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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Climate change and water resource of the Gambia River Basin – A critical review of socio-economic implication

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By Abdoukarim Sanneh,
London, United Kingdom

In 2006, The United Kingdom Government commissioned a report known as stern review on the Economic of Climate Change and Development which stated that people will feel the impact of climate most strongly through changes of water around the world and its seasonal and annual variability. Stern review recognised that water is essential resource for life and a requirement for good health and sanitation, and it’s a critical input for almost all production and essential for sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

The Gambia is situated in the Sahel Region of West Africa and its rainfall is generated by West African Monsoon system with spatial variability while the countries vegetative cover is Savannah type with shrubs and grass under storeys and, mangrove cover on the western half of the riverine flood plains. The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa and the River Gambia which is a transboundary River Basin is a dominate feature of the country’s political geography. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Information System on Water and Agriculture Irrigation in Africa Survey 2005, the Gambia lies in the Sahelian agro-climate and its landscape geomorphological unit may be distinguished as upland and lowland and its climate is characterised by rainy season from June to October and dry season from November to May and the dry season is characterised by hot dry wind blowing southwards from Sahara desert which bring sandstorms.

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Water Resources of the Gambia can be defined as the country’s naturally occurring surface and ground water, the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of which does not deter its exploitation for human use. For many years, with international development agendas rallying around sustainable management of water resources, these visions shape Government of The Gambia policy in pursuing the development of the nation’s water resources to secure greater access to safe drinking water for its growing urban and rural population. Painfully, Gambia’s surface and groundwater resources are directly or indirectly affected by climate viability and climate change which continues to constraint or national vision for water and food security. These constraints have also impacted on the socio-economic status of mostly women farmers.

The gender division of agricultural farmlands is such that women farmers dominate lowland areas for small scale vegetable production and rice crop production along the river valley while, cash crop farming in the upland areas is dominantly carried by men-folks. The level of risks associated with climate variability and climate change on water resources is likely to have negative consequences such as household food security, economic and losses of productive assets on this socio economic groups. The Gambia River for many years has been the focus of Government of The Gambia to utilise significant portions of the country’s land resources in tidal and mechanical irrigation. Societies can divert water from the rivers and underground aquifers to meet their urban, industrial or food needs but the process can happen only to a limit which river basin cannot perform its important functions and can be referred to as a closed basin (Falkenmark and Molden, 2008).

No studies been carried out examining the driving forces (some of which are avoidable while others are unavoidable such as population growth, poor management, climate and vagaries of weather) to determine whether the Gambia River Basin is still an open, whether it can be considered as a close river basin. Currently the basin is a target for proposed Organisation of Gambia River Basin Countries (OMVG) hydropower and irrigation development to meet the region’s chronic energy poverty and food self sufficiency. Studies have identified Sambangalou in Senegal and Keleta in Guinea as potential dam sites and an interconnection transmission circuit linking the two dam to the electric grid of four countries of the organisation (AfDB, 2008). Many of the driving forces towards river basin closure are difficult to avoid because there is a strong justification for water development to generate income and employment, food production to increase food security. Climate change to a certain degree is also unavoidable and will continue to influence future stream flows (Falkenmark and Molden, 2008).

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The main source of Gambia’s drinking water for its growing urban and rural population is extracted from its ground water resources. Water resources are inextricably linked with climate and the current dynamics of anthropogenic climate change is reported to have serious implications for water resources and management and development (Riebsame et al, 1995). With efforts to provide adequate water supply, the country is confronted with current challenges such as demographic pressure and rapid urbanisation, and changes in land use patterns which are all impacting on the underground hydrology. In densely populated Greater Banjul, Kombo and its coastal areas, the supply of water is already straining to meet demand and economic growth and, in addition, water supply is also sensitive to seasonal rainfall distribution, global warming and heat waves (JarJu, 2008). Groundwater recharge is corrected with rainfall, which with other factors also resulted an increase or decrease in the level of underground water table.

The drilling of private boreholes in all over the country need some form of regulation. The Department of Water Resources and National Environment Agency should come some form of Water Industry Act to regulate maelstroms of private boreholes in very part of the country especially within the Greater Banjul and Kombo areas. Increasing demand for extraction for public and private supply in recent years has led to consequential changes in ground water level and quality. In some areas along the coast and the river estuary further salt water intrusion has changed the taste of drinking water. The demand for water resources along the coastal areas in the Gambia will continue to increase with abstraction while the rate of recharge will decrease due to climate related factors.

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