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issue 1, January - February 2001

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Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Solutions

The linkages between the energy sector, poverty and socio-economic issues, environmental degradation and security concerns call into question the current path of energy development. Current levels and patterns of energy consumption cannot be sustained, much less spread more widely as today's developing countries pursue their development goals. Environmental problems ranging from local and regional air and water pollution through to global warming illustrate that the current development model based on centralised power production and the use of fossil fuels is unsustainable. The need to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change presents all nations with a momentous challenge. Just to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at current levels will require reducing world emissions by at least 60%. The prospects of future environmental security being compromised by climate change are now so real as to make a precautionary response imperative. In other words, policy should focus on buying insurance, and policy makers should be clearly aware that waiting for perpetuity for better scientific data entails the real risk of waiting till it is too late. There is no reason why action should be conditioned to a definite scientific proof, which perhaps will never be attained or might be reached only when it becomes too late to adequately tackle the problem. It is unlikely that the continuous increase in carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, which is taking place since the industrial revolution can occur without consequences to the global environment.

Energy is the leading source of humanity's climate changing greenhouse gas emissions

The production and use of energy is the leading source of humanity's climate changing greenhouse gas emissions. Most emissions associated with energy use result when fossil fuels are burned. Oil, natural gas, and coal (which emits the most carbon per unit of energy supplied) furnish most of the energy used to produce electricity, run automobiles, heat houses, and power factories. The majority of Environmental Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) consider that environmental problems ranging from local and regional air and water pollution through to global warming indicates that the current development model which is based on centralised power production and the use of fossil fuels is unsustainable. Currently, fossil fuels represent about 74 percent of total worldwide energy consumption. As a result, about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere today. About two thirds of these emissions are generated in the industrialised countries, which are home of only 20 percent of the world’s population. Emissions from the developing countries are steadily increasing due to their development needs. The overall trend is alarming: by the middle of this century, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide will be twice that prior to the industrial revolution.

Growing demand for energy in developing countries

The demand for electric power in developing countries is rising rapidly and is projected to climb by up to 300% between 1990 and 2010, outpacing by far the 20% rise expected in industrialised countries. The consumption of primary energy is growing at a rate of 1.7% per annum globally and 2.5% in developing countries (World Energy Assessment, 1999). Between 1970 and 1995, 1.3 billion people gained access to electricity in developing countries. Currently there are 2 billion people without access to electricity, and it is estimated that this demand will increase by an additional 6 billion over the next 50 years. Developing countries will require economic growth in order to provide decent standards of living, poverty eradication and offering more choices for people. Conventional wisdom dictates that such growth will be accompanied by a roughly proportional increase in consumption of raw materials and energy. But if this relationship were to hold for many more decades, the environmental consequences could be disastrous. As developing countries seek to improve the living standards of its people, the challenge they face, is doing this differently from what has been done before.

The Solutions

A growing number of governments and non-governmental organisations consider that environmental problems ranging from local and regional air, water pollution through to global warming illustrate that the current development model based on centralised energy production and the use of fossil fuels is unsustainable. Agenda 21 – an outcome of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992- stressed that " the need to control atmospheric emissions and other gases and substances will increasingly need to be based on efficiency in energy production, transmission, distribution and consumption, and on growing reliance on environmentally sound energy systems, particularly new and renewable sources of energy". The goal of sustainable development is one that has been endorsed by the United Nations and its member states. In 1997, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) specified energy issues as being central to meeting this goal. The role of energy in sustainable development has also been identified by nearly all United Nations Conferences in the 1990's - Social Summit, Beijing, Food and Habitat.

