African Development Bank pushes for shale gas development

A report (pdf) launched by the African development bank finds substantial potential for natural gas extraction from shale formations in a number of African countries:

Several African countries have potentially viable shale gas deposits, which, if developed, could lead to lower gas prices, increased consumption of natural gas, reduced greenhouse gas emissions from power generation and substantial economic benefits to producer countries, finds a report launched today by the African Development Bank (AfDB). - Press release

But the report also cautions the countries analysed, including Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, South Africa and the Western Sahara that shale gas exploitation is fraught with environmental dangers. From the executive summary:

The production of shale gas by fracking involves a number of environmental risks, and these continue to be of concern to communities near proposed well sites and groups involved with environmental protection. Four key issues have been identified that governments need to take into account in their decision making and regulations for the sector.
I. The large use of water required for fracking - Each well requires a large amount f water (several thousands of cubic meters, which has to be either taken from local water sources or trucked in. […]
II. Water contamination - The chemicals added to the fracturing fluid may escape and pollute water supplies. This can happen at the surface, where better containment can be mandated, or underground through leaks into aquifers, […]

With all of the countries assessed in the report being largely arid (South Africa's largest shale gas potential is in the Karoo desert) and already confronted with water crises, this is a major issue.

III. Seismic events […]
IV. Venting and flaring of gas - […] The global warming potential of vented gas is so high that allowing a substantial fraction of the produced gas to be vented would raise the total life-cycle emissions of the gas toward those of coal, […]
The AfDB advises prospective producers to use available regulatory tools to minimize environmental risks. Environmental organisations argue that until now the potential environmental harm that shale gas exploitation could cause is not understood very well and that countries should refrain from tapping their reserves of this unconventional resource because of this. But with the report attesting several African countries potential reserves on "game-changer" scale, appetites will likely overcome caution.

What is your take on the report? What weights greater - environmental concerns or potential profits?

Waging Nonviolence: The Arab Spring you haven’t heard about — in Mauritania

Protest in Nouakchott
Photo by Magharebia, via Wikimedia Commons

You may not have heard of it, but the West African country of Mauritania has what is probably one of the most vibrant and active protest movements in the world today. Protests drawing tens of thousands of people (out of a total population of just three million) take place almost weekly in the capital Nouakchott, with many smaller protests happening on a daily basis around the vast country. The protests are overwhelmingly nonviolent — even in the face of frequent violent suppression — and have been going on since February 2011.

It would be comfortable to file these protests as another part of the Arab Spring: Mauritania is on the southern reaches of the Saharan Arab belt, and large-scale protests here started with the self-immolation and subsequent death of YacoubOuld Dahoud, an action mirroring the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, which set off the revolt in Tunisia. As in other Arab countries that experienced large-scale protests, Mauritania is governed by an autocratic regime whose leader,Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, originally came to power through a coup d’état.

But while these similarities exist and the pro-democracy protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world surely have been a source of great inspiration for local activists, Mauritania merits a second look. […]

Read the rest on Waging Nonviolence!

War is Boring: Africa Roundup (Congo, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau)

Fighters of the MNLA in Mali. Photo via Maghrebia on Flickr.

The latest installment of my regular Africa conflict roundup for warisboring.com

Congo

A large-scale mutiny-come-rebellion rocks the eastern part of the Democratic Replublic of Congo since Easter. Never the most peaceful of places, the situation in the Kivu provinces bordering Rwanda escalated, when army general Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda decided to defect from his position.

Ntaganda is searched for by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. (The ICC recently sentenced Ntaganda’s former superior Thomas Lubanga in a related case.) A military commander of a powerful rebel group, the CNDP, Ntaganda protected himself from prosecution by leading an internal coup against CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda and bringing the CNDP into the fold of the government. This deal — in which Rwanda played an important part — gave Ntaganda the highest army command in the Kivus and didn’t touch the CNDP structures, which persisted in parrallel to the normal chain of command. […]

Read more on the current situation in the DR Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau here.

Sahel food crisis: a roundup

Farmer in Burkina Faso. Oxfam photo.

This will be the first of a series of posts, looking at the current state of the food crisis in the Sahel. In this post, I will provide a short history of the current crisis and a general overview of the situation in the region. In future posts, I will analyze the state of various countries and their reaction to the upcoming famine.

Forecasting a food crisis is no rocket science or guessing game anymore. All areas considered to be at risk of facing periodic food shortages are constantly monitored by regional and local early warning systems like the US based Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet).

These systems have become fairly reliable over the last years. The recent famine in Somalia was forecasted months before the first refugees started arriving in Kenya and southern Ethiopia. And that the Sahel region would face severe food shortages this year was clear around the end of 2011 already.

Currently, NGOs like Oxfam estimate that about 12.000.000 people in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger face severe food shortages. Food security is already stressed in some parts of the Sahel and the situation will deteriorate fast from now on, as the first harvests will only come in July, assuming that sufficient rain will fall this year.

The point of early warning systems is of course to give governments and organizations sufficient time to head of a crisis, before it can result in death and suffering. Food aid usually needs months to arrive where it is needed most and the logistical networks needed to distribute are also not springing up overnight. With the famine in Somalia last year, this chance was obviously missed, which can probably be contributed largely to the ongoing civil war in the impacted areas.

In the Sahel region, the situation looks a bit different. As early as February, international donors began committing money for the preparation of relief operations in the region. More than $150 Million were pledged by mid-February, while the financial tracking system of relief-coordinating organization OCHA currently lists about $200 Million pledged for Chad and Niger alone.

This early level of support is certainly positive, but considering that estimates of the total costs of relief operations are as high as $654 Million, donor countries still have to step up their commitment. NGOs are also lamenting that the focus of donors is again mostly on short-term disaster relief, while the underlying reasons of the recurring crisis are not adequately addressed.

At least as important as financing is the support of local governments for relief operations. In the past, famines were often denied by African governments, as they feared outside meddling in internal affairs or were even themselves partly responsible for the outbreak of a food crisis.

Luckily, this seems to have changed in at least some countries. The government of Niger was quick to demand help from the international community and Burkina Faso is currently implementing a dry-season agricultural campaign, for example.

In general, I think that we can be cautiously optimistic that a great catastrophe like last year in the Horn of Africa can be circumvented. But there are still many hazards, like how the ongoing conflict in Mali and insecurity in Nigeria and Libya will impact the situation. This will be analyzed in more detail in upcoming posts, looking at the state of the food crisis in the various countries of the region.