In Africa, Water Resources Remains to Be Seen

wolrd water day

27 March 2015 – If you have access to a potable water from a tap or a shop then you should appreciate this because there are close to a billion people who can’t do the same. There are millions of people who walk several kilometers everyday in order to fetch water.

The availability and accessibility of water is a Herculean task to many people. The rainfall pattern is becoming unpredictable due to climate variability, and this has greatly affected both domestic consumption of water as well as rain fed farms. Many farmers who are supposed to feed the population are forced to poverty.

As the world celebrates World Water Day, a UN report warned many water crises are looming in the next 15 years if the world governments, especially those in the Global South, fail to change policy and act. Over 20% of world’s aquifers are exploited and the groundwater supply is predicted to diminish drastically. The freshwater sources are polluted with industrial and municipal wastes. The trend is not promising, and the future looks bleak.

Access to potable water is a universal and inalienable right and every human being on this earth deserves access to safe water. The world population is expected to rise to 9.1 billion by 2050 and 2.4 billion are from Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore in order to overcome water crises in future, we should use the finite water resources sustainably.

The global water demand is projected to increase by 55% due to urbanization, industrialization and the ever growing population. Unfortunately, African countries are unable to exploit their current finite water resources. Our freshwater basins are draining into the ocean because we don’t use the proper technology to harness it. Our aquifers are drying because we don’t have the technology to discharge the ground water.

Gains Made

According to a joint report by WHO and UNICEF, there are impressive gains that was made in the last couple of decades on accessibility of improved drinking water around the globe. It is estimated that 2.3 billion people gained access to improved potable water source and out of that 1.6 billion now use improved water supply services such as piping system on their premises.

However, there is still concern with the number of people that still don’t have access to safe water. It’s estimated that 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with Escherichia coli, an indicator of faecal contamination mainly from disposal of untreated municipal waste to freshwater basins. Many countries in the Global South don’t have effective wastewater treatment system that is up to the global standard that’s why we hear frequent outbreak of waterborne diseases in those areas.

The disposal of untreated of wastewater into streams and rivers not only affects people, it also affects the aquatic organism because there are substantial amount of nitrates, phosphates and other heavy metals ions in the wastewater that can lead to eutrophication and the killing of fish.

Visions for Water

There are bunch visions that was set in the last two decades but we haven’t realized a sustainable solution yet. Some of the key vision include the recently adopted African Water Vision 2025. It is a ‘policy instrument for the management of Africa’s water resources for sustainable development’. It is an ambitious vision that can change the entire water sector in the continent because advocates holistic approach to solve water challenges the continent is facing.

The main water challenges Africa is facing ranges from lack of water infrastructure to poor water governance and management. According to recently released UN report, only 5% of Africa’s potential water resource are developed and average per capita storage is 200 meters cubed. That’s significantly low when it’s compared to average per capita storage of the developed countries.

Lack of the capacity to develop water infrastructure and exploit the water resources will make Africa susceptible to the foreshadowed water crisis in 2030. African countries should jettison the traditional way of water resource management and form a transboundary and regional water resource management cooperation so as they can effectively and sustainably manage their water resources.

As 2015 marks the end of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) project, the world is preparing to set another development goals project. In 2014, UN-Water recommended a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal for water comprised of five target areas: (I) WASH; (ii) water resources; (iii) water governance; (IV) water quality and wastewater management; and (v) water-related disasters. This is an ambitious goals but like the millennium development goals, the achievement of these goals solely depends on the leadership on the ground.

Food-Water-Energy Nexus

Water plays key roles in poverty reduction and sustainable development. Food insecurity is still an issue in Africa and low level of agricultural productivity has trapped millions below the poverty line. Establishing water infrastructure that can harness a large amount of water and training expertise to manage the water resource can lead to food secured society, enhances productivity and alleviate poverty.

It is estimated that less than 10% of Africa’s cultivated land is irrigated, similarly less than 10% of the potential hydropower energy is utilized. It is worrying figures because the future of adequate water in the next generation is not sure unless there is a paradigm shift from local water resource management to integrated water resource management. We should use a holistic approach that focuses sustainability so as the future generation is safe.

The world is shifting to the use of renewable energy for sustainable development because the use of traditional fossil fuel energy has caused environmental catastrophe and human misery. So far, the only renewable energy African nations has explored and tried to develop on large scale is hydropower energy and that amounts to less than 10% of the potential hydropower energy the continent can produce.

But there is emerging approaches that can meet with Africa’s need for food security, energy security and sustainable development which is ‘‘Large Scale Agricultural Lease Investments and inter-regional generation and use of hydropower such as the Inga Power Project’.

‘’A study commissioned by the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) and executed by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) assessed the extent and prevalence of large-scale agricultural lease investments (LSALI) in many countries in Africa (IWMI, 2014). Proponents of LSALI contend that after 50 years of difficulty in transforming low productivity traditional agricultural practices, large-scale private-sector investments – mainly as part of the overall efforts at attracting foreign direct investments (FDI) – may provide an alternative means of acquiring the technologies needed in improving overall productivity in African agriculture.’’

To crown it all, Africa is rising. It is undergoing many transformations. For us to achieve sustainable development we need to use our meager resources sustainably. Let’s avoid what the economist called the ‘Paradox of Plenty’. #HappyWaterDay.


Ahmed Hassan is a social activist and critic interested in Somali politics. You can find him on Twitter at @pansomalist.


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