People in 40-Worst Water-Starved Countries Subsist on 8 Gallons Per Day. Africa’s Water Problems Hamper Development

The 40 worst water-famished countries in the world, in many of which people live on just two gallons a day for all uses, can never escape poverty and achieve sustainable development without first addressing their water scarcity, HRH Prince of Orange of the Netherlands says in a statement for the Accra (Ghana) Water Conference (April 15-17, 2002).

“The world is in a water crisis, with perhaps the problem most acute in Africa,” says HRH Prince of Orange, an advisor of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. “Globally, more than one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, and half of the population lacks adequate sanitation. More than two million people die annually from water-related diseases.”

People in the worst-off 40 countries, at least half of them in Africa, must try and meet all their water and sanitation needs on an average of 30 liters or less per day (8 gallons), far less than the 50-liter (13.2 gallons) per day level that the United Nations says constitutes the absolute minimum for water needs. The daily per capita water requirements include 5 liters for drinking, 20 for sanitation and hygiene, 15 for bathing and 10 for food preparation, per person.

“Only about 60 percent of the 680 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa have access to safe water supplies,” says Albert Wright, a Ghanaian civil engineer who is with the Global Water Partnership. “Incredibly, people in 13 countries, nine of them in Africa, must try and live on an average of less than 10 liters (2.6 gallons) per day, a truly desperate situation. Poverty and lack of water is inextricably linked for these people (in Gambia, Haiti, Djibouti, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Albania and Bhutan).”

“The debate on basic needs often focuses on domestic water use only,” the Prince says in a paper he prepared on the global water problem, No Water, No Future. “But for many poor people, access to water for productive purposes is a crucial basic need as well. This is because water is a key factor of production in agriculture and for most other forms of economic activity that are vital to the livelihoods and opportunities of the poor.”

Albert Wright concurs, saying “agriculture is of central importance in Africa. It accounts for about 35 percent of the gross national product (GNP) of the region, 40 percent of its exports, and 70 percent of its employment. Agriculture should therefore be the engine of growth in rural areas where about 70 percent of Africa’s poor live.”

Secretary General Annan selected 12 persons to serve on a Panel to help him prepare the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, to be held August/September, 2002. The Prince of Orange, a member of this Panel, has undertaken a special focus on water resources development and management. The Prince was chairman of the 2nd World Water Forum, held in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2000. The Accra Conference is one of a series of meetings leading up to the 3rd World Water Forum, to be held in Kyoto, Japan in March of 2003.

The 3rd World Water Forum will highlight actions being taken to implement solutions to global water problems. Some 8,000 government officials, representatives of international organizations such as the World Bank, and UN organizations such as UNESCO and UNEP along with water experts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media are expected to attend the 2003 meeting.

“Water is crucial to development, which can be seen by the fact that while the world population tripled in the 20th century, the use of renewable water resources grew six-fold,” the Prince says. “We have seen that no single type of intervention has had greater overall impact upon economic development and public health than does the provision of safe drinking water and proper sanitation. In health alone, improved water and sanitation can reduce morbidity and mortality rates of some of the most serious of water-related diseases by up to 80 percent.”

The Prince calls upon the world community to establish three water targets, two of which are new.

“My three recommended targets start with the one adopted by the Millennium Summit on safe drinking water, stating that the world community should cut in half the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water resources by 2015,” the Prince says. “The second calls for the establishment of a similar target, to cut in half the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford sanitation by 2015.”

“I propose a new target focused on water for productive use,” the Prince says. “We should increase productivity in agriculture, both rain-fed and irrigated, to bring food security for all people, without increasing water diverted for irrigated agriculture over that used in 2000.”

The Prince’s recommended action to reach those targets would be to mandate the World Water Assessment Programme of the United Nations to establish a baseline and monitor progress towards these targets and report to the Ministerial Conferences associated with the World Water Forum series.

“I expect that at this conference you will develop a strong statement from African water stakeholders that will help to put the African water issues high on the agenda of the Johannesburg Summit,” the Prince says. He points out in No Water, No Future that, “Water storage infrastructure per capita in Ethiopia is less than 1 percent of that of North America and Australia. Hydropower development in Africa is less than 5 percent of its potential, versus more than 70 percent in OECD countries. Development of water resources remains a major development opportunity in Africa.”

