Water's crucial role in accomplishing the continent's development goals is widely recognized. Africa faces endemic poverty, food insecurity and pervasive underdevelopment, with almost all countries lacking the human, economic and institutional capacities to effectively develop and manage their water resources sustainably. Thus, a large number of countries on the continent still face huge challenges in attempting to achieve the United Nations water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) .
Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa even though in one continent, have made different levels of progress towards the Millennium Development Goal on water. North Africa has 92% coverage and is on track to meet its 94% target before 2015. However, Sub-Saharan Africa experiences a contrasting case with 40% of the 783 million people without access to an improved source of drinking water from the region. Sub-Saharan Africa is off track from meeting the MDG on water with just 61% water coverage and with the current pace cannot reach the 75% target set for the region.
An analysis of data from 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (representing 84% of the region’s population) shows significant differences between the poorest and richest fifths of the population in both rural and urban areas. Over 90% of the richest quintile in urban areas use improved water sources, and over 60% have piped water on premises. In rural areas, piped-in water is non-existent in the poorest 40% of households, and less than half of the population use any form of improved source of water.
Drinking water coverage by wealth quintiles, urban and rural residence, sub-Saharan Africa, based on population-weight averages from 35 countries (percentage).
Source: Millennium Development Goals Report 2012.UN, July 2012.
Africa is one of the two major regions with the least improvement in accomplishing the MDG on sanitation by 2015. Despite the fact that North Africa has 90% coverage, Sub-Saharan Africa has a startling 30% coverage with only a 4% increase from 1990. This is a serious concern because of the associated massive health burden as many people who lack basic sanitation engage in unsanitary activities like open defecation, solid waste disposal and wastewater disposal. The practice of open defecation is the primary cause of faecal oral transmission of diseasewith children being the most vulnerable.
Source: A snapshot of Drinking Water and Sanitation in Africa-2012 Update. AMCOW, WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2012.
Africa as a whole, especially Sub-Saharan Africa despite efforts and approaches to extend and sustain water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems and services has led to different health complications leading to death within the region. The water and sanitation position in West/Central Africa is of particular urgency, as the region has the highest under-ﬁve mortality rate of all developing regions: 191 child deaths per 1,000 live births. Recurrent outbreaks of cholera in both urban and rural areas underline the poor state of this region’s basic living conditions.
Africa’s rising population is driving demand for water and accelerating the degradation of water resources in many countries on the continent. Among developing regions, Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to have the highest prevalence of urban slums and it is expected to double to around 400 million by 2020. Despite the efforts of some Sub-Saharan African countries and cities to expand basic services and improve urban housing conditions. Rapid and unplanned urban growth has increased the number of settlements on unstable, flood-prone, and high-risk land where phenomena such as landslides, rains, and earthquakes have devastating consequences.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s poorest and least developed region, with half its population living on less than a dollar a day. About two-thirds of its countries rank among the lowest in the Human Development Index. Even when opportunities exist to address outstanding water issues, deep and widespread poverty across the African region constrains the ability of many cities and communities to provide proper water and sanitation services, sufficient water for economic activities and to prevent water quality from deteriorating.
Africa faces a situation of economic water scarcity, and current institutional, financial and human capacities for managing water are lacking. The situation is exacerbated by competition for public funding between sectors, and heavy public debt burdens in most countries.
In Africa, financing is insufficient and the institutional capacity to absorb what is available is limited. The danger of slippage to already made progress against the MDG on water and sanitation is real. Most countries within the continent are falling short to sustainWater Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) commitments, with over 80% of countries reportedly falling significantly behind the trends required to meet their defined national access targets for sanitation and drinking-water. There is insufficient domestic financing for WASH overall with particularly serious shortfalls for sanitation. This is exacerbated by difficulties in spending the limited funds that are received.
One other challenge Africa faces is lack of coordination among authorities, stemming from an unclear definition of roles and responsibilities, coupled with lack of harmonization of laws and policies related to environmental management. Inadequate staffing in government departments that handles environmental issues is another factor in the downward trend in environmental sustainability in some countries within the continent.
Africa’s climate is characterized by extremes, from a humid equatorial climate at the equator, through tropical and semi-arid in the middle of the region, to an arid climate towards the northern and southern fringes. Sub-Saharan Africa has a relatively plentiful supply of rainwater, but it is highly seasonal, unevenly distributed across the region and there are frequent floods and droughts. Drought is the dominant climate risk in sub-Saharan Africa. It destroys economic livelihoods and farmers food sources and has a significant negative effect on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in one-third of the countries.
In 2010, the share of the urban population with access to an improved water source ranged from 52% (Mauritania) to 100% (Egypt, Mauritius, Niger and Seychelles). The number of countries with at least 80% access to an improved water source in urban areas climbed from 26% in 1990 to 38% in 2010. In 2010, no country had a coverage rate of less than 50%, an improvement from four countries with less than 50% coverage in 1990. Coverage varied widely in 2010, from 7% in Somalia to 99% in Mauritius. The number of countries for which rural access was 80% or more rose from 5% in 1990 to 10% in 2010. Other good news was that the number of countries with less than 50% coverage fell from 27% to 16%.
Proportion of population using an improved sanitation facility is generally low – just 40% in 2010 and an increase of only 5 percentage points from 1990. As with improved drinking water supply, access to sanitation facilities shows a sharp contrast in urban and rural areas – in 2010, 54% and only 31%, respectively. However – again as with improved drinking water supply – urban areas actually recorded a decline in coverage from 1990’s 57%, and again this can be attributed to the high proportion of slum dwellers in a fast expanding urban population. Rural areas saw slight progress, up from 25% in 1990.
