zambezi and the Senegal-that constitute the economic backbone of the countries they drain. "The utilization of these rivers has mostly been a source of contention and conflict," Ethiopian minister of water resources Shiferaw Jarso told the two-day summit entitled "Africa's Experience of International Waters."

More than two-thirds of Africa's 60 river basins are shared by more than one country-creating potential conflict over how they should be harnessed and used. The UNDP warned in a recent report that water wars are likely in areas where rivers are shared by more than one country. Sam Nyambi, the head of UNDP in Ethiopia, told the summit that the management and development of the continent's water is vital not only for peace, but will make it more readily available for drinking, hydroelectric power, tourism and agriculture. "The shared rivers offer many opportunities for increased food production, for transport, energy, sound environmental management and for trade and growth," Nyambi said.

But just a mere four percent of the continent's fresh water is being properly utilized, said Abdirahman Beileh, a water resource expert with the African Development Bank. Beileh warned that increasing demand might spark future conflict. He also said there were enormous financial hurdles to overcome in building a continental water infrastructure system that would provide irrigation systems, joint hydroelectric production and early warning systems for floods. Such a system would work along the Nile River whose watershed includes Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, government ministers representing those countries said. The Nile Basin supplies water to about 300 million people. Beileh said the African bank had already pledged USD$33 million for the Nile Basin Initiative, a project that aims to promote the rational use of the river. David Grey, a senior water adviser with the World Bank, said that $2 billion could be invested in Nile river projects alone in the coming years much of it from the private sector.

In other news, AFP reports that the number of environmentally protected areas across the globe adds up to more than 100,000, the UN announced Tuesday, as leading environmentalists warned global warming was already causing irreparable damage to many sites. The UN Environment Program (UNEP) published a new database of protected areas at the opening of a 10-day congress on world parks, that kicked off in South Africa's eastern port city of Durban Monday. Across the developed and developing world, the UN recorded more than 100,000 protected areas, covering a total area larger than the combined land surface of India and China, making up 11.5 percent of the earth's land surface. But the world's oceans were lagging behind, with protected sites making up less than 0.5 percent of the seas and oceans-representing 70 percent of the globe, the report said. Most protected marine sites are in Europe, New Zealand and Australia - known for its Great Barrier Reef - while the east and southern African and south Asian coasts remain badly in need of protection, the report said.

PANA notes that the World Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa have pledged continued support for countries, institutions and communities seeking a balanced approach to sustainable nature tourism development, according to a joint report by the two banks. They emphasized the importance of nature tourism in generating revenue for the development of local communities and for conservation. The report titled "Nature Tourism, Conservation and Development in KwaZulu Natal," is based on a World Bank research project on nature tourism and conservation undertaken in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa to assess how institutions, policies and management can enhance the contribution of nature tourism to development. 

Meanwhile, the FT notes that speculation that the Kyoto Protocol on climate change could come into force soon has heightened since an announcement that Russia has completed the documents necessary for the treaty's ratification. Russian President Vladimir Putin will open the World Climate Change Conference on September 29. But speculation that Russia would ratify it before then was brushed aside yesterday by Mukhamed Tsikhanov, deputy economic development minister, who said the draft laws could take up to six months to consider.

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