IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

9.4.1 Water

Climate change and variability have the potential to impose additional pressures on water availability, water accessibility and water demand in Africa. Even in the absence of climate change (see Section 9.2.2), present population trends and patterns of water use indicate that more African countries will exceed the limits of their “economically usable, land-based water resources before 2025” (Ashton, 2002, p. 236). In some assessments, the population at risk of increased water stress in Africa, for the full range of SRES scenarios, is projected to be 75-250 million and 350-600 million people by the 2020s and 2050s, respectively (Arnell, 2004). However, the impact of climate change on water resources across the continent is not uniform. An analysis of six climate models (HadCM3, ECHAM4-OPYC, CSIRO-Mk2, CGCM2, GFDL_r30 and CCSR/NIES2) and the SRES scenarios (Arnell, 2004) shows a likely increase in the number of people who could experience water stress by 2055 in northern and southern Africa (Figure 9.3). In contrast, more people in eastern and western Africa will be likely to experience a reduction rather than an increase in water stress (Arnell, 2006a).

Figure 9.3

Figure 9.3. Number of people (millions) with an increase in water stress (Arnell, 2006b). Scenarios are all derived from HadCM3 and the red, green and blue lines relate to different population projections.

Clearly these estimations are at macro-scales and may mask a range of complex hydrological interactions and local-scale differences (for other assessments on southern Africa, where some of these interacting scalar issues have been addressed, see Schulze et al., 2001). Detailed assessments in northern Africa based on temperature increases of 1-4°C and reductions in precipitation of between 0 and 10% show that the Ouergha watershed in Morocco is likely to undergo changes for the period 2000-2020. A 1°C increase in temperature could change runoff by of the order of 10%, assuming that the precipitation levels remain constant. If such an annual decrease in runoff were to occur in other watersheds, the impacts in such areas could be equivalent to the loss of one large dam per year (Agoumi, 2003). Further interactions between climate and other factors influencing water resources have also been well highlighted for Egypt (Box 9.2).

Box 9.2. Climate, water availability and agriculture in Egypt

Egypt is one of the African countries that could be vulnerable to water stress under climate change. The water used in 2000 was estimated at about 70 km3 which is already far in excess of the available resources (Gueye et al., 2005). A major challenge is to close the rapidly increasing gap between the limited water availability and the escalating demand for water from various economic sectors. The rate of water utilisation has already reached its maximum for Egypt, and climate change will exacerbate this vulnerability.

Agriculture consumes about 85% of the annual total water resource and plays a significant role in the Egyptian national economy, contributing about 20% of GDP. More than 70% of the cultivated area depends on low-efficiency surface irrigation systems, which cause high water losses, a decline in land productivity, waterlogging and salinity problems (El-Gindy et al., 2001. Moreover, unsustainable agricultural practices and improper irrigation management affect the quality of the country’s water resources. Reductions in irrigation water quality have, in their turn, harmful effects on irrigated soils and crops.

Institutional water bodies in Egypt are working to achieve the following targets by 2017 through the National Improvement Plan (EPIQ, 2002; ICID, 2005):

  • improving water sanitation coverage for urban and rural areas;
  • wastewater management;
  • optimising use of water resources by improving irrigation efficiency and agriculture drainage-water reuse.

However, with climate change, an array of serious threats is apparent.

  • Sea-level rise could impact on the Nile Delta and on people living in the delta and other coastal areas (Wahab, 2005).
  • Temperature rises will be likely to reduce the productivity of major crops and increase their water requirements, thereby directly decreasing crop water-use efficiency (Abou-Hadid, 2006; Eid et al., 2006).
  • There will probably be a general increase in irrigation demand (Attaher et al., 2006).
  • There will also be a high degree of uncertainty about the flow of the Nile.
  • Based on SRES scenarios, Egypt will be likely to experience an increase in water stress, with a projected decline in precipitation and a projected population of between 115 and 179 million by 2050. This will increase water stress in all sectors.
  • Ongoing expansion of irrigated areas will reduce the capacity of Egypt to cope with future fluctuation in flow (Conway, 2005).

Using ten scenarios derived by using five climate models (CSIRO2, HadCM3, CGCM2, ECHAM and PCM) in conjunction with two different emissions scenarios, Strzepek and McCluskey (2006) arrived at the following conclusions regarding impacts of climate change on streamflow in Africa. First, the possible range of Africa-wide climate-change impacts on streamflow increases significantly between 2050 and 2100. The range in 2050 is from a decrease of 15% in streamflow to an increase of 5% above the 1961-1990 baseline. For 2100, the range is from a decrease of 19% to an increase of 14%. Second, for southern Africa, almost all countries except South Africa will probably experience a significant reduction in streamflow. Even for South Africa, the increases under the high emissions scenarios are modest at under 10% (Strzepek and McCluskey, 2006).

Additional assessments of climate change impacts on hydrology, based on six GCMs and a composite ensemble of African precipitation models for the period 2070-2099 derived from 21 fully coupled ocean-atmosphere GCMs, show various drainage impacts across Africa (de Wit and Stankiewicz, 2006). A critical ‘unstable’ area is identified for some parts, for example, the east-west band from Senegal to Sudan, separating the dry Sahara from wet Central Africa. Parts of southern Africa are projected to experience significant losses of runoff, with some areas being particularly impacted (e.g., parts of South Africa) (New, 2002; de Wit and Stankiewicz, 2006). Other regional assessments report emerging changes in the hydrology of some of the major water systems (e.g., the Okavango River basin) which could be negatively impacted by changes in climate; impacts that could possibly be greater than those associated with human activity (Biggs et al., 2004; Anderssen et al., 2006).

Assessments of impacts on water resources, as already indicated, currently do not fully capture multiple future water uses and water stress and must be approached with caution (see, e.g., Agoumi, 2003; Conway, 2005). Conway (2005) argues that there is no clear indication of how Nile flow will be affected by climate change because of the uncertainty about rainfall patterns in the basin and the influence of complex water management and water governance structures. Clearly, more detailed research on water hydrology, drainage and climate change is required. Future access to water in rural areas, drawn from low-order surface water streams, also needs to be addressed by countries sharing river basins (see de Wit and Stankiewicz, 2006). Climate change should therefore be considered among a range of other water governance issues in any future negotiations to share Nile water (Conway, 2005; Stern, 2007).