Friday, May 18, 2012

Water resources management key to Africa’s security, health and development

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[Cairo’ Egypt] Many African countries are still struggling to meet development targets on access to safe water, a new research has revealed.
At the African Union (AU)/African Ministers Council on Water-which coincides with the 4th Africa Water Week-held in Cairo and ahead of the AU Heads of State Summit June 2012 – it was observed that safe water gaps remain in Africa with 19 out of 25 countries globally with least access to safe water being African.
Thirty African countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, DRC, Kenya, Sudan and Mozambique, between 30percent and 70 of populations have no access to safe water. 
Consequently diverse water-related diseases such as diarrhoeal diseases, malaria, dengue fever, intestinal helminths, schistosomiasis, trachoma, dracunculiasis, poliomyelitis, trypanosomiasis, bancroftian, filariasis, and nchocerciasis. are ravaging African countries due to poor environmental, water and health management. They are affecting tens of millions. 
About 160 million people are infected with schistosomiasis/bilharziaa parasitic disease from flatwormsalone, causing tens of thousands of deaths yearly. According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 500 million people are at risk of trachoma of which about 146 million are threatened by blindness, and 6 million are visually impaired 
 Nineteen African countries are among 25 globally with least access to safe water dominate and topping 50 countries with highest child mortalityBetween 23% and 59% of children in these countries suffer stunted growth arising from malnutrition and disease. Between 43% and 91% of overall populations in these 19 African countries have no access to improved sanitation; and between 18% and 68% of their populations live below the poverty line. 
Better water management key to Africa's development. Pic: Ochieng' Ogodo
Water management for agriculture is a huge challenge besides safe one for domestic consumption. Agriculture accounts for roughly 70% of water consumption globally
Countries without long term sustainable water resources development and management plans including efficient irrigation, are more vulnerable to drought and famine, as seen in the Horn of Africa, and a second developing tragedy across the Sahel in West and Central Africa – where hunger, starvation, disease and displacement have combined to devastating effect to affect about 14 million people. 
Poor or none existing management of water resources also means Africa is heading towards multiple conflicts based on intra and cross border tensions over water according tot the research.
A person requires 2-4 litres per day for drinking. The UN estimates each person needs 20-50 litres of water a day to ensure basic drinking, cooking and cleaning, and it takes 2,000 - 5,000 litres of water to produce a single person's daily food.
Africa’s doubling population from present 1 billion to 2 billion by 2050 without corresponding improvement in clean water supplies, and improved cross community/border water management will likely lead to increase in disease and conflict.
And a combination of any of these, drought, floods, water scarcity, poverty, poor leadership and weak governments will contribute to social tension and instability that could result in failure of some states.  
Lack of sustainable access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene costs Sub-Saharan African more in lost GDP than its countries receive in development aidDepending on the country and region, economic benefits for each dollar invested in clean water and sanitation have been estimated to range from US$ 3 to US$ 34.
Poor water resource management and lack of sustainable access to clean water has a further negative impact on women’s development: Where water is not available and has to be fetched, women/girls are about two and a half times more likely than men/boys to be main water carriers for families, and it is estimated that women in low-income countries spend about 40 billion hours annually fetching and carrying water from sources that may not even provide clean water, with overall negative impact on women’s and young girls education and productivity.
Water is essential for agriculture
 The Africa Public Health Alliance that released the research expressed concern over apparent poor multi-sectoral development planningand called on Water Resources Ministers and related sectors to adopt urgent population based Integrated and Multi Sectoral Policy and Investment Plans - as the only path to truly sustainable development, and as core basis of Africa’s Post MDGs Agenda on Health, Human and Social Development.
Rotimi Sankore, Africa Health Human and Social Development Alliance, “The cumulative negative domino effect of lack of clean water, and poor water resources management across Africa is leading to multifaceted mortality and morbidity costing millions of lives, and entrenching a cycle of poverty.”
He added, “The centrality of water resources to everything from agriculture, food security and nutrition; sanitation, hygiene and overall health; industry; human settlements and displacement; and development in general means it has to be brought to centre stage of the African human security and development agenda” 
Hundreds of thousands die every year from preventable diarrhoeal diseases, and malnutrition, majority of which are children under 5 years old highlights the gap in coordination between sectors of government. In Sub-Saharan Africa treating largely preventable diarrhoea consumes an estimated 12 percent of health budgets”  
Sankore that child mortality numbers are just mind boggling: 861,000 under 5’s die a year in Nigeria; 465,000 a year in DRC; 271,000 a year in Ethiopia; 143,000 a year in Sudan and South Sudan; 133,000 a year in Tanzania; 122,000 a year in Kenya; 121,000 in Angola; 120,000 in Mali. 
Lack of clean water, sanitation, malnutrition, poor water resources and environmental management, are also seriously undermining incredible efforts – sometimes by the same governments - to mitigate impact of infectious diseases such as HIV, TB and Malaria.
On this week’s 10th Anniversary of the first African Ministerial Conference on Water, the Abuja Ministerial Declaration on Water, and 4 years since 2008 Sharma El Sheikh Heads of State and Government AU Summit Commitments for accelerating achievement of Water and Sanitation Goals, African countries should have made far more progress than they currently have
“We can’t prevent a full scale drought, but we can prepare for lack of rain through better management of water, agricultural and food resources – stressing that  “Lack of forward planning is not a natural disaster,” said Sankoro
In developing countries, 50 - 70 percent of industrial, commercial and human waste is dumped untreated into waters, seriously polluting an already inadequate water supply.

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