How to beat Africa’s water crisis
August 23rd, 2012
02:26 PM ET

How to beat Africa’s water crisis

By Michel Camdessus, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michel Camdessus is former managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a member of the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. This is the first in a new series of articles for GPS by members of the Africa Progress Panel, a foundation chaired by Kofi Annan.

Recent discoveries of water reserves under some of Africa’s mightiest deserts raise hopes for quenching African thirst. But the reality is much more grim. From parched desert to tropical forest, roughly 40 percent of Africans, mostly the rural poor, will not get access to clean water any time soon, a fact that exacerbates poverty, hunger, and disease. Indeed, every year, dirty water kills an estimated 750,000 African children under the age of five.

And while rich countries worry about obesity, recent droughts in the Sahel and Horn of Africa have forced millions of Africans to flee their ancestral lands in search of food. To complicate matters further, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects climate change to hit Africa harder than anywhere else.

Meanwhile, a doubling of the continent’s population in the first quarter of this century is set to significantly increase demand for Africa’s water too, risking groundwater depletion and a gradual destruction of precious ecosystems.

Ahead of this year’s World Water Week, the Africa Progress Panel recommends several priorities for African water management.

First, get serious about water, which is central to several critical challenges from health and hunger to energy and security. Water is more than a commodity – it’s a source of life and livelihoods. Every culture in the world recognizes water as the source of all life, and yet the international community has held back from giving access to water the prominence and backing it deserves.

The United Nations took a major step forward when it officially recognized water as a fundamental human right in 2010, but aid still falls far short of the levels required to deliver clean water for all.

Besides killing Africa’s children, dirty water can reduce school attendance, especially for girls, cause political instability, and constrain productivity. As we note in this year’s Africa Progress Report, Africa loses an estimated $28 billion every year through lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. European governments realized in the 19th century that failing to invest in clean water and sanitation was the ultimate false economy. But, in urban slums across Africa, unclean water and lack of sanitation is still a source of disease.

Water inequalities compound social tensions too. Poor households in the slums of cities such as Lagos or Nairobi are paying more for their water than the rich, who are served by water utilities. Unequal access means that poorer urban residents pay as much as 50 times more per liter of water than their richer neighbors. In the Nairobi slum of Kibera, for example, some of the world’s poorest people buy some of its most expensive water. Meanwhile, sprinklers water the greens of Nairobi’s nearby golf club.

That brings me to the second priority. Over recent years, we have seen whole swathes of Africa’s agricultural land and water resources bought up by foreign investors. Governments in the region must stop the land grabs and put Africa’s food security front and center of their national priorities.

With oil and food prices rising, many foreign investors have viewed Africa’s unused agricultural land as a high-profit opportunity for food and biofuel production. One influential recent report told investors that Africa has as many as 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land – 60 percent of the global total. Indeed, between 2000 and 2011, Africa saw 948 land deals, covering 124 million hectares, an area larger than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. Many of these land deals involve countries along the Nile and Niger rivers, whose water will be used to irrigate thirsty agricultural schemes.

But for communities throughout Africa, land is more than just an economic asset. It represents life, livelihoods, culture and identity. And modern history is littered with disastrous attempts to maximize agricultural production by diverting major rivers and lakes. In the middle of a Central Asian desert, ships sit abandoned where the Aral Sea used to be before Soviet planners diverted its tributaries for cotton.

Africa’s farmers and communities need protection against large-scale speculative land purchases, which often result in the eviction of smallholders, sometimes by force, and typically with minimal compensation.

Such land deals should be carefully assessed and a moratorium considered until legislation can protect smallholder farmers and communities. The African Union should develop a framework for managing foreign investment in agriculture. African leaders should also invest in water management systems to reduce waste and inefficiencies.

The third priority is to manage water resources in a way that takes account of the complexity of the issue, including gender, inequality, and ecosystems.

Throughout Africa, women and girls often carry responsibility for a household’s water supply and sanitation. In several countries, most notably in East Africa, more than a quarter of the population spends more than half an hour per round trip to fetch water. More time finding water means less time and energy for other activities such as childcare, income generation, and school attendance.

Fourth, get talking. Governments must build relationships with each other to prevent water stress from turning into conflicts.

Water is the ultimate trans-boundary resource, flowing across national borders. Throughout Africa, countries share water sources such as rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Countries that build dams or invest in large-scale irrigation schemes need to recognize that their actions will have consequences downstream. As the stresses on water systems mount, the risk increases that competing claims will fuel a drift towards water wars.

Indeed, land grabs have the potential to reinforce these stresses. The non-profit organization GRAIN calculates that land deals with foreign investors will require water from the Nile River to irrigate an additional 10 million hectares in five countries. The same organization quotes the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization as putting the maximum irrigation potential of the entire Nile basin at 8 million hectares.

More effective water management is possible.

