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Hydrological Variability and Extremes: Issues for Water Resource Management Capacity in Africa

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Nick Hepworth, Declan Conway and Bruce Lankford
Main author; Nick Hepworth Co-authors; Declan Conway and Bruce Lankford All based at; School of Development Studies University of East Anglia Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

Keyword(s): Water resources management, capacity, variability, capacity building
AbstractWe present examples of capacity to manage water resources in relation to climate variability in river basins in East and North-east Africa: The Nile in Egypt (interdecadal variability), Lake Victoria (non- stationary lake levels), and the Great Ruaha basin in Tanzania (rising demand and extreme events). Rainfall and river flow records during the 20th century demonstrate high levels of interannual and interdecadal variability in Africa. Our examples reveal this variability to pose significant challenges to water resources management across various scales, particularly in relation to organisational capacity and multiple, sometimes conflicting management objectives. In downstream riparian Egypt, management of decadal variability has involved reactive responses including the establishment of more robust contingency planning and early warning systems alongside strategic assessment of water use and planning in response to low flows and irrigation expansion in response to high flows. National and international concerns around Lake Victoria relate to trade-offs in management goals, including maximising hydropower generation, maintaining acceptable lake levels and reducing downstream disruption due to high outflows. These trade-offs are complicated by short- and long-term non-stationary behaviour in lake levels. In the Great Ruaha basin climate hazards are manifest as shorter duration drought and flood events set against large and inaccessible catchments, limited livelihood options and rapidly increasing demand. These challenges are faced in an organisational environment that includes poor co-ordination and planning, a near vacuum of regulatory capacity, a lack of funding, expertise and equipment and an inadequate framework for water allocation. We end by discussing some of the necessary conditions for effective management of hydrological variability within the context of existing organisational capacity and ongoing efforts to strengthen capacity in Africa. This work highlights significant gaps in current capacity and a need to re-think the content and delivery of capacity-building interventions. We identify a pragmatic approach to management that fits different hydrological conditions across various scales. At the sub-catchment and irrigation system level this includes the devolution of ownership of monitoring to the users themselves, especially connected to infrastructural refinements and conflict resolution.
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