This essay explores the multiple ways in which the nexuses between water scarcity and climate change are socially and historically grounded in ordinary people's lived experiences and are embedded in specific fields of power. Here we specifically delineate four critical dimensions in which the water crises confronting the African continent in an age of climate change are clearly expressed: the increasing scarcity, privatization, and commodification of water in urban centers; the impact of large dams on the countryside; the health consequences of water shortages and how they, in turn, affect other aspects of people's experiences, sociopolitical dynamics, and well-being, broadly conceived; and water governance and the politics of water at the local, national, and transnational levels. These overarching themes form the collective basis for the host of essays in this volume that provide rich accounts of conflicts and struggles over water use and how these tensions have been mitigated.
On December 6, 1974, two pressure-driven steel gates of the Cahora Bassa Dam, each weighing 220 tons, stopped the mighty Zambezi River in its course. After five years of toil by more than five thousand workers, the construction of Mozambique's Cahora Bassa was complete. At the time, it was the fifth-largest dam in the world. The hydroelectric dam was the last megaproject constructed in Africa during the turbulent era of decolonization. Through the voices of peasants and fishermen, displaced by the dam and the workers who built it, this essay analyzes the far-reaching social, political, and ecological consequences of Cahora Bassa. It also explores the devastating impact on riparian life downriver from the dam, which dramatically reduced the annual inundation of the floodplain that supported hundreds of thousands of farmers as well as fish, birds, and mammals.