“Africans themselves have created an initiative to help guide the continent out of poverty, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).” says Mr. Wright. “It is a bold and unprecedented initiative, but its success depends upon the extent to which Africa’s human, economic, technological, and natural resources can be applied to this new vision.”

NEPAD is a vision and a program of action for the redevelopment of the African continent in a partnership between Africa and the rest of the world. Conceived and developed by African leaders under the auspices of the Organization of African States (OAU), it was endorsed by leaders of the G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States) on 20 July 2001.

“Water is to NEPAD as blood is to humans, absolutely necessary,” Mr. Wright says. “None of the goals of NEPAD can be achieved unless Africa successfully addresses its water problems.”

Mr. Wright says the principles of NEPAD include:

• African leaders should assume ownership of and responsibility for the development process and will work with a new partnership of developed nations for technical and financial aid;
• African leaders will bring good governance to development, seek to avoid wars and other conflicts, and institute the necessary infrastructure;
• Many of the new programs will be instituted at a regional level, whether continent-wide or in one of Africa’s five economic zones (Western, Southern, Eastern, Northern and Central Africa), in order to support action at the national level.

“This regional approach is crucial for success,” Mr. Wright says. “Water development projects and regulations have to be put in at the river basin level in order to be workable, but every single one of Africa’s river basins are multi-national because of the continent’s colonial past.”

A cooperative program for the Nile River Basin, which includes 10 nations, has been producing positive results in recent years and can serve as a template for the rest of the continent, Mr. Wright says.

Africa remains one of the poorest and least developed continents of the world, with 340 million of its people, half its population, living on less that US$1 per day. More than 200 million Africans are chronically undernourished. Chronic weakness and mortality from preventable communicable disease like malaria, HIV/AIDS, and diarrhea are high. The mortality rate of children under five years is 140 per 1000, and life expectancy at birth is only 54 years. The rate of illiteracy of people over 15 is 41 percent.

Africa’s water problems are particularly serious,” Mr. Wright says. “The incidence of the water-related vector-borne diseases appears to be increasing on the continent, especially malaria. According to the World Bank, malaria results in over 900,000 deaths and up to 450 million cases annually in Africa, with children and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. Malaria accounts for an estimated US$1.7 billion annually in treatment and lost productivity.”

The substantial investments in the development of water resources in OECD countries and Asia have made major contributions to food security, to electricity production and economic growth in general. It is now Africa’s turn to make these investments, in cooperation with other countries.

NEPAD provides a platform for a comprehensive integrated development plan designed to address Africa’s key social, economic, and political priorities in a coherent and balanced manner. It is also a commitment by African leaders to African people and to the international community that they have resolved to place Africa on a path of sustainable growth and accelerated integration into the global economy. It is a call for support of African development on the basis of Africa’s own agenda and program of action. Finally, it is a call to the people of Africa to assume ownership of their own destiny. The long-term objectives of NEPAD are to eradicate poverty and place African countries on a path of sustained growth and development, halting the marginalization of Africa in the globalization process.

Africa’s environmental resources are considered to be among its most valuable assets. African forests alone are believed to contain 45 percent of all global bio-diversity. Forest-related activities account for an estimated 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of 17 African nations. In counties like the Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Liberia, forest product are believed to account for over 10 percent of trade.

Africa’s environmental assets also include vast water supplies. It has 17 rivers with a total estimated catchment area of over 100,000 km2, 160 lakes larger than 27 km2, and vast wetlands, and a limited but widespread groundwater resource. In addition, it has a huge potential for energy production through hydropower production.

The African Development Bank is serving as hosts of the African Water Conference in collaboration with the Ministry Responsible for Water in Ghana. The purpose of the meeting is to deliberate the final version of an African Position Paper and Declaration on Water in the continent under the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the preparation of a program to ensure a high profile for water issues in Africa during the Earth Summit in Johannesburg scheduled for August/September 2002; and proposals for effective African participation at the 3rd World Water Forum and Virtual Water Forum.

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