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Water scarcity major crisis facing Africa

Source:  Copyright 2005, Kenya Times
Date:  October 7, 2005
Byline:  Mbae Lawrence
Original URL: Status DEAD

Africa is the most vulnerable continent when it comes to water resources compared to the rest of the world. According to a report by the Global Water System Project (GWSP), over 400 million people are expected to be living in at least 17 water scarce African countries by the year 2010 and the lack of water will severely constrain food production, ecosystem protection and socioeconomic development. Water problems and crisis range from local to regional in scale and there are a number of teleconnections, i.e.

Long distant effects between regions and continents. Global change and globalisation link economic activities, life-styles and policies of the north (e.g. Europe) to water availability, quality of life and ecosystem status in the south.

Some of these teleconnections include greenhouses gas emissions, world trade and investment and technological development.

Green house gas emissions differ widely between countries with industrialised ones having much higher per capita emissions than the developing ones.

These are highly experienced in the south. With increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, climate is expected to change. Scientific consensus points towards an increase in hydrometeorological extremes i.e. droughts and floods.

Agriculture being the most important economic sector, African countries depend on weather conditions. Most poor countries don’t have the capacity to adapt to changes thus water storage capacity in reservoirs is about 100 times lower per capita in Africa than in Europe or the US. Extreme events such as floods result in large economic and human loses , e.g. the recent floods in Mozambique led to a 23% reduction in GDP and in Kenya they destroyed property worth about 1.8 billion US$.

Parts of sub-Saharan Africa have also experienced the most dramatic changes in precipitation over the past decades. If the anthropogenic climate change further decreased precipitation, the effects would amplify through the water system: a 10% decrease in precipitation may result to a 30% reduction in runoff and 45% reduction in ground water recharge. International trade with agricultural products is increasing more rapidly than the agricultural production.

Agricultural production requires more water and the approximate amounts required are given for example, 1 kg of wheat as 1,000 litres, rice 2,000 litres, poultry 5,000 litres and beef 15,000 litres. Changes in lifestyles and diets, such as the increase per capita meat consumption, do have severe effects on water resources depletion, often in very long distant regions from which food is imported. However, increasing water scarcity e.g. From population and economic development or from climate change forces an increasing number of African countries to substitute local food production with imports.

Improvements in water supply require inter alia financial resources and technological advances.

To achieve the goal of halving the number of people without access to safe water by 2015, it was calculated that 300,000 new connections would be required every day. Foreign direct investment however, hardly reaches the most needy parts and with an estimation of 40 billion US$ invested in the 1990s, less than 1% went to sub-Saharan Africa with the rest going to South Africa. More recently, foreign investments in the water sector in the developing countries have almost stopped. Lack of safe water has severe consequences for the livelihoods of the people affected by water scarcity, e.g. With respect to poverty, health, ecosystem degradation, but also beyond e.g. through conflicts and migrations.

Technological development in the water sector can provide new options for securing water supply, e.g. membrane technology, desalination and aquifer management for storage. The development and implementation of these technologies is mostly taking place in the industrialized countries though.

Adaptation to the needs of countries in the south and integration with traditional techniques, such as rainwater harvesting is largely lacking. The GWSP provides a framework of understanding and predicting global changes and regional impacts, as well as feedbacks from regional water management to the global water system.

They synthesize the knowledge across disciplines and regions, providing data, models and other scientific tools, with a focus on human-environment interactions in the water system up to the global scale.

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