AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives
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Women collecting water from a village well in Burkina Faso

Glen Christian/Still Pictures

Improving availability and access to freshwater resources in Western Africa

IWRM is recognized as a priority for western Africa. However, its implementation has been constrained by a number of factors. The main obstacles are limited technical skills in the sub-region, coupled with the complexity of the integrated approach. In addition, the increasing demand for water, freshwater pollution and disruptions to the hydrological cycle have complicated water resources management. The deterioration of most of the infrastructure for hydrometeorological and hydrogeological data collection, compilation, analysis and dissemination, as well as lack of funding, have led to poor maintenance. This situation is aggravated by political instability, due largely to armed conflicts, ethnic strife and inadequate grassroots participation in decision making. However some countries have adopted strategies on IWRM and development, or have enacted water laws and established institutions to enforce the laws. Economic incentives for water demand management have been successfully implemented in some areas, for example, Conakry, Guinea (see Box 2e.11).

A recent project to improve water supply to 90 villages in Mauritania has demonstrated the importance of the involvement of community members in the design, establishment and maintenance of facilities. This UNDP-funded programme created a private network for the construction and maintenance of water supply equipment, providing employment to the community, and ensuring back-up supplies of spare parts. A water-point committee was also established in each village, in order to take responsibility for management and maintenance costs, and local people were trained to repair the equipment. On completion of the project, more than 90 per cent of the villages were independently funding the maintenance of their pumps, with help from the people trained during the project (UNDESA 2000).

There is also a growing tendency in the countries of Western Africa to intensify monitoring, assessment and policy reform for the water resources sector. New measures are being introduced for water conservation and the development of infrastructure, in order to improve the integration of water and land management. Furthermore, during the past three decades, numerous intergovernmental organizations responsible for the development and management of shared rivers in the region have emerged (in particular, for the management of the Senegal, Gambia and Niger rivers), although their actual performance remains far below their potential.

Box 2e.11 Private sector involvement in water services in Western Africa

In 1998, 50 per cent of all the water pumped in Conakry (Guinea), was unaccounted for, and only 10 per cent of water bills were collected. Since a private company took over the management of water services in the city in 1989, water losses have been halved, and 85 per cent of bills are now paid. In Lomé (Togo), the public water utility has recently undergone improvements. Losses are now only 20 per cent, almost all water bills are paid and water subsidies are not required.

Source:Ménard and Clarke, 1996