Energy in Africa  :: English Version


Is water resource management crucial for Africa?

Published: 10-FEB-05

By Amina Accram

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the main wars in Africa over the next 25 years could be fought over water, as countries jostle for access to this scarce resource.

Potential “water wars” are likely in areas where rivers and lakes are shared by more than one country (trans-border water sources). These possible fl ashpoints include the Nile, Niger, Volta and Zambezi basins. Experts have further warned of possible water scarcity on the continent by the year 2025. This could be crucial, given that a number of African countries relay heavily on water for food and trading purposes.

Phera Romoeli, SADC Coordinator of Water Policy and Programmes, says it is evident that although the water situation in Africa in general is receiving attention, there is still a big challenge of affording access to the resources to the vast majority of the African population.

“We need to see an Africa where there is an equable and sustainable use and management of water resources for poverty alleviation, socio-economical development and Regional Corporation,” he said.

More than two million people die each year due to poorly managed and treated water – mostly in Africa.

The 7th Annual Pan African Water Conference 2004 in Johannesburg addressed some of these enormous challenges of allocating, using and protecting Africa’s limited water resources.

Featuring more than 11 country case studies, the water conference examined the critical issues and gave examples on how the quality and scarcity of water on the continent can be resolved. The conference united water sector decision-makers in one place with the hope of promoting a continent-wide shift towards integrated Water Resource Management.


As the longest river in the world, the Nile is a trans-boundary water resource shared by 10 African countries with a combined population of about 300 million, which is expected to reach 600 million by 2025.

Suffocated by environmental degradation, poverty, overpopulation and pollution due to its transboundary nature, the conservation and management of the Nile is in need of urgent attention.

“The trans-boundary nature of the Nile compounds the challenge of realising immediate redress of the current challenges and trends. An appropriate framework needs to be formulated for this river. Corporative water resource management can serve as a catalyst for greater regional integration, both economical and political with potential benefi ts far exceeding those derived from the river itself,” says Patrick Kahangire, Executive Director of the Nile Basin, Uganda.

Kahangire stresses the need for a strategic action plan for the Nile River. Although there has been development, comprising of complementary programs at basin-wide and subsidiary levels, more needs to be done. “The Nile Basin countries have decided to cooperate on the management and development of the Nile River for the benefit of all. Currently the first set of projects under both the Shared Vision and Subsidiary Action Programs are moving to implementation stage and detailed studies for downstream investment. Progress has also been made on the development of the longterm legal and institutional framework to ensure continuity of the collaborative efforts,” explains Kahangire.

In West Africa, the Niger Basin has been experiencing a series of hydrological, climatical and environmental changes over the past few decades, resulting in persistent drought that has caused the Sahara desert’s movement southwards towards the Atlantic Ocean. The river has also been having a low flow in reservoir storage capacity, with acute water shortages coinciding with an increase in water demand. The Niger basin has also been experiencing many political and socio-economical problems, which has the upshot of negative regional and cross boarder cooperation.

“This has resulted in increased incidences of water-borne diseases, famine, poverty and a high rate of migration to the urban areas,” says Ibraheem Olomoda from the Niger Basin Authority (NBA).

The Nile Basin Authority, which was established in 1963, has since strengthened its strategies among member countries and has currently established various committees and pilot projects to help in the preservation of the River Niger Basin.

In April 2004, a conference with the NBA heads of state and partners in Paris addressed action plans for the improvement of the Niger basin. Using the shared vision for the sustainable development of the Nile basin, the NBA member countries confi rmed their political willingness to work together to develop of the resources of the basin. A declaration was signed to facilitate the implementation of water resources and ecosystems of the basin. This year the NBA will evaluate the level of development of the basin, create a sustainable development action plan for the river and search for the mobalisation of financial resources for the implementation of an investment program.

“Preservation of the Niger basin will require an active participation of the NBA member countries while adopting and respecting the principles of the new shared vision and the consensual legislation of the United Nations on international watercourses,” advises Olomoda.

In Ghana, the Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation has achieved clean water coverage of 76% in urban areas and 40% in the rural sector. A study into the state of the water supply in Ghana last year attributed the problems in the sector due to lack of good management.

“Appointments to key positions were not necessarily by merit and despite demonstrable engineering skills, there was a lack of entrepreneurship in the management of the water sector. High levels of non-revenue water exceeding 50%, poor billing and collection made the Ghanaian water corporation lack clear institutional arrangements,” explains Emanuel Nkrumah, project director at the Ghanaian Water Sector Restructuring project in his recent presentation paper.


Water is a valuable commodity in many Maghreb countries due to increasing demand, hostile environmental factors and overpopulation.

Libya, one of the driest regions in North Africa, has already implemented plans to solve its water problems. It has developed additional sources of water, including the Great Man-Made River Project, desalination plants and water treatment.

Despite having more than 50 flowing rivers in the region, water supply is dwindling in most North African Arab countries and there is an ever-widening gap between available reserves and increasing consumption, notes Adam Kuwairi, director of research studies at the Great Man-Made River Project.

The project is expected to provide huge water potential which will help the benefi ciaries to solve a food crisis caused by droughts and expected population growth. Kuwairi notes that the project will improve the quality of life in Africa and discourage African emigration to western industrialised countries.

Phase one of the project includes conveying 2m cubic metres of water per day from well fields in Sarir and Tazerbo to end reservoirs at Sirt and Benghazi. The system is designed to carry a flow of 3.68m cubic meters per day in the future, with the additional water being drawn from a well field at Kufra. A feasibility study has been done for the possibility of linking the Nile with the Great Man-Made River Network.

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