In 2011, African countries reported substantive political commitments to WASH, increasing funding allocations, and leadership and coordination among implementing agencies. The majorities of countries have established transparent WASH service provision targets and have put in place supporting policies, and many monitor against these targets. Countries also confirm that the rights to water and sanitation are increasingly adopted in laws or policies.
Several countries have also committed to meeting their commitments made under other initiatives; for instance, Ethiopia has developed a plan to meet its sanitation commitment in line with the eThekwini Declaration.The Africa Water Vision 2025 has been adopted by African governments, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the African Union. This is evidence of a new focus on water and, potentially, better-targeted investment and more efficient water management.
Africa Environment Outlook-3. Our Environment, Our Health. Summary for policy makers
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). February 2013
The Africa Environment Outlook (AEO) is a tool of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) for monitoring environmental management in Africa. This issue (AEO-3) focuses on the linkages between environment and health. The AEO-3 report begins by highlighting the major drivers of environmental change in Africa and their implications for human health. It also assesses environment and health linkages in the region by focusing on seven priority themes: air quality; biodiversity; chemicals and waste; climate change and variability; coastal and marine resources; freshwater and sanitation; and land. In addition, the report contains a scenario analysis and teases out a series of policy directions. Based on the findings of the thematic assessments and scenario analysis, the report concludes by setting forth transformative policy directions to ensure a sustainable future.
City Resilience in Africa: A Ten Essentials Pilot
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). December 2012
In 2010, UNISDR launched a global resilient cities Campaign with the specific focus on improving urban cities’ capacity to withstand and recover from natural disasters. By signing up to the Campaign, cities commit to take specific actions to build their resilience. These actions are guided by the “Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient”, a 10-point checklist of factors considered fundamental for cities to improve their resilience capacity. In 2012, UNISDR Regional office for Africa in Nairobi, Kenya commenced a pilot project to ‘operationalise’ the Campaign in three cities in Africa – Narok and Kisumu in Kenya and Moshi in Tanzania. This document provides a background to each city and highlights some of the underlying factors that make the three cities vulnerable to hazards, including those related to water.
(The) Future of Water in African Cities: Why Waste Water?
World Bank Water Partnership Program (WPP). June 2012
This Report provides examples of cities in Africa and beyond that have already implemented Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) approaches both in terms of technical and institutional solutions. Case studies explore the ways in which IUWM can help meet future water demand in African cities.
GLAAS Report 2012: Africa Highlights[ – 3.9 MB]
UN-Water, World Health Organization (WHO). April 2012
A document of UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) which focuses on Africa’s challenge of extending and sustaining services.
GLAAS Report 2012: UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water
UN-Water, World Health Organization (WHO). April 2012
The objective of the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) is to monitor the inputs required to extend and sustain water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems and services. This includes the components of the “enabling environment”: documenting government policy and institutional frameworks; the volume, sources and targeting of investment; the sufficiency of human resources; priorities and gaps with respect to external assistance; and the influence of these factors on performance. A secondary goal is to analyse the factors associated with progress, or lack thereof, in order to identify drivers and bottlenecks, to identify knowledge gaps, to assess strengths and weaknesses, to identify challenges, priorities and successes, and to facilitate benchmarking across countries.
MDG Report 2012: Assessing Progress in Africa toward the Millennium Development Goals. Emerging perspectives from Africa on the post-2015 development agenda[ – 8 MB]
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2012
This document tracks the rate of progress on several MDG-related indicators, including “access to a water source” and “improved sanitation”. The report highlights difficulties hampering progress like lack of political will, pressure on environmental resources to support economic growth, weak governance and planning frameworks, and a lack of financial resources. It also describes emerging perspectives from Africa on the post-2015 development agenda.
A Snapshot of Drinking Water and Sanitation in Africa – 2012 Update[ – 14.3 MB]
African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) in collaboration with the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. 2012
This Snapshot of Drinking Water and Sanitation in Africa – 2012 update document, aims to inform senior policy makers about the status and trends in progress towards achieving the MDG drinking-water and sanitation target in Africa. It is a contribution of the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) to the fourth African Water Week (Cairo, 15-16 May 2012) which brings together senior officials from across the continent to review and discuss the challenges and priorities in the acceleration of providing access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The estimates presented in this document are derived from data collected by national statistics offices and other relevant institutions through national censuses and nationally representative household surveys.
Africa Water Atlas
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2010
This Atlas is a visual account of Africa's endowment and use of water resources, revealed through 224 maps and 104 satellite images as well as some 500 graphics and hundreds of photos. However the Atlas is more than a collection of static maps and images accompanied by informative facts and figures: its visual elements illustrate a succinct narrative describing and analyzing Africa's water issues and exemplifying them through the use of case studies. It gathers information about water in Africa and its role in the economy and development, health, food security, transboundary cooperation, capacity building and environmental change into one comprehensive and accessible volume.
“Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent on the planet and the demand for water and sanitation is outstripping supply in cities”
Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT
"Many cities and towns throughout Africa are struggling to meet basic urban infrastructural needs such as clean water, waste management disposal and drainage systems"
Director of UNISDR's "Making Cities Resilient" Campaign
Gender Mainstreaming in Water and Sanitation in African Cities
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), Gender and Water Alliance (GWA), 2010
This video highlights the importance of mainstream gender in the WASH sector in Africa. It introduces the problems women face every day in relation to water and sanitation.
Action for Access: Catapulting the sanitation and water sector to meet the MDGs
World Bank, Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), 2010
This video highlights the present situation of Africa´s water and sanitation sector in trying to meet the MDG target for water and sanitation.
Unheard Voices of Poor Urban Women (Water and Sanitation)
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), 2009
This video shows the problems that women in slums around the world encounter in relation to water and sanitation.
Water for African Cities Programme Documentary
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), 2011
This documentary describes the role and activities of UN-Habitat’s Water for African Cities Programme.