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Nigeria, Somalia, Chad, Niger, others lowest in water treatment as 500 million lives deemed insecure

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
21 March 2022   |   2:47 am
Amid the global Sustainable Development Goals and commitments (SDGs) made in 2015, about 29 African nations have made some progress over the past three to five years, 25 have made none, according to the UN’s first-ever

Amid the global Sustainable Development Goals and commitments (SDGs) made in 2015, about 29 African nations have made some progress over the past three to five years, 25 have made none, according to the UN’s first-ever assessment of water security in Africa.

Published on the eve of World Water Day (March 22) by UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water Environment and Health, the assessment employed 10 indicators to quantify water security in Africa’s 54 countries.

According to the report, except for Egypt, all country scores are below 70 (on a scale of 100). Only 13 of 54 countries reached a modest level of water security in recent years, and over a third are deemed to have levels of water security below the threshold of 45.

Together, the 19 countries below the threshold are home to half a billion people. Egypt, Botswana, Gabon, Mauritius and Tunisia are Africa’s top five most water-secure countries in Africa, yet with only modest absolute levels of water, security achieved, while Somalia, Chad and Niger appear to be the least water-secure countries in Africa.

The report finds, there has been little progress in the national water security of most African states over the past three to five years. The number of countries that made some progress (29) is close to the number of those that made none (25).

Wastewater treatment scores are highest in North African countries, lowest in East and West Africa, where 12 countries in each region treat less than 5 per cent of wastewater. No country treats more than 75per cent, only Tunisia, Egypt and Lesotho treat over 50 per cent and 67per cent of African countries treat less than 5per cent. The issue is poorly tracked in Africa overall.

Access to drinking water ranged from 99 per cent in Egypt to 37 per cent in the Central African Republic, and between subregions from 92 per cent in North Africa to 62 per cent in Central Africa. Africa’s average basic drinking water service is 71 per cent, “leaving behind some 29 per cent of the total population” or more than 353 million people.

In fact, wastewater treatment scores are highest in North African countries, lowest in East and West Africa, where 12 countries in each region treat less than 5 per cent of wastewater. No country treats more than 75 per cent, only Tunisia, Egypt and Lesotho treat over 50per cent and 67 per cent of African countries treat less than 5 per cent. The issue is poorly tracked in Africa overall.

The report says access to hygiene facilities and practices (e.g. hand washing) is greatest in North Africa (67 per cent), worst in West Africa (with Rwanda, Liberia lowest among eight countries with less than 10per cent access; Chad and the Central African Republic suffer the highest number of deaths from diarrhoea).

Similarly, per capita water availability is highest in Central Africa (with the Republic of Congo considered Africa’s most water-rich country — over 31,000 cubic meters per capita), while half of North African countries appear to be absolutely water-scarce — less than 500 cubic meters of water per capita per annum. Due to their population growth, water availability has recently declined in the West, Central and Southern Africa sub-region, and, on a country scale, in Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Somalia, Mozambique, and Malawi.

Disaster risk has either remained unchanged (North and Southern Africa sub-regions) or increased. North Africa appears to be the least risky subregion, West Africa the riskiest. Egypt appears to be the least risky country, while Cape Verde is the most, followed by Djibouti and Comoros. Some 49 of 54 African countries have seen increased disaster risk scores over five recent years, explained by the impacts of changing climate worsening countries’ exposure to natural disasters and outpacing their ability to adapt.

United Nations University (UNU)-INWEH authors Grace Oluwasanya, Duminda Perera, Manzoor Qadir and Vladimir Smakhtin, the Institute’s Director, said the assessment is limited by “very poor” data on water security-related issues such as access to drinking water or sanitation, but it nevertheless offers some ‘preliminary but obvious conclusions.’

“Data limitations do not change the main outcome of this assessment, which is strong and clear,” says lead author, Oluwasanya. “Overall levels of water security in Africa are low. Not a single country let alone a subregion have at present achieved a state that can be seen as a ‘model’ or even an ‘effective’ stage of water security.

“This assessment for African countries aimed to create a quantitative starting point and a platform for subsequent discussions with national, regional and international agents; it is neither a prescription nor a guide,” says co-author Duminda Perera.

“As this quantitative tool develops, it will help generate targeted policy recommendations and inform decision-making and public-private investments toward achieving water security in Africa.”

To compare Africa’s situation globally, the authors call for global standards for water security measurement data and assessment.

“Some critical components of water security simply cannot be assessed without introducing surrogates or proxies,” as used in the report in the case of drinking water and sanitation, for example.

“With such poor data availability, progress toward water security is difficult to assess accurately.”
For example, it is not possible to estimate the percentage of the African population that will have access to safely managed drinking water services or safely managed sanitation by 