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Shingai Nyoka Navin Singh Khadka
BBC News Environment correspondent, BBC World Service
Thousands of newlyweds in Zimbabwe have been suprised to learn that their marriage certificates are not valid. Water scarcity makes countries in Africa especially likely to come into conflict with each other, the UN has warned.
It has emerged that, because of a clerical issue, certificates issued within the last 18 months are void - a discovery which could affect all those couples who got married within this period. The latest World Water Development Report says that 19 of the 22 African countries it studied suffer from water scarcity.
The matter came to light when the Zimbabwe Law Society issued an alert notice to lawyers across the country. “This water scarcity can increase the risk of conflict,” the report published by Unesco said.
It noted that stationery being used for civil marriage certificates continues to cite a chapter from an old marriage act, which was repealed in 2022. A dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the impact a giant damn might have on freshwater supply is an example of this.
The new act, which came into effect in September 2022, brought sweeping changes, including greater rights to partners in traditional marriages. It also criminalised child marriage. Most of sub-Saharan Africa suffers from economic water scarcity, the report’s chief editor Richard Connor told the BBC.
The law society has advised those affected to take their certificates to a registrar, who will correct and stamp the document. “And that is characterised not by the relative level of availability of water resources, but by the lack of appropriate infrastructure, as well as inadequate management and insufficient economic resources and incentives.
The lawyers also warned if you have an invalid certificate you cannot get divorced. "Population growth, rapid urbanization, economic development, and changing lifestyles and consumption patterns are increasing water demand throughout sub-Saharan Africa."
Several newlyweds who spoke to the BBC were previously unaware that their certificates might be invalid. The report highlighted droughts as one of the main causes of water scarcity in many parts of the world, including in Africa.
The mix-up elicited mirth on various instant messaging platforms, with some joking it was an opportunity for those looking for a way out of their marriage. It also said climate change will increase the frequency and severity of droughts.
The Civil Registry Department told state-owned paper The A 2022 report by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification said drought affected Africa more than any other continent, with more than 300 events recorded in the past 100 years, accounting for 44% of the global total.
Chronicle that while it can amend existing certificates, it cannot print fresh stationery bearing the correct law without the government first announcing the change via a gazette. Two-thirds of Africa’s freshwater resources cross borders.
But cooperation between countries has been lacking, the latest UN report has pointed out.
"Of the 106 transboundary aquifers [a body of porous rock or sediment saturated with groundwater] mapped in Africa, interstate cooperation has only been formalised in seven."
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