UN report says Africa’s fragile water security a threat to sustainability agenda

This picture made available by the World Food Program on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, shows a woman using a tiny amount of water she bought at a kiosk in Tsihombe, Androy Region, Madagascar.PHOTO/AP

Africa’s quest for inclusive growth, climate resilience and stability is in jeopardy amid fragile water security in the continent, according to a United Nations report issued on Monday.

The report, “Water Security in Africa: A preliminary Assessment,” was launched in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, ahead of World Water Day, which falls on Tuesday this year.

FILE PHOTO: Women in Somalia lining up to draw water. /Xinhua

Access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation continues to elude a large swathe of the continent’s population, said the report compiled by the Canada-based UN University Institute for Water Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

“Levels of water security in Africa overall are unacceptably low. Not a single country or sub-region has yet achieved the highest level of the model or even the reasonably high effective stages of national water security,” the report said.

The report, which covers 54 African countries, evaluated 10 indicators to conclude that about 500 million people spread across 19 countries in the continent are water-stressed.

According to the report, only 13 out of the 54 countries have achieved some modest level of water security in the last five years, while one-third are deemed to have water security below the global threshold of 45 percent.

So far, 29 African countries have made some progress toward meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) on universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation in the last three to five years, but 25 have made none, the report said.

Egypt, Botswana, Gabon, Mauritius and Tunisia are the top five most water-secure countries in Africa at present, while Somalia, Chad and Niger are the most water-stressed.

The report decries negligible performance in critical indicators like access to clean drinking water, access to sanitation, hygiene and health, water governance and availability, efficiency of water use and infrastructure, saying they bode ill for human health and prosperity in Africa.

According to the report, Africa’s water crisis could further escalate amid rapid population growth, urbanization, climatic stresses, governance hiccups and competition among critical sectors like agriculture and manufacturing.

In addition, the report said, water quality deterioration is a major health threat facing African communities, with 115 people succumbing every hour to ailments linked to contaminated water, poor sanitation and hygiene.

Experts called for innovative financing, policy reforms and equitable sharing of the commodity to reverse declining water security in the continent.

Grace Oluwasanya, a lead author of the UNU-INWEH report, said that enhanced data collection should be combined with proactive engagement among policymakers, industry and communities to tackle the fragility of water security in Africa.