A global sustainable energy vision

Despite the rapid technological and economic progress of the last decade, many countries of the South have not been able to share in the benefits of globalisation on an equal footing with the developed countries and have been excluded from the benefits of this process. For the 2 billion people who are without access to energy services, globalisation is passing them by. The global community is failing in a relatively modest challenge – to ensure universal access to energy. Allowing the poor to continue to endure the constraints of inadequate energy services is no longer acceptable. Urgent measures should be taken to address the needs of the large majorities of the population, in particular women and children, who are forced to live in extreme poverty. If this is not done, globalisation will provide no lasting solutions to the essential problems of developing countries. If the global environmental governance regime is to advance the cause of sustainable human development, then it should, among other things, reconsider its work in relation to achieving universal access to sustainable energy services for the 2 billion people who currently go without energy. Developing and maintaining a sustainable energy anti-poverty strategy that will work on the ground, must now be at the core of all intergovernmental interactions to address global sustainable development. The goal of sustainable development will only be achieved in conjunction with a redistribution of power and resources to the poor. Sustainable energy supply strategies for rural areas are closely linked to the economic, social and environmental concerns of mainstream rural development.

Such a strategy would include the creation of an enabling environment more favourable to the uptake of sustainable energy practices and technologies under prevailing conditions, and target the introduction of specific technologies in ways that would increase energy services for the entire community. According to the United Nations Development Programme the following guiding principles must be drawn into a broad framework for sustainable energy reform (UNDP, 1997):

  • Emphasise energy services rather than fuel or electricity supply, thus establishing and maintaining a level playing field among alternative supply and end-use technologies in providing energy services;
  • Promote universal access to modern energy services;
  • Include external social costs in energy market decisions;
  • Accelerate the development and market penetration of sustainable energy technologies;
  • Promote indigenous capacity building; and
  • Encourage broad participation of stakeholders in energy decision-making.

The Climate and Environmental Imperative for Renewable Energy

Energy technologies drawing on renewable energy avoid the severe environmental impacts of the fossil fuel cycle. These technologies, some of which are more mature than others, convert sunlight, wind, flowing water, the heat of the earth and oceans, certain plants and other resources into useful energy. Like all energy technologies, renewables affect their environment to some extent, but most are far more benign than their conventional competitors. An energy market that considered the total cost to society of its energy choices would greatly encourage the deployment of renewable energy technologies. Nonetheless, shifting a significant fraction of global energy demand from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to modern biomass and other advanced renewable energy technologies is likely to have many important environmental benefits. The most important advantages may be reduced impacts on human health locally, declining risk of acid deposition and land degradation regionally, and decreased risk of rapid climate change globally. The main environmental benefit of renewables is that they reduce the emissions commonly associated with electricity production by displacing other generating plant (coal, oil, gas and nuclear). These emissions include the greenhouse and acidic gases from fossil fuel stations and the radioactivity associated with the nuclear fuel cycle. Of these, it is the reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide that is considered the most significant.

By 2020, depending on the scenario, between 6,000 and 9,000 Mt of CO2 emissions could be avoided. This latter figure corresponds to 40% of current, energy-related CO2 emissions. Significant emission reductions are also predicted for the acid gases, sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the aggressive development of economically competitive alternatives to fossil fuels could lower by two thirds the cost of a 20% carbon emissions reduction. It is estimated that every kilowatt of wind-generated electricity displaces a kilogram of CO2 plus significant amounts of harmful SO2 and NOx gases and particulate matter, which would have been produced by coal-fired electricity generation. At the same time, modern wind technology has an extremely good energy balance. The CO2 emissions related to the manufacture, installation and servicing over the life cycle of a wind turbine are "paid back" after the first three to six months of operation. The European Union white Paper on Renewable Energy states that if the target to double the share of renewable energy in the EU is achieved, carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 402 million tonnes by the year 2010. (IEA Evolving Renewable Energy Markets)

Covering 10% of the global demand for electricity with wind power will reduce CO2 emissions by the following amounts;

  • Between 1999 and 2010 - a cumulative reduction of 1 120 million tonnes of CO2
  • Between 2011 and 2020 – a cumulative reduction of 9 530 million tonnes of CO2
  • Annual reduction by 2010 – 444,600 GWh X 600 tonnes = 266.7 million tonnes CO2/year
  • Annual reduction by 2020 – 2 966 600 GWh X 600 tonnes = 1 780 million tonnes CO2/year
  • By 2040 wind power will contribute an annual reduction of 4 757 million tonnes CO2 (wind force 10)

