New atlas shows Africa's vulnerable water resources in striking detail

After Australia, Africa is the world's second-driest continent. With 15 percent of the global population, it has only 9 percent of global renewable water resources. Water is unevenly distributed, with Central Africa holding 50.66 percent of the continent's total internal water and Northern Africa only 2.99 per cent.

The groundwater resources represent only 15 percent of total renewable water resources, but supply about 75 percent of Africa's population with most of its drinking water. In all regions except central Africa, water availability per person (4 008 m3 in 2008) is under both the African and global averages and lower than that of all of other world regions except Asia, the most populous continent.

Most of the urban population growth has taken place in peri-urban slum neighbourhoods, overwhelming the capacity of water supply networks and resulting in an overall decline in piped water coverage. Between 2005 and 2010, Africa's urban population grew at a rate of 3.4 per cent, or 1.1 percent more than the rural population.

Only 26 of the 53 countries are on track to attain the MDG water-provision target of reducing by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to drinking water by 2015.

Of Africa's 53 countries, only eight are expected to attain the target of reducing by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to basic sanitation by 2015.

Opportunities to address the woefully inadequate access to improved sanitation include the potential to encourage and support simple entrepreneurial solutions and to embark on a new drive to revolutionize toilets so they are as desirable as mobile phones. The number of mobile cell phone subscribers in Africa reached 448.1 million in 2009, representing an increase of 75 million new users since the previous year and an impressive growth of 20 percent in the customer base since 2008.

Data in the Africa Water Atlas shows that the adoption of improved sanitation, however, has grown at a much slower rate. The vast improvements being made in access to communications technologies in Africa provides an example of how innovation and entrepreneurship in sanitation technologies could also reap economic benefits and improve health and well-being.

Africa has 63 shared water basins. It is a challenge to address potential conflicts over transboundary water resources. On the other hand, there are already at least 94 international water agreements in Africa to cooperatively manage shared waters.

Water scarcity challenges Africa's ability to ensure food security for its population. Agriculture uses the most water in Africa and the estimated rate of agricultural output increase needed to achieve food security is 3.3 percent per annum.

Hydroelectricity supplies 32 percent of Africa's energy, but its electricity use is the lowest in the world. Africa's hydropower potential is under-developed.

Africa is endowed with large and often under-utilized aquifer resources that contain excellent quality water and could provide water security in times of drought. But the continent faces the challenge of providing enough water for its people in a time of growing demand and increased scarcity.

Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change and climate variability. The continent is already subject to important spatial and temporal rainfall variability. Some regions are becoming drier and floods are occurring more regularly with severe impacts on people's livelihoods.

Africa faces a situation of economic water scarcity, and current institutional, financial and human capacities for managing water are inadequate.

Taking advantage of the latest space technology and Earth observation science, the Africa Water Atlas serves to demonstrate the potential of satellite imagery data in monitoring changes in ecosystems and natural resources. This technology can provide the kind of hard, evidence-based data to support political decisions aimed at improving management of Africa's surface basins and aquifer resources.

Notes to Editors

The Africa Water Atlas features over 224 maps and 104 satellite images as well as some 500 graphics and hundreds of compelling photos. The publication makes a major contribution to the state of knowledge about water in Africa by bringing together information about water issues in each country and summarizing the state of their progress towards the MDG water targets, synthesizing water issues by looking at them from the perspective of challenges and opportunities and providing distinctive profiles of transboundary water basins and country.


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