Although Africa possesses water resources of over five trillion cubic metres a year, only 3.8% of this figure has been developed. Some 300m people in Africa do not have access to safe drinking water. Clearly, the reliable supply of clean water is Africa's number one priority project, but is enough being done? Neil Ford Discusses.
The latest UNDP report warns that climate change could have a devastating impact on water supplies in Africa. Population growth and increasing water scarcity are a dangerous combination, particularly in a region that is already failing to provide adequate water supplies. However, technological advances could help many countries to make the most of the resources that they do possess and indeed mitigate some of the worst effects of global warming.
According to the report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 1.8bn more people, mainly in Africa and other developing regions, will be faced with water scarcity by 2080, while increasingly irregular rainfall patterns will make planning in the sector more difficult. The report was produced for the ongoing rounds of international climate change talks and is based upon the best scientific information currently available. The report's lead author, Kevin Watkins, said: "Nobody wants to understate the very real long term ecological challenges that climate change will bring to rich countries. But the near term vulnerabilities are not concentrated in lower Manhattan and London, but in flood prone areas of Bangladesh and drought prone parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Allowing the window of opportunity to close would represent a moral and political failure without precedent in human history."
Africa's water supply situation is already dire. Per capita water storage capacity in every African country is just a fraction of that available in North America or Europe, yet the continent's high temperatures and irregular rainfall patterns mean that African reserves should perhaps be even higher. The problem is exacerbated by the lack of investment in new reservoirs and in water pipelines. Even in parts of relatively developed South Africa, 40% of all water piped is lost in transmission through leaks.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), Africa possesses abundant fresh water resources of about 5.4 trillion cubic metres a year yet just 3.8% of this figure has so far been developed and 300m Africans lack access to safe drinking water.