Africa is currently the least urbanised region in the world, but this is changing fast. Of the billion people living on the African continent, about 40 per cent lives in urban areas. The urban population in Africa doubled from 205 million in 1990 to 400 million in 2010, and by 2050, it is expected that this would have tripled to 1.23 billion. Of this urban population, 60 per cent is living in slum conditions. In a time of such urban growth, Africa is likely to experience some of the most severe impacts of climate change, particularly when it comes to water and food security. This places huge pressures on the growing urban populations.
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By Achim Steiner & Joan Clos
Africa’s urban population is projected to triple to over 1.2 billion by 2050 in cities already challenged in many places and in many ways by shortages of safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation services.
Access to clean drinking water and sanitation is perhaps one of the most important Millennium Development Goals because of its links to human health and the ability of people to carry out productive employment. It is also linked to gender and the nutrition of women and as well as their role in collecting water for families and communities.
Child mortality is also inextricably linked to water. Globally, at least 1.8 million children under the age of five years, or one every 20 seconds, die every year from water-related diseases. On the overall more people die from water-related diseases than are killed by all forms of violence including wars. Thus access to clean water is in many ways a pre-requisite for sustainable development.
The challenge of providing safe water and adequate sanitation will be aggravated by unchecked climate change and rising urban populations. As the world prepares for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, water and urbanisation need to be key issues on the sustainability radar.
There is strong and growing evidence that a Green Economy, within the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, can accelerate and scale-up delivery of these services if countries and communities commit themselves to managing the use and the sources of water such as forests, wetlands and other ecosystems central to this sustainability equation.
Creative and forward-looking policies, alongside partnerships across all sectors including agriculture, will also be key to sustainability.
This report, jointly produced by UNEP and UN-HABITAT in collaboration with the Africa Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) and funded by Tongji University, the Ministry of Science and Technology of China and Bayer Foundation, shows that there is a way forward for a more sustainable future where restoration of ecosystems, often in the green hills and watersheds surrounding cities, can provide cheaper, efficient and resilient water supply systems in a changing world.
Launched in Cape Town, a South African city surrounded by green hills that support water supplies to that city, it is our hope that World Water Day 2011 can provide a fresh vision for cities across Africa and beyond.