Zero Carbon Futures

A low pollution future is fully consistent with the goals of developing countries enjoying much higher levels of energy use that they do today and achieving economic and social prosperity on a broad basis. A renewables intensive national energy future is technically feasible and the prospects are excellent that a wide range of new renewable energy technologies will become fully competitive with conventional sources of energy over the next several decades. However Johansson argues that the transition to renewables will not occur at the pace envisaged if the existing market conditions remain unchanged. Sustainable economic growth will only be achieved if the link between CO2 emissions and GDP is lessened, i.e. if energy intensity and /or carbon intensity is reduced. Many governments are working towards this aim by pursuing policies to encourage greater use of renewable energy (IEA 1997). Johansson et al concluded, that given adequate support renewable energy technologies could meet as much of the growing demand at prices lower than those usually forecasted for conventional energy sources. They predicted that by the middle of the 21st century, renewable energy could account for three fifths of the world electricity market and two fifths of the market of fuels used directly. Moreover, making a transition to a renewables intensive energy economy would provide environmental and other benefits not measured in standard economic accounts. For example, global CO2 emissions would be reduced by 75% of their 1985 levels, provided that energy efficiency and renewables are both persuaded. And because renewable energy is expected to be competitive with conventional energy, such benefits could be achieved at no additional cost (Johansson).

Conclusions

The environment and development problems linked to energy and climate change are extremely grave and will have catastrophic consequences. Unless substantial change in the direction of sustainability occurs soon, these problems are not likely to be adequately resolved and many of the opportunities now available will be lost, and future generations short-changed.

Actions

  • Taxes, regulations and other policy instruments should ensure that consumer decisions are based on the full costs of energy, including environmental, social and other external costs not reflected in current market prices.
  • Improvements in energy efficiency and demands side management
  • Increased use and accessibility of renewable energy technologies
  • Level the playing field through energy sector reform and thus opening markets for renewable and energy efficiency technologies
  • Fossil fuel subsidies that artificially reduce the price of fuels that compete with renewables should be removed.
Richard Sherman
Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Partnership
EarthLife Africa Johannesburg
rsherman@earthlife.org.za
www.earthlife.org.za
WALKING THE TIGHTROPE: THE IMPORTANCE OF WATER DEMAND MANAGEMENT IN SOUTHERN AFRICA 
Background

Water is recognised world-wide as the most fundamental and indispensable of all natural resources (Gleick, 1999). Virtually every country faces a growing challenge in meeting the rapidly escalating demand for safe and wholesome supplies of water that is driven by burgeoning populations. Water supplies dwindle because of resource depletion and pollution, whilst demand rises fast because population growth is also coupled with rapid industrialisation, mechanisation and urbanisation (Falkenmark, 1989). The situation is particularly acute in the more arid regions of the world where water scarcity, and associated increases in water pollution, limit social and economic development and are often linked closely to poverty, hunger and disease. This contrasts sharply with more affluent countries that are able to mobilise sufficient human, financial and technological resources to overcome the adversities posed by water scarcity, thereby maintaining human welfare.

Southern Africa’s dramatic population growth during the past century has been accompanied by an equally rapid increase in the demand for water (Conley, 1995). Present population trends and patterns of water use suggest that many southern African countries will reach the limits of their economically usable, land-based water resources sometime between the years 2020 and 2030 (Ashton, 2000). This sobering prospect emphasises the urgent need to find a sustainable solution to the problem of ensuring secure and adequate water supplies throughout the sub-continent. This will require a major shift in society’s attitude towards water, whilst new perspectives and innovative approaches to water resource management are therefore both critically important and pressingly urgent.

Management and institutional perspectives

Historically, water resource management strategies in southern Africa have been shaped to cope with the pressures of economic growth in situations where water supplies and water demand are often unevenly distributed. Many of the problems have been accentuated by the inequities of previous political dispensations. A stronger emphasis is now placed on water demand management (WDM) as a logical framework for the embodiment of the principles of sustainable water resource management. However, the key to successfully alleviating the looming water shortage facing the region lies in effective implementation of policies and strategies.

