The UN Human Settlements Pro-gramme and the African Development Bank (ADB) have announced a joint programme to generate investments of nearly $600 mn over five years to supply clean water to Africa’s fast-growing cities and towns. The agreement, signed 23 March, will provide $217 mn in grants to improve the quality and supply of water for drinking, industry and sanitation in urban areas, which may well account for more than half of Africa’s population by 2030. The grants are expected to be followed by an additional $362 mn in loans from the ADB for drinking water and sanitation projects to help Africa make progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of people without access to clean water by 2015.
The Fourth World Water Forum, held in Mexico City in March, estimated that $20 bn annually is needed to achieve Africa’s development targets for water by 2015. To date, Africa has developed less than 4 per cent of its available water for drinking and sanitation, irrigation and power generation. High poverty rates and infrastructure costs have hampered the continent’s ability to harness its water resources. Only about 6 per cent of farmland is irrigated, while just 4 per cent of Africa’s electricity supply comes from hydro power. Despite a range of African programmes to develop the continent’s water assets, including the African Water Facility and the infrastructure plan of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), progress has been slow.
African farmland in “crisis”
A forthcoming report on African soil quality finds that more than 75 per cent of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is severely depleted. Such depletion produces yields less than a third of the Asian and Latin American averages and contributes to a “soils health crisis” and rural poverty. The study by the International Fertilizer Development Centre, to be released at a major conference in June (see Agenda, page 22), argues that if present trends continue, the food shortfall will require African imports of staple foods to nearly double by 2020 to $14 bn.
More than 100,000 hectares of African forests and savannah are lost each year as farmers plough new land to replace exhausted fields. High costs and transportation difficulties mean that African farmers on average apply only a fifth of the amount of fertilizer needed to replenish vital nutrients in the soil.
Speaking at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York on 30 March, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo declared that “Africa needs giant steps” towards improved crop harvests. He was joined by African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konaré, NEPAD Chief Executive Firmino Mucavele and African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka to support the study and reflect growing concern in Africa about the deepening crisis in agriculture.
In March, UN agencies and 45 African governments vowed to expand health facilities and surveillance services to improve efforts to combat “bird flu.” At the meeting in Libreville, Gabon, the biggest bird flu conference in Africa to date, African delegates agreed that their countries should carry out internationally approved measures to fight the virus and establish a committee to monitor implementation that would include representatives of the African Union and UN agencies. The challenge now, says the UN coordinator for avian influenza, Mr. David Nabarro, is to raise the resources so desperately needed to carry out those efforts.
The virus can be controlled if infected animals are culled and farmers compensated for their losses, Mr. Nabarro told Africa Renewal. However, African governments say they “don’t have the resources in their own countries to mount effective control operations, to compensate people who lose their chickens and other poultry, to communicate essential messages to the people and to prepare health services for human cases” in the event of a pandemic, said the senior UN system coordinator for avian and human influenza.
In January, donors pledged $1.9 bn to help developing countries boost surveillance and strengthen health and veterinary services to control the disease. However, this money is primarily directed to Asia, where bird flu was concentrated at the time of the pledging conference. “What we are doing now is warning the world that African countries also need resources, quickly, and in a way that they can access easily,” explained Mr. Nabarro. Delays of even a few weeks can be catastrophic, he said.
So far, four African countries — Cameroon, Egypt, Niger and Nigeria — have confirmed cases of H5N1 bird flu and the continent’s first human death has been reported in Egypt. The Libreville conference noted that Africa needs at least three more veterinary laboratories and three more human health laboratories capable of determining the H- and N- sub-types of bird flu, crucial in evaluating risk and tracking the spread of the dangerous H5N1 strain. Currently, most samples have to be sent abroad for testing.
World Bank officials warn that the economic impact on Africa could be grave, judging by the experience in Asia. By mid-2005, more than 140 mn birds had died or were destroyed to contain the disease in Asia, accounting for $10 bn in losses. In Nigeria alone, there are more than 100 mn birds, many of them owned by poor rural dwellers whose livelihoods depend on raising poultry.