ISSUE/EDITION Nr 468 - 15/12/2003


Africa is thirsty


This month, United Nation organizations dedicated to raise awareness
on matters of water and ensuring that the world has access to clean drinking water, 
will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a final report on the water situation in Africa 
will be presented at the Pan African Water Conference

The lack of access to water remains one of the world’s critical problems. A recent report from the Global Environmental Monitoring System (GEMS)/Water Programme, says two-thirds of the world’s population could face shortages of clean water by the year 2025. (GEMS/Water develops and maintains a global freshwater quality information system with a series of national and international partners).

The report states the situation in Africa is even more urgent. Fifty years ago there was four times more water for each African than today. GEMS/Water Director says: «It’s one thing to have water, it’s another thing to know if it is safe to drink».

GEMS says that access to water and changes in the quantity and quality of water are arguably the most important environmental -change issues of concern, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions of Africa. There is an increasing frequency of droughts, changes in land-use and urbanization, and all these affect water resources and subsequently threaten human well-being and economic development. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough water for agriculture, industry and domestic consumption in many parts of Africa.

Misplaced attention

Another report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT ) on the Global Water and Sanitation Crisis (25 March 2003) says the problem of water in Africa is worse in urban than in rural areas. UN-HABITAT says half the world’s population — 3 billion people — live in urban areas. «Among them, almost 1 billion are desperately poor and live in slums without even the basic services like sustainable sanitation. However, the development community continues to focus on sanitation needs as though only rural areas are in need of them.

The lion’s share of the development aid for sanitation goes to rural areas, while developing world cities are home to the majority of poor sanitation-related death and disease,» says Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT in Nairobi. She says that city level data for 43 African cities, shows that 83% percent of the population does not have toilets connected to sewers. Africa’s urban population, is expected to jump to 42.7% from 14.7% in 1950.

In Africa, as many as 150 million urban residents representing up to 50% of the urban population, do not have adequate water supplies, while 180 million or roughly 60% of people in urban areas lack adequate sanitation».

Africa’s water problems are compounded by the fact that governments do not have systems of checking whether their people are consuming good water. Water-quality checks frequently only take place after disasters such as cholera, strike. Water experts see no end to the problems affecting Africans in terms of the scarcity of water. In fact these experts fear that average water availability will decline, especially in northern and southern Africa as a result of the high rate of population growth, industrialization, as well as environmental abuse. They say over twenty African countries are expected to experience water scarcity over the next 20-30 years.


PeaceLink 2003 - Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgement