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The climate change and freshwaters nexus: possible implications for water treaties on the transboundary tributaries of the Congo River.

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While it is widely predicted that climate change will cause a significant decline of water availability in diverse regions of the planet, it is also established that the same phenomenon will cause frequent and intense floods in many other regions of the globe, including the Congo River basin, in Central Africa. This basin, which houses the second-largest tropical rain forest in the world is under threat of seasonal floods due to climate change. Studies concerning the impact of climate change on the basin’s hydrology have revealed that the phenomenon will cause an increase of approximately 10 to 15 percent of the run-off of the basin, and a rise of about 11 to 17 percent of the Congo River’s discharge, by the year 2050. The Congo River is the main outlet of the Congo basin. It discharges approximately 45,000 cubic metres of waters per second in the Atlantic Ocean, of which one third are the waters from the Congo River’s transboundary tributaries. Eleven to seventeen percent in addition to what already exists suggests a higher likelihood of intense seasonal floods across the Congo River basin. The 1997 United Nations Convention on the non-navigational uses of international watercourses has required water cooperation across river basins in order to jointly adopt the appropriate measures including the laws, to address the predicted impacts of climate change. However, the consulted literature has given very little interest in this matter as far as the Congo River basin is concerned. Furthermore, no previous study has examined the legal implications thereof. This thesis has, therefore, tried to comprehend the implications that these climate change impacts on the hydrology of the Congo River basin will have on the laws that govern the Congo River and its transboundary tributaries. This thesis has at first assessed the legal framework that governs the Congo River and its transboundary tributaries against Cooley & Gleick’s criteria framework, which verifies the integration of the climate change dimension in transboundary water treaties. At a second stage, this thesis has undertaken a comparative analysis of the said regime with the flood management regime that is in place in the Rhine River basin. From the analysis undertaken in this thesis, it has transpired that the legal regime that governs the Congo River and its transboundary tributaries has not adequately integrated the climate change dimension. Furthermore, it is deprived of any flood management provision or mechanism, thus suggesting an alarming vulnerability to floods along the Congo River especially. Inspired by the Rhine flood management regime, and having elucidated the hydro politics at play across the Congo River basin, this thesis has formulated some critical recommendations that aim at equipping the basin with an adequate flood management legal regime.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.