In recent years, most southern African countries have either enacted new water legislation or are in the process of doing so. An important feature of the emerging water legislation in southern Africa is the emphasis now placed on balancing resource protection with sustainable utilisation, whilst promoting economically sound development, to ensure that all water use is equitable and sustainable in the long-term. This is a fundamental and critically important change to water resource management policies and approaches in the region. The new legislation also seeks to ensure that water will now be managed within a framework of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), on a catchment basis. This will be achieved through appropriate institutions including government departments, catchment management agencies and water user associations in each area.

The basic approaches of IWRM promote equitable access to, and sustainable use of, water resources by all stakeholders at catchment, regional, national and international levels. Statutory catchment agencies or similar organisations will be needed to manage all water resources within defined management areas, including shared river basins. Most southern African countries now place increasing emphasis on water conservation strategies, including WDM. These new initiatives aim to minimise or retard the growth in water demand through improved education and more efficient use of the available resources.

Finding a balance

The success or failure of WDM depends on the commitment of water resource managers to implement the chosen strategies, and the willingness of individual water users to abide by the conditions of each strategy. In turn, the public’s willingness to accept a particular strategy is controlled by the degree to which individual water users perceive the strategy to be "justified" by the prevailing circumstances, and the perceived "legitimacy" of the implementing institution. Unfortunately, WDM measures take time to implement and their consequences also take time to impact on patterns of water use. Ideally, management emphasis should be placed on a fully integrated approach that combines short-, medium- and long-term considerations.

Where water demand continues to increase in tandem with population growth, the water supplies that can be mobilised by conventional engineering solutions are soon exceeded and a situation of "water deficit" ensues. Further growth in water demand worsens the degree of water deficit experienced. This usually marks the onset of determined efforts to control and manage water demand through the imposition of stringent water conservation measures and strategies aimed at improving the efficiency of water use. Typically, these strategies try to "buy enough time" for society to adjust structurally to the growing water deficit (Turton & Ohlsson, 1999).

If attempts to control water demand are unsuccessful, water resource managers are forced to implement progressively stricter measures and to re-allocate water to more productive sectors of the economy. In such situations, water resource managers must develop innovative ways to allocate water within society and keep water wastage to an absolute minimum (FAO, 2000).

Clearly, if a society’s water demands remain linked to population growth, the quantity and quality of water available for each person will decline as the population increases (Ashton, 2000; FAO, 2000), resulting in an unsustainable scenario. In a situation where water resources are finite, the rate of population growth should gradually decline towards zero, thereby reducing demographic pressure on the available resources. Theoretically, the population level would then reflect the "carrying capacity" of the available water resources and the associated social and technical capacity of the society. However, a scenario of zero population growth seems unlikely in the modern African context since population growth rates have remained at high (though variable) levels throughout the last century and show no signs of decreasing consistently towards zero.

Many local institutions have inadequate levels of funding as well as a shortage of skilled personnel and therefore cannot undertake water supply and demand management. Greater success though, has been achieved where governments have pledged to empower and train local government structures and assist local authorities to assume full responsibility for providing water services. At the same time, all water users need to be educated as to their responsibilities to look after their water, and to monitor, manage and maintain it.

Plans to establish Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs) to manage all water resources within hydrological regions (water management areas) will help to decentralise water resource management at the planning and implementation level. Each CMA will need to develop and implement suitable WDM strategies, including communicating the importance of effective resource management to the people in the water management area. Thus, the adverse impacts of any misuse and the potential benefits from positive management practices will be felt directly by the users in the water management area.

The recent policy developments and institutional changes in southern Africa and our improved understanding of water resource management suggest that many of the basic institutional components are either in place or are being developed. However, though appropriate WDM strategies have not yet been implemented, authorities accept that the effective implementation of such strategies will depend on the overall effectiveness of catchment management agencies. Ultimately, effective WDM will be pivotal in determining whether or not southern Africa can cope with growing water scarcity in the region.

Conclusions

Southern African water resource managers and, to a lesser extent, the public, are increasingly aware that the region’s freshwater supplies are an indispensable finite resource that must be protected and managed. As the region’s population continues to grow, the quantity and quality of water available per person will continue to decline. However, the demand for water is a product of the skewed levels of social development, which is itself often a product of previously racially skewed access to natural resources such as water. Consequently, southern African water resource managers face considerable difficulties when they attempt simultaneously to improve the lot of the poor by providing formal water supplies (thereby increasing local water demand), whilst trying to reduce the overall (national) demand for water.

