The water rights of up to 100 million African farmers are threatened by laws rooted in colonial times, according to a recent study conducted by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Pegasys Institute, and supported with funding from REACH.

Many sub-Saharan African countries rely on nation-wide permit systems—often touted as best practice—for their water management.  This has led to a number of unintended consequences. The logistical burden of permit systems creates a nightmare for water authorities, which struggle to reach millions of scattered and remote small-scale irrigators. The water uses of these irrigators are often illegal due to lack of knowledge about the permit system. Micro-scale water users, who use just enough water to meet their needs, are exempted from the obligation to apply for a permit. A user with a permit exemption, however, has a weaker legal standing than a permit holder. Overall, permits are only issued to a minority of large-scale water users who have the highest impacts on the water still available for other users and aquatic ecosystems.

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