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Water for African Cities

While 1.1 billion people or 18 per cent of the world's population lack access to safe drinking water, in many African cities, up to 50 per cent of the water is wasted through leakages or is unaccounted for, while many water sources are being polluted. What is worse, bucket for bucket, the poor often pay up to fifty times as much as the rich for this precious resource.

UN-HABITAT calls for increased investment

4 September Johannesburg
Hon. Ronnie Kasrils, the South African Minister for Water and Forestry, Hon. Yaw Barimah, the Ghanian Minister of Works and Housing, and Senator Tim Wirth, President of the UN-Foundation joined together with Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT to call for increased investment in the municipal management of water in African cities.

In a press conference, they called on donors to support the expansion and replication of UN-HABITAT's demonstration projects on water management. Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka emphasised that a comparatively modest investment in the maintenance and rehabilitation of a cities' water reticulation system could have immeasurable long term savings and benefits.

While 1.1 billion people or 18 per cent of the world's population lack access to safe drinking water, in many African cities, up to 50 per cent of the water is wasted through leakages or is unaccounted for, while many water sources are being polluted. What is worse, bucket for bucket, the poor often pay up to fifty times as much as the rich for this precious resource. This state of affairs is unsustainable. With financial support from the UN-Foundation, the Governments of Netherlands and Sweden, UN-HABITAT's Programme Managing Water for African Cities has been working with seven demonstration city municipalities in Africa. This includes the cities of Abidjan, Accra, Addis Ababa, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lusaka, and Nairobi. The city of Dar es Salaam is the latest city to join the programme.

Changes are already being noticed. City managers from Addis Ababa have observed a favourable change in attitude by policy makers in favour of water demand management. Lusaka has experienced a reduction in water loss and inefficient usage of water. Dakar has evolved practical ways of improving water management and introduced early warning mechanisms to control water pollution in the Lac de Guiers.

In the Accra Tema Metropolitan Area, a community-based and integrated planning approach is being employed to tackle water pollution in the Densu River. The initial modest investment of $5 million over the past three years has paved the way for major follow-up investments in water and sanitation. The programme experience indicates that even a modest $2 million in maintenance, rehabilitation and retro-fitting of a cities water reticulation system can postpone a $200 million investment in supply expansion by up to seven years. At the same time, the key to safeguarding Africa's freshwater resources from increasing pollution lies in people's involvement in urban water management.

Win-win solutions can be designed which combine local urban environmental management with income generating activities for the urban poor. The demonstration programmes have shown that for success, investment is also required in designing and implementing water advocacy strategies aimed at politicians, policy makers and ordinary citizens.

Information and education is a key element of the process. At the press conference, Senator Tim Wirth stated that out of the 400 million dollars of grants and loans made by the UN-Foundation, the Water for African Cities proved to be one of the most successful projects.

Intervention in the water sector was a sure way to improve the health and living conditions of the urban poor, especially women and children. He called upon donors, foundations and funds to support projects like UN-HABITAT's Managing Water for African Cities.

 

BACKGROUND
Overall, Africa is urbanizing at a rate of about 5 per cent, the fastest rate in the world. Africa's urban population could jump from 138 million in 1990 to 500 million in 2020, when African cities with a population of more than one million will accommodate almost 200 million people. In water terms, a 1990 survey of 29 sub-Saharan African countries revealed that 8 countries were suffering from water stress or water scarcity. By 2025, this number is expected to increase to 20 out of 29. Indeed the urbanization indicators for Africa are frightening and call for urgent remedial action from all stakeholders, including local, provincial as well as national authorities, the civil and private sectors, and the international community.

Largely prompted by the Cape Town meeting of African ministers in 1997, the Water for African Cities Programme was established and is focusing on water demand management, control of water pollution and awareness creation activities. It aims at improving water resources management in African cities, through establishment of early warning systems and catchment management to protect freshwater from pollution. An essential component of this programme is education, information exchange, capacity building and training to boost water awareness.

For further information, please contact: Sharad Shankardass, Spokesperson, or Zahra Hassan, Press & Media Relations, UN-HABITAT, Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya; Tel: 254 2 623151/623153; Fax; 254 2 624060; Email: habitat.press@unchs.org; Website: www.unchs.org or Mobile: 27-82-858-1775.

Wednesday 04 Sep 2002
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