This realisation has enormous social, economic and environmental implications and drives the adoption of new policies and legislation that are designed to reverse past inequities and to continue to provide adequate water supplies to meet the growing demands for water. More than ever before, a growing awareness of the vulnerability of the region’s freshwater resources is forcing water resource managers to re-examine the ways in which water resources have been developed in the past and to derive more innovative and equitable ways of adapting to the inevitable scarcity (Ashton, 2000).

Clearly, the efforts made to date must be encouraged, supported and extended if water demand is to be controlled successfully in southern Africa. There is compelling evidence (Falkenmark, 1989; Turton & Ohlsson, 1999; Ashton, 2000; FAO, 2000) that a growing water deficit will exert increasing pressure on every aspect of economic and social development – this can only be countered if water resource managers are supported in their efforts to control water use in all sectors. Considerable effort will also be required to circumvent the added threats to our water resources that are posed by global climate changes, the spread of water-borne diseases and the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is sweeping the African continent (Whiteside & Sunter, 2000). To achieve this, water resource managers will have to develop new technologies and approaches that can cost-effectively harness new freshwater sources (e.g. desalination of seawater) or prolong the availability of existing sources through recycling and reuse. Now, more than ever before, we have to accept that the success or failure of our water resource management strategies will determine the future social and economic growth of our region.

Peter Ashton
Division of Water, Environment & Forestry Technology,
CSIR, Pretoria
pashton@csir.co.za

References

Ashton, P.J. (2000). Avoiding conflicts over Africa’s water resources. In: Proceedings of the GLOBE Conference on Environmental Security in Africa, National Assembly, Cape Town, South Africa, September 2000.

Conley, A.H. (1995). A synoptic view of water resources in southern Africa. Proceedings of the Conference of the Southern Africa Foundation for Economic Research on Integrated Development of Regional Water Resources, Nyanga, Zimbabwe, 13-17 November 1995.

Falkenmark, M. (1989). The massive water scarcity now threatening Africa: why isn't it being addressed? Ambio, 18(2).

FAO (2000). New Dimensions in Water Security - Water, Society and Ecosystem Services in the 21st Century. Land and Water Development Division, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Rome. FAO Report: AGL/MISC/25/2000.

Gleick, P.H. (1999). The human right to water. Water Policy

Turton, A.R. & L. Ohlsson (1999). Water scarcity and social stability: towards a deeper understanding of the key concepts needed to manage water scarcity in developing countries. In: Proceedings of the Ninth Stockholm Water Conference, Stockholm, Sweden.

Whiteside, A. & C. Sunter (2000). AIDS: The Challenge for South Africa. Human & Rousseau, Tafelberg, South Africa.

 

Water and Development:
An African Perspective

As we approach the World Water Day, it is prudent to ponder some of the issues that relate to water and development, particularly from an African perspective. For many decades now, the development paradigm has been dominated by attempts to develop massive infrastructural projects. Central to such projects were water-works, which came in a variety of incarnations that often represented the largest single investment for any given government. These projects usually acquired a strong political dimension and rapidly became a visible manifestation of progress and modernisation. Yet in the case of large dam projects, a growing body of evidence has been generated that now shows this vision to be seriously flawed and unsustainable.

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) was a remarkable institution in many respects. One of these was its makeup, having drawn its Commissioners and support personnel from a wide variety of backgrounds and from a spectrum of nationalities. The WCD sought to probe the vexing question about dams and development. The report was released towards the end of 2000 and has been widely examined by a range of role-players. The WCD report, entitled "Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision Making", is a remarkable document indeed. It draws from a wide range of case studies, set in different cultural and economic locations, with a range of successes and failures. One of the findings is that large development projects, which have been centered on water, have largely failed to meet original expectations and in many cases have resulted in impoverishment and the perpetuation of inequality rather than sustainable development.

