Water for Life: Financing infrastructure crucial in Africa


The African continent is facing challenges of providing enough water for its people. Leaking water systems, ageing infrastructure and poor municipal administrations are some of the factors that are intensifying Africa’s water crisis.

According to Africa Water Atlas “Africa faces mounting challenges in providing enough safe water for its growing population, especially for the huge numbers of people migrating to peri-urban areas, where municipal water services are often non-existent.”

Studies have shown that more than 40 percent of Africa’s population lives in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas: In these areas, annual rainfall reliability is low.

“The uncertainty of water supplies has implications for Africa’s people in terms of food security and public health, seasonal and permanent rural-to-urban migrations, and political instability and conflicts over scarce water resources,” says the Africa Water Atlas.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation “The amount of water available per person in Africa is far below the global average and is declining: The continental annual average water availability per person is 4 008 m3/capita/year, well below the global average of 6 498 m3/capita/year. Annual per capita water availability has declined from 37 175 m3 in 1 750 to 4 008 m3 in 2008.”

In her message on World Water Day on March 22, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, noted:

“Water is fundamental to life and is the common denominator of all sustainable development challenges. We need water to produce food and we need water to produce energy. Improving access to freshwater is about enabling millions of girls to go to school instead of walking kilometres to fetch water. It is about improving maternal health, curbing child mortality and preserving the environment.

“The World Water Development Report released today confirms, for example, that people who lack electricity are also those who lack water. This is no mere coincidence – water is required to produce energy, and energy is required to sanitise and convey water. Both are essential to human wellbeing and sustainable development.”

In its own message to mark World Water Day, the African Development Bank spoke about the link between water and energy, the role water plays in generating electricity and the role of energy in the development of the continent.

“African countries face many challenges in their quest to improve the welfare of their populations, one of which is the lack of access to affordable and reliable energy.

“The African continent has the lowest electrification rate of all regions. It is estimated that only 43 percent of the population has access to electricity, compared with 77 percent in the developing world. In Sub-Saharan Africa the ratio is much lower, at 32 percent and only 18 percent in rural areas. Moreover, even when modern energy is available, it is expensive and unreliable.”

The AfDB noted that the lack of access to modern energy services severely impedes social and economic development, undermines competitiveness and access to regional and global markets for African producers.

“It is critical and urgent to address the continent’s energy needs in order to unlock its development potential,” said the AfDB.

As stated in the Southern African Vision For Water Life and Environment in the 21stcentury “The peoples of Southern Africa recognise that water is essential to: their own personal and community survival; the production of the food that they eat; the sanitation and conveyance of waste; the generation of the energy that supplies their needs; the commodities that they produce for national consumption and export; and the integrity of the environment and the survival of other living forms with whom they share the world.”

As maintained by WaterSan Perspective, “With an expected population growth from 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050, economic growth, increased standards of living in developing and emerging countries and the pressures of climate change, the burden on water and energy independently are enormous.”

Dr Mohamed Bahaa El-Din, President of the African Ministers Council on Water, once reflected that there are still over 300 million Africans who don’t have access to safe drinking water while over 500 million lack access to improved sanitation.

“Also, according to several reports the water sector in Africa faces a financing gap of more than US$8.5 billion per year.

Available evidence suggests that the financing gap is at least 30 percent of the total annual financing needs.

To minimise this gap, appropriate investment plans must be developed in order to promote domestic as well as foreign financial resources allocation for implementing national and regional water and sanitation development activities.

Perhaps the greatest cause of Africa’s problems is the lack of technical and institutional capacity to effectively utilise its water resources.

“Though approximately 4 trillion cubic metres of water is available every year, only about 4 percent of that is used. Nevertheless, the hydrology of the continent is characterised with enormous temporal and spatial variability in rainfall and runoff. .”

A member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, Michel Camdessus, once remarked that recent discoveries of water reserves under some of Africa’s mightiest deserts raise hopes for quenching African thirst.

“From parched desert to tropical forest, roughly 40 percent of Africans, mostly the rural poor, will not get access to clean water any time soon, a fact that exacerbates poverty, hunger, and disease.

“Indeed, every year, dirty water kills an estimated 750 000 African children under the age of five.

“Besides killing Africa’s children, dirty water can reduce school attendance, especially for girls, cause political instability, and constrain productivity…Africa loses an estimated US$28 billion every year through lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. But, in urban slums across Africa, unclean water and lack of sanitation is still a source of disease,” said Camdessus.

He added that increasing people's access to sanitation and drinking water brings huge benefits to the development of individual countries through improvements in health outcomes and the economy as noted by International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015.

April 2014
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