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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

6 key water issues facing Africa

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In the midst of an apparently substantial supply of water at continental level, there are sub regions and countries in Africa that are experiencing growing water scarcity.

This situation is the result of a number of issues that face the continent in the area of water resources:

1.Multiplicity of trans-boundary water basins.

A key water-resources issue in Africa is the multiplicity of international water basins in a climate of weak international water laws and weak regional cooperation on water-quality and water-quantity issues. Africa has about one third of the world’s major international water basins (basins >100,00OkM2). Virtually all the continental sub-Saharan African countries and Egypt share at least one international water basin.

Since so many of Africa’s water basins are international, their use as a unit for water resources management is impossible without partnership and cooperation between countries sharing them. In the absence of such cooperation, the potential for conflicts among riparian countries has increased in recent years and is likely to intensify in the future as water scarcity increases.

2.High spatial and temporal variability of rainfall

Extreme spatial and temporal variability of climate and rainfall on the continent is one of the significant features of water resources in Africa, with far-reaching consequences for water-resources management. Africa is a continent with great disparities in water availability between subregions. Great disparities also exist within and between countries. While there are areas with plentiful supply of water, there are others where water is scarce.

For example, northern Africa and southern Africa receive 9 percent and 12 percent respectively of the region’s rainfall. In contrast, the Congo River watershed in the central humid zone, with 10 percent of Africa’s population, has over 35 percent of its annual runoff.

Again, in the humid equatorial zone (in the Gulf of Guinea), annual rainfall is over 1,400 mm and exceeds evaporation. In contrast, in the Sahara and Kalahari deserts, annual rainfall is less than 50 mm, and it is exceeded by evaporation.

In Southern Africa, the Lake Malawi basin, Southern Tanzania, and northern Madagascar have become wetter in the last 30 years. This is in contrast to the situation in Mozambique, southeast Angola and western Zambia, which have become significantly drier over the same period, although Mozambique is currently overwhelmed by excessive rainfall and flooding

3.Growing water scarcity

These variations have resulted in abundant water resources in some areas and endemic and spreading drought and growing scarcity of water in others, especially where low annual rainfall is accompanied by low levels of internal renewable water resources. This has been the case in such dry lands as the Sahelian and some Southern African countries,
where there has been a significant decline in rainfall.

The frequency of drought has been increasing over the past 30 years, resulting in significant social, economic and environmental costs borne mostly by the poor. Not surprisingly, there are growing constraints to water supply in the dry lands that occupy about 60 percent of the total land area of Africa.

For example, it was reported that in 1995, Algeria, Burundi, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Egypt,
Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Rwanda and Tunisia were facing water-scarce conditions (with less than 1000 m3 of renewable water resources per capita per year).

4.Inadequate institutional and financing arrangements.

A key issue is related to the adequacy of the enabling environment under which water resources are managed at local, national and intercountry levels. Current institutional arrangements are often inadequate and the financing of investments is often unsustainable.

There is therefore a need for institutional reform to improve performance in the water sector.  Such reform should be underpinned by the adoption of the Dublin Principles.

It should also be based on cooperation and partnership between countries and
between sub regions, with the water basin serving as the basic unit for resource management.

Fortunately, many African countries have risen to the challenges that confront them. In the
field of water policy, strategy and institutional arrangements, a number of advances have been made. These include an increased awareness of, and political commitment to, integrated water resources management (IWRM).

There is also an increasing commitment to water-policy reform and a strong trend towards decentralization of water institutions. Furthermore, there is a thrust towards financial sustainability in the water sector and a realization of the importance of treating water as an economic good, while providing a safety net for the poor.

5.Inadequate data and human capacity

A key limitation at national, sub regional and continental level is the paucity of data on water resources. This limitation is linked to inadequate human capacity for the collection, assessment and dissemination of data on water resources for developing, planning and implementing projects. The skills for IWRM are not widely available in Africa.

A massive programme for capacity building is therefore needed to produce a cadre of water professionals (both men and women) who are highly skilled in IWRM principles and practices. Under the Global Water Partnership, a capacity-building associated programme is being developed to provide strategic assistance for developing the necessary skills for IWRM.

The challenge is how to retain staff once they are given the requisite training. It is generally recognized that even if the trained staff are retained, the skills they acquire may become atrophied from lack of use unless appropriate incentives are introduced.

A second challenge is, therefore, how to devise such incentives so that they are
consistent with the aspirations of the staff and with the goals of the water sector. These are
pressing challenges that call for immediate remedial action. Inadequate water-resources development.

6.Depletion of water resources through human actions

Available resources are being depleted through man-made actions that reduce both their quality and their quantity. Water contamination is increasing across the continent, from industrial pollution, poor sanitation practices, discharges of untreated sewage, solid wastes thrown into storm drains, and liquid leached from refuse dumps.

A major problem is pollution from food-processing waste and the decaying of invasive aquatic weeds. Poor land use and agricultural practices compound these problems. As a consequence, concentrations of waste frequently exceed the ability of rivers to assimilate them, and water-borne and water-based diseases have become widespread.

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