Let us dwell for a moment on this aspect, and ask the basic question, why have so many large-scale water development projects failed? The answer to this is both complex and simple at the same time. Complex, in the sense that development is related to so many other issues that a simplistic monocausal answer is usually flawed. Simple, in the sense that the underlying rationale of such large-scale infrastructural development projects is overly simplistic and also deeply flawed as a result of this oversimplification. This is so largely because it is built on an assumption that modernisation should be based on a Western-styled pattern of consumption and delivery, and this is just not attainable for most developing countries. Such developmental models are weak because they focus all attention on natural resource mobilisation alone. The assumption is that a natural resource like water should be harnessed by means of modern technology in order to provide the infrastructural stimulus to economic growth and industrialisation.

While dams have been in existence for millennia, the technology to build large dams is very new. It was only in the 20th Century that reinforced concrete was developed. This saw the construction of the first truly large dam in the world - Hoover - which tamed the previously untamable Colorado River and which provided the energy with which to reconstruct the post-war Western world. Marc Reisner in his famous book, "Cadillac Desert", suggests that the electricity from Hoover Dam enabled the production of aluminum cheaper than that possible in wartime Germany. It was this cheap electricity, according to Reisner, that gave the economic advantage, which ultimately resulted in the restructuring of the New World Order. Once built, Hoover also acquired a monumental status, much like the Pyramids of ancient Egypt. So much so, that Hoover became identified with development, particularly in light of its job creation capability during the gloomy depths of the Great Depression, so soon after that every development project needed to have such a monumental structure at its core. Such are the whims of development fashion!

After the Second World War, dam building really took off and at its peak, around 5 000 large dams were built worldwide in the five-year period between 1970 and 1975 alone. In Africa we can see this legacy with large dams such as Kariba, Cahora Bassa, the Aswan High Dam and the Gariep Dam. Each of these became monuments to a development vision which was so powerfully articulated that to challenge the underlying assumptions was sufficient to brand the challenger as an anti-nationalistic heretic.

But this development has come at a high price. Displaced people have seldom been adequately compensated, and even generations later such social groupings remain deeply impoverished. The price tags have also tended to grow well beyond the original forecasts. The projected development advantages have also tended to be over-estimated and have seldom been achieved. Long-term effects of sedimentation, salinisation and other debilitating environmental impacts have gradually manifested themselves as a new generation of unforeseen problems requiring solutions that are often beyond the capacity of developing countries. After all, dam building is a profoundly disturbing act. By casting a plug of reinforced concrete in a watercourse that Nature has taken millions of years to sculpt, radically alters ecosystems downstream of that development. It takes about half a century for these impacts to become evident. We are currently around half a century into the era of major dam building so everywhere we look, we can see evidence of this environmental impact. This is relevant because after all, people are part of the environment too!

This raises a serious issue that modern decision-makers should be aware of. Our understanding of resources has been deeply flawed and needs a radical rethink. Until recently, resources have been understood as being natural resources such as water, minerals, soil, oil, diamonds and suchlike. It has been on this basis that these grandiose development projects have been hatched. If you can harness the natural resources that are available in any given country then you can generate development, or so the argument used to go. Recent work in the scientific community has shown that there is a definite conceptual distinction to be made in our understanding of the concept of "resources". Dr. Leif Ohlsson, an innovative Swedish social scientist, has developed the notion of two sorts of "resources". The first is what is commonly known as a natural resource, which Ohlsson has chosen to call a first-order resource, in which a country may be either well endowed or not. The other type is what he has defined as a social resource, which he has called a second-order resource. As with natural resources, a developing country may be either well endowed with social resources, or they may be in scarce supply.

So what are the implications of this distinction? Firstly, the distinction enables us to examine the type of development project that the WCD has found to have generally under-performed. The reason for this dismal track record is that such projects have been focussed on first-order resources alone. In short, such projects have mobilized large volumes of the first-order resources and made these available for development, but that development has generally not been up to expectations. Secondly, the reason why they have failed is because second-order issues have been almost totally ignored in the original planning. In terms of this rationale, the relative availability of a first-order natural resource is less relevant than an understanding of what a society can do with that availability. The latter is most important as it embraces intangible elements like capacity. If seen in this light, the emphasis now shifts away from what a society can do with a natural resource per se, to how that society will adapt to changes in the level of availability over time. Thirdly, this distinction allows us to understand why a country that is richly blessed with first-order natural resources, is likely to fail if second-order social resources cannot be mobilized in sufficient quantity. This same rationale explains why a country that is poorly endowed with a natural resource such as water, can still be economically successful. The difference between success and failure can be attributed to second-order social resources rather than first-order natural resources alone. One needs to look no further than some of the African states that are well endowed with natural resources but which continue to be debilitated by ongoing civil war, which is usually perpetuated by the very existence of the natural resource in the first place. We all know about the role of so-called "conflict diamonds" in Africa.