Since 1994, for example, Angola, Botswana, and Namibia have been jointly managing water use from the 1,100 kilometer Okavango River that runs through all three countries. The permanent Okavango river basin water commission (OKACOM) provides an excellent forum to help prevent cross-border water tensions from reaching boiling point. Beyond the other obvious benefits, transboundary water agreements are key to reducing the probability of water-related conflicts.

The fifth priority must be new and innovative ways to finance water reform.

Africa needs significantly more than the roughly $ 2.6 billion it gets at present. That may be a tall order in these fiscally straitened times. But it will be a small price to pay for investments that could protect millions from hunger, poverty, and disease and help put the world’s poorest region on a pathway to greater self-reliance.

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Topics: Africa • Climate • Environment • United Nations • Water

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. papafoote

    Again, actually, from my own mind, I think it is just a case of being "Progressive" vs. "Conservative" on this "Free Speech", and on many other "thoughts" and "rulings"! Because, the basic "thinking" comes from "Forward to the Future" vs. "Backward to the Past"! It's sort of simple on this basic "Concept" – don't "YOU THINK SO"?

    On our Earth Planet, some are "lucky", while some are "unlucky"! It's not those "LUCKY ONES" that are better, with power and more civilized thinking, – IT'S JUST THAT THEY GET BORN IN BETTER ENVIRONMENTS! It's sort of like the "LOTO", you take a "CHANCE" on LIFE!

    -The Old Goat-

    August 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Reply
    • therto

      Nah, the scientific evince shows irrefutably that some races have higher IQs and better social skills than others.

      August 24, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  2. 100 % ETHIO

    Mr. Camdesssus, the roots of the problems that some African Countries are facing is because of European trouble makers.

    Europeans implanted endless time Bombs in Africa.
    Until recently, Europeans are Manufacturing and shipping out Bombs to Africa.

    Surprisingly, even those who called themselves African-Americans are the main conspirators against Africans, everywhere.

    Imagine, even those Hitler leftovers are secretly sucking-up Blue-Nile water, through the pipes.

    August 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
    • Truth

      You speak The Truth ! and we also need to seperate from these caucasoid beasts and kick them all out of Africa.

      August 27, 2012 at 8:33 am | Reply
    • Truth

      Not all African Americans are in line with The Beast, and would love to Reunite with our family in Africa and kick all The Beast out of Africa.

      August 27, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
  3. JosephMcCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/JoeCollins/J.Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

    I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Reply
    • Kilimanjaro Nose with tide eyes.

      Why don't I go out and do some exercise, instead of oversizing my motionless belly.

      It is better also to take stairs, rather than Evil-Letters/E..l-...ters.
      Come on, belly Ma..

      August 24, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Reply
      • Isaac

        You should get a nose job.

        August 25, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  4. desert voice/troubledgoodangel

    Under the present conditions, and for decades to come, I see no better solution to provide water and irrigation canals to the continent of Africa, than to recapitalize the world through the printing and distributing to all nations trillions of my "blue labor-barter dollars", a project which I have outlined in the following article. This would enable the unemployed of America and all the world, to work and would enable the companies to hire and provide the needed equipment. Here is my idea: I have decided to call my idea a blue "labor dollar", un-exchangeable but "metaphysically imbued with value equal to the dollar. I am introducing a completely new way of thinking, wherein the equivalent money serves as a booster and enabler for world economy and individual nations' economies. This is a value greater that gold, and is therefore "equivalent" to a currency. Because there is no talk of “exchangeability”, no one needs to guarantee someone else anything, except the U.S. Central Bank’s guarantee that the idea is within the economic law, approved by the U.S. It’s a great humanitarian effort to change the way we perceive the world, and to put on Capitalism a human face. It’s not vouchers and it’s not “food stamps”. Its metaphysical value comes from the labor that earns it, the human rights of every person to work, eat, have a home, and the right to be treated when ill or disabled. It occurred to me that the blue dollar, acceptable for goods and services in all the world will change the world as we know it, provided that it become a 50% part of every payroll, Social Security deposit, and Medicare/Medicaid payment. The idea will end the problems of unemployment, world hunger, non-access to medical services, even Medicare/Medicaid problems, with a caveat that the benefits for Americans living abroad will be paid fully in green dollars, given their supreme need for exchangeable dollars. This idea, if rightly managed by the U.S. Government, will put the Nation in the driving seat economically for centuries to come! With this post I present my "Equivalent Money" plan for the world to the view of the world economy leaders. The new supplementary world "currency" should be color "mountain bells' violet", which is the color of God. It should resemble the dollar, including in value, but it would be non-redeemable and non-exchangeable. It would have strictly bartering value, being thus a godsend to the economies of the poorer countries. It would be somewhat like the foods stamps, but not it at all. It would have a bartering value in the sense that those who have it, could exchange it for goods all over the world. It would be added to the budgets of all the nations in the world as a new tool to confront unemployment, national debt escalation, rebuilding of infrastructures, desalinization plants, and poverty. It should be added in adequate amounts according to a fair formula, doubling if need be national budgets. Nations, anyone for that matter, could then hire workers, to produce goods that others need, and to pay their salaries partly in Equivalent Money, including the Social Security deposits. The doctors could accept this currency in payment for of services, and then purchase new equipment with this "new" money. This would revolutionize Medicare and Medicaid. No armaments could be purchased with the Equivalent Money, since it is destined to be a tool of universal peace and prosperity! No one will loose a penny with this idea, no individual, and no nation! The "currency" is the only solution for the future world economies! It will revolutionize the world, bringing new hope to all nations, including the poorest! The poor nations could hire expert workers, and pay them in Equivalent Money, which the latter could then barter for whatever they need anywhere in the world. I believe that the time is now to enact this idea without delay! It will hurt no one, but it will change the world as we know it, for ever! I ask the leaders of the world not to discard my idea, but to give it serious consideration.

