Ecological food for thought for Africa from China's mother river
Stephen Ndegwa
The Atbara River on the Setit Dam in El Girba, Sudan, August 15, 2021. /Getty

The Atbara River on the Setit Dam in El Girba, Sudan, August 15, 2021. /Getty

Editor's note: Stephen Ndegwa is a Nairobi-based communication expert, lecturer-scholar at the United States International University-Africa, author and international affairs columnist. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In the last few days, the world has been treated to scenes of Chinese President Xi Jinping inspecting the Yellow River estuary in Dongying city, east China's Shandong Province.

During a site visit on October 20, President Xi toured a dock at the estuary, an ecological monitoring center and a national-level nature reserve of the Yellow River Delta. He also checked the river's waterways, the ecological environment of the wetlands in the river delta, and learned about the ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River basin.

The underlying message from Xi after his two-day tour was that you cannot separate sustainable development from ecological civilization. Any path to high quality development and modernization must give due attention to ecological sustainability and conservation by following the path of green development.

All these concerns are contained in the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), which looks at the bigger picture of environmental protection and the urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint to negligible levels across all productive sectors of the global economy.

River basins all over the world are very important and sensitive riparian areas. They are life-giving arteries that support millions of lives through socio-economic activities. Therefore, it is critical that they are protected and their productivity enhanced through sustainable strategies.

It is estimated that Africa has at least 13 major river basins located alongside the biggest rivers on the continent. These include the Senegal, Volta, Niger, Lake Chad, Nile, Lake Turkana, Juba Shibeli, Ogooue, Congo, Zambezi, Okavango, Limpopo and Orange river basins.

Like other river basins around the world, Africa's river basins have tremendous socio-economic value that benefits the people. They support agricultural activities all year round due to the possibility of irrigation during dry seasons. The basins are also sources of energy as their waters feed hydroelectric dams. The power from the plants feeds into the national grid for use in homes and industries.

Aswan High Dam in Benban, Egypt, February 7, 2020. /Getty

Aswan High Dam in Benban, Egypt, February 7, 2020. /Getty

It is also important to note that many of these rivers are transboundary, which has led to the formation of river basin organizations aimed at supporting "peaceful and sustainable management and development of transboundary water resources on the African continent" as espoused in the African Network of Basin Organizations.

The World Bank gives a very practical way in which cooperative river basin management can be a boon for regional cooperation. According to "Africa's International Rivers: An Economic Perspective" published in January 2003, the Bank notes that in addition to "enhanced environmental sustainability and increased economic productivity in areas such as food and energy production," cooperation on international rivers can catalyze "greater regional development and integration, promoting, for instance, transport and trade connections to market surplus production."

Even if we assume that there are no direct material benefits derived from river basins, their conservation is of paramount importance. They are critical natural assets in the fight against environmental destruction and climate change. They support vast areas of varied vegetation which act as carbon sinks, thus reducing global warming.

River basins are also sources of clean water whose importance to good health cannot be overemphasized. Without clean water, the incidence of water-borne diseases increases, adversely affecting the productivity and general well-being of the people.

Further, the basins are sources of nutrition from their supply of fish to communities in the surrounding areas. This is obviously a boost to good health at an affordable cost, with the savings utilized in other urgent or critical ventures. Indeed, river basins are also a habitat for fauna which in many cases act as food, particularly to indigenous communities.

Ultimately, river basins are an integral part of the world's ecosystem and should be protected by all stakeholders. Protecting the ecosystem is a central part of emerging eco-civilization with its cyclical existence where various components in the environment – forests, man, animals, insects, fish, freshwater et al – sustainably feed each other.

But for this to happen, river basins must be protected from soil erosion and deforestation, which in turn will preserve and enhance the ecosystem's biodiversity. There should also be steep penalties against pollution of rivers, a huge problem that has led to the drying up of rivers or made their waters unusable.

Just like the Yellow River basin is credited as one of the important birthplaces of Chinese civilizations and the most prosperous region in early Chinese history, river basins in Africa can act as centers of the continent's rebirth. The natural assets in these habitats are priceless and should be exploited in an optimum but sustainable manner.

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