This is the real challenge to decision-makers. It is this aspect that Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon has chosen to call "ingenuity". Homer-Dixon's thesis goes roughly as follows. In order to develop, a variety of problems need to be solved. These problems range in complexity over time, and the country that can mobilise sufficient intellectual and other social resources, will be able to solve those problems and hence develop. Development means economic growth and as such, a country that is developing will tend to attract people with good qualifications, to the extent that highly developed countries become developed simply because they can attract the necessary intellectual and social resources to sustain that development. The converse holds true for developing countries, where intellectual capital is lost to the more stable and economically attractive developed world. The critical issue is therefore the initial mobilisation and subsequent retention of what can be loosely described as "ingenuity". It is the lack of ingenuity that has caused the failure of so many development projects in Africa. It is therefore the scarcity of a second-order social resource that is the critical determining factor for success and sustainability.

So where does this leave us today? The central development-related issue that is likely to confront contemporary decision-makers is related to the complexity of problems that need to be solved. It can be argued with some conviction that the range and degree of complexity of development-related problems is likely to grow over time. This is driven by fundamental issues like ecosystem collapse as the long-term impacts of large dam construction and other development projects become manifest. These problems are exacerbated by rapid population growth, which often places additional demands on the natural resource base of a country. The arsenal of ingenuity that is available to decision-makers with which to confront this growing complexity is also likely to become increasingly limited as intellectual capital is hemorrhaged away from Africa. It is this type of scenario that stimulated Kaplan's now notorious journalistic piece that was published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1994 under the title "The Coming Anarchy". In this emotionally charged journalism, Africa was depicted as degenerating into a volatile environment in which gangsters and other anti-social elements roamed freely like loose molecules in an unstable social fluid. Such Afro-pessimism has done us all a grave disservice indeed by undermining investor confidence.

Experience in the water sector, particular in Africa, gives one a completely different perspective on things, and can be branded as an example of Afro-optimism instead. The water sector offers a unique insight into developmental issues, simply because water availability and distribution impact so fundamentally on economic and social development. It is therefore deeply encouraging to note that Africa took part in the deliberations that led up to the recently published "World Water Vision". That Vision is based on participatory democracy, accountability, service delivery and a changing perception of water. All of these aspects are nice to have, but they are all centered on one critical element. Without the mobilisation of second-order social resources, water sector reform is unlikely to succeed and the Vision will remain a mirage.

The challenge to elected parliamentarians is therefore simple. It is in their hands that the electorate has placed the future developmental choices. Those officials can play a vital role in raising awareness of the issues at stake. The laudable elements of the Dublin Principles and the World Water Vision, along with the detailed recommendations of the WCD report, all provide a strong normative framework for water sector reform. Emerging regional groupings such as SADC also provide the legal instruments for regional cooperation in the water sector. The fact that Southern and East Africa is characterised by recurring droughts and a large number of shared international river basins, means that water can be the catalyst to regional integration and economic development.

Economic development and regional integration in Europe is predicated on technical cooperation in the field of coal, steel production and energy distribution. The founding treaties that established the European Union were all linked to these elements. So too can economic development and regional integration in Africa be founded on the technical cooperation needed in the water sector. There are many complex issues that divide us, but in our mutual dependence on water we are all united. It is by cooperating in the water sector that Africa can provide a sustainable challenge to Kaplan's Afro-pessimism. It is to this clarion call that all responsible parliamentarians can choose to respond and lead us to a better tomorrow.

AR Turton
Head: African Water Issues Research Unit (AWIRU)
Pretoria University