AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives

FRESHWATER

Lack of availability and inadequate quality of freshwater are the two most limiting factors for development in Africa, constraining food production and industrial activities and contributing significantly to the burden of disease.

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Figure 2s.5: Freshwater issues in Africa

Western and Central African countries have relatively abundant freshwater resources and fairly predictable rainfall. However, the distribution of human populations in these countries is such that the various user groups nevertheless experience difficulties and disparities in access to water resources. For example, the rural poor have to walk long distances to collect water for domestic consumption whereas agricultural and industrial users have access to subsidized resources.

Most other countries, particularly those in Northern Africa, the Horn of Africa, and in the Sahel, experience extreme variability and unpredictability in rainfall as well as frequent drought. User groups experience disparities in access to water resources, with Southern African countries showing the widest disparity in terms of both access and consumption.

Almost all African countries experience problems of water quality and are struggling to upgrade water treatment and wastewater processing plants. At present, large quantities of industrial and domestic wastewater are discharged untreated into watercourses and coastal waters and the resulting pollution poses a risk to human and aquatic life. Pollution of freshwater also compounds the existing problems of water availability by raising the costs of treatment and supply.

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a new, multi-stakeholder approach to meeting the challenges of water supply by curbing demand from certain user groups and encouraging re-use and recycling, as well as management of aquatic ecosystems and making provision for environmental water requirements. Although there is increasing recognition of the need for, and benefits of, adopting such an approach in African countries, implementation will only be effective if it is supported by adequate finances, and by trained personnel with adequate facilities. Coordination between government departments responsible for water supply and use must be brought in line with the common goal of sustainable use of resources. Figure 2s.5 shows the main freshwater issues for Africa.