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WATER WORLD
Africa faces water crisis despite discovery of huge aquifers
by Staff Writers
Nairobi, Kenya (UPI) Oct 23, 2013


Over 156,000 hit in South Sudan 'disaster' floods: UN
Juba (AFP) Oct 23, 2013 - Extreme floods across vast parts of remote and impoverished South Sudan have affected over 156,000 people, the United Nations said Wednesday, with many areas now accessible only by air.

Seven out of ten states in grossly underdeveloped South Sudan, the world's youngest country born just over two years ago following some five decades of on-off civil war, have been declared disaster zones by the government.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that "severe flooding" due to intense seasonal rains had left 156,000 people in need of assistance.

"So far humanitarian partners have reached nearly 100,000 flood-affected people with aid across the country," OCHA said in a report.

"However, they face access challenges as roads have become impassible, with many flooded areas only accessible by air."

Flooding happens every year, but problems began earlier this month after rains were more intense than expected.

The majority of those affected are in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state, bordering Sudan, where over 45,000 are needing support.

In places, the White Nile river that runs the length of the country has burst its banks.

Minister for Cabinet Affairs Martin Elia Lomuro told state media that the situation was made "even worse since wild animals and human beings are sharing the little space left by the flood".

In Warrap state, in the north of the country, a crocodile has eaten one person forced from their home by the rising water, state media added.

South Sudan is oil-rich but remains one of the world's poorest countries, where even the most basic infrastructure, such as roads, electricity and water distribution networks, is lacking.

War-torn Jonglei in the east, a vast region riven by conflict between rival tribes and where rebels were accused of massacring scores of people at the weekend, has some 28,000 people affected.

Tit-for-tat cattle raids and ethnic killings are common in Jonglei, awash with guns left over from the last round of civil war, from 1983-2005.

The main rainy season in South Sudan usually runs from around June to the end of October, but flooding can affect areas up until December.

The recent discovery of two vast aquifers in northern Kenya and Namibia has given weight to scientists' claims the African continent is sitting on immense underground reservoirs of water.

But the scientists also warn that Africa faces more droughts because of climate change and could have 25 percent less water by the end of the century, setting the state for possible water wars.

Egypt and Ethiopia, for instance, are facing off over the long-contested waters of the Nile River because Addis Ababa is building a giant $4.3 billion hydroelectric dam, which will cut the flow to Egypt, whose 84 million people depend on the Nile to survive.

The U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor cautioned the September discovery of the aquifers in the drought-plagued Turkana desert of northwestern Kenya near the borders with Uganda and South Sudan raises "the possibility of cross-border conflicts over water rights in the future."

The Lotikipi Basin Aquifer and the smaller Lodwar Basin Aquifer were among five aquifers located by Radar Technologies International of France, in collaboration with the Kenyan government and the United Nations with funding from Japan.

The East African aquifers were discovered using advanced satellite technology and confirmed by drilling. The size of the other three Kenyan acquifers still has to be determined by drilling.

Lotikipi, roughly the size of Rhode Island, contains an estimated 7.3 trillion cubic feet of water with an annual recharge rate of 42.4 billion cubic feet through rainfall in Kenya and Uganda.

All told, some 8.8 trillion cubic feet of underground water was found, with an expected annual recharge rate of 110 billion cubic feet -- an amount roughly equal to 15 percent of the 741 billion cubic feet of water currently available to Kenya each year.

The Turkana region is populated largely by nomadic tribes, who lack regular access to water. Kenya's economic hubs of Nairobi and the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa are around the Lake Victoria and Athi basins, which hold around 60 percent of the country's water resources.

So there's likely to be considerable debate over how to use the new aquifers in terms of national development resources that Kenyan officials initially claimed could supply the entire country with water for the next 70 years.

But Stratfor observed that with a growing population already surpassing 41 million, Kenya, riven by tribal rivalries and heavily reliant on foreign aid for development, is likely to find the new water resources not enough to "support continued population and economic growth."

It noted: "Competition for the new reserves can be expected. Currently, agriculture dominates water usage, accounting for roughly 80 percent of Kenya's water consumption, but oil and manufacturing will likely vie for the resource. ...

"Sustainability will require improvements in both infrastructure and resource management, neither of which will come easy. ...

"Overuse of water resources by agricultural, municipal or oil sectors would further limit the region's potential for long-term growth," Stratfor observed.

Africa's water woes also have been mitigated by the July 2012 discovery of a major aquifer named Ohangwena II under the Namibia-Angola border on Africa's southwestern coast.

On the Namibian side, the 10,000-year-old aquifer covers an area roughly 43 miles by 25 miles.

Because of climate change over the eons that turned the Sahara into a desert, scientists say many of the aquifers deep under the sands were last filled with water 5,000 years ago.

Project manager Martin Quinger, from the German Federal Institute for Geoscience and Natural Resources, says the aquifer could supply northern Namibia "for 400 years" and will help people adjust to climate change.

The 400-year estimate is probably overly optimistic, but scientists writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters recently argued the total volume of water in African aquifers is 100 times the amount found on the surface and probably purer because it's untainted by pollution.

That could be good news for the estimated 300 million people on the planet who are believed to have no access to safe drinking water.

The BBC reported in April 2012 scientists from the British Geological Survey and University College London were able to map Africa's hidden underground water reserves.

Helen Bonsor of BGS estimates there's enough water there to "provide a buffer to climate variability."

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