Water and sanitation crisis in Africa

April 15, 2010

With over 2.6 billion people worldwide living without access to improved sanitation facilities and nearly 900 million people not receiving their drinking-water from improved water sources. The efforts of achieving the Millennium Development Goal 7.C (to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation) are in peril.

In Africa, the water and sanitation crisis is mainly rooted in poverty, power and inequality and not in physical availability; access to water is therefore a major concern to most African countries. It is a crisis of governance and thus governance reform must be a key pillar of any strategic approach towards addressing the problem. A good number of countries lack   specific government agencies directly charged with responsibility for sanitation thus leading to the sad neglect of the sector. Responsibilities are often unclear, with several different government agencies being responsible for water supply. Water governance is therefore a complex issue that involves a wide range of skills, institutions and actors.

The Johannesburg summit in 2002 set a target of reducing by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015, more than 300 million Africans still lack access to safe drinking water and 14 countries on the continent suffer from water scarcity. Out of 55 countries in the world with domestic water use below 50 litres per person per day (the minimum requirement set by the World Health Organization; the minimum requirement set by most African countries is 20 litres per person per day), 35 are in Africa. Almost half of all Africans suffer from one of six main water-related diseases.

In order to make progress in the water sector as in other sectors, Sub-Saharan Africa needs both institutional development and investment finance and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in water supply and sanitation, the number of people served must be more than double, from 350 million in 2000 to 720 million in 2015. Even then, some 200 million would still remain un-served. The expected annual cost of meeting the MDG target for water is between US$1.7 and 2.1 billion, and just as much is likely to be needed for sanitation. Most countries are undertaking WSS sector reforms, and some have achieved good progress in expanding access to services and improving operating performance.

The average per capita water availability in the region is about 5,300 cubic meters – which is moderate by world standards, but much of the region is arid with highly variable rainfall. Due to lack of well managed water-storage infrastructure, water-related services, irrigation, water supply, and hydropower are much less prevalent than in other parts of the world. For example, only 3.6 percent of the region’s total cropland is irrigated. Sub Saharan Africa has an extraordinary density of international river basins and successful regional cooperation to develop and manage infrastructure and water flows in these basins promises huge benefits.

Weak governance is as a result a key contributory factor to poor resource management and service delivery. While it is growing, the role and space for CSO and citizens engagement in ensuring appropriate service delivery varies from country to country. CSOs and citizens are usually unable to effectively demand accountability due to lack of information and know-how on engagement procedures. While the continent seeks additional investment for development, much investment is required to strengthen the voice and role of the CSOs.

The African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW) is an autonomous Africa-wide platform which aims to ensure that the diverse voices of African civil society organizations on water and sanitation are represented and heard in the development and implementation of Water and Sanitation plans and policies. ANEW promotes dialogues, learning and cooperation on Water and Sanitation issues

ANEW facilitates a participatory approach to water governance through networking of key players in the water and sanitation sector in Africa and also provides a platform for sharing and coordinating the activities of its members.   Membership is free and open to all registered CSOs working in the WatSan sector.

Source ANEW 5 yr strategic plan