    August 24, 2012 at 11:20 am | Reply
    • Surakij Vuthikornpant

      Hello,please allow me to introduce myself,sir.
      My God name's "God",sir.
      My name's Mr.Surakij Vuhikornpant,sir.
      And please allow me to show my opinions,sir.
      With my humility & respect to everybody opinions.
      In my opinions,problems can not be truely resolve unless to treat underlying causes of problems too,sir.
      in my opinions,we should not forget to focus about water & soiled managements + environmental engineering ,that can resolve africa water crisis.
      That lead to the ways to help resolve Africa food crisis.
      And if talking about "economic engineering",(are we talking about this topic,sir?)
      Usury,loan interest rates,(it called "Riba",according to Al-Qur'an),it is forbidden in Abrahamic tradition,"Judiasm,Christianity,I-salami".

      (It was on the same branch with "Avarice","greed" on tree of knowledges of vices & sins,)

      Usury "loan interest rates" considered vice & also major sin,like "Avarice" "greed" 1 of 7 deadly sin.
      Because it reduce chance of people to help each other & show compassion to each other & also can make greed to debtors.
      And make poorers who in needs,to loss more money when they have to pay that money back,if they loan money.
      It make their financial status worse.
      And somebody loss their house,to become homeless,(mortgage loan).

      In macroeconomic developments,unemployment rates & inflation rates can not become 0% ,except loan interest rates is completely 0%,(simple & nominal interest rates & any kind of interest rates).

      And another problems that should be resolve.
      Check causes of economic inequality.

      By the way,I really appreciate about your good wills for universal peace & prosperity including end the problems of unemployment, world hunger, non-access to medical services, even Medicare/Medicaid problems,
      So please keep doing goodness,no matter what happen,never quit,never stop.
      It called "forbearance" ,later it called "faith",sir.
      I ultimately ultimately believe faithfully in "Spirit of Humanity","good side of human-beings" in all of us can help everybody walkthrough any difficult times together & will prevail all difficult times.
      Thank you very much for reading.
      Sincerely & faithfully.
      Surakij Vuthikornpant.

      August 25, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  5. Bad Karma

    Every country hindu Indian immigrants have set their foot on, the country has faced calamities. These people just carry wiith them an aura of bad karma. Watch out USA. These Indian immigrants just knocked England to the ground. They are a comin your way !!!! It is no surprise that the Africans kicked these people out of their countries the likes of Kenya, Uganda etc.

    August 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • Bad karma hater

      I hate u

      October 27, 2016 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  6. shiblee

    Do not need to waste money in Syria .America should provide clean water to them instead . It will help them more .

    August 24, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
  7. D

    The United States of America can make water, very cheap and very plentiful.

    they're testing it right now in Hatti. When the time is right they will let it out, but its a secret right now. The American governments research helped a company in Florida build a machine that pulls water molecules out of thin air. It can work anywhere and in any climate. each machine produces up to 2000 gallons a day and cost about 500K. They're not ready to release it yet, because of its power. They don't want it to gain too much attention yet.

    When the time is right and the research is finished, the government will start shipping these machines to Africa through the Red Cross. Watch and see. The USA is very advanced.

    August 26, 2012 at 2:41 am | Reply
  8. Barry Coots

    SOLAQUA.INFO shows that a British invention can provide unlimited fresh water and COSTS NOTHING TO RUN.
    Any hot arid coastline is suitable for the plant and it will make pure drinking water from seawater using only solar power.
    Please spread the word and get in touch.

    August 26, 2012 at 2:42 am | Reply
  9. Davehuckle

    Soon enough the richer countries will have to send tankers full of fresh water to many nations in Africa as with the onset of Global Warming the desertification of large areas of Africa will cause severe water shortages for much of Africa and the billion people that live there.

    August 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  10. Courtney King

    WHERE IS KIM KARDASHIAN WHEN YOU NEED HER. I love you Kim!!!!! Good luck on you special date coming up. And if i don't say it soon enough CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

    May 19, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Reply

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    July 11, 2014 at 7:40 am | Reply
  12. Roland Ecke

    How You Can Help Change The World — Water is Life

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    June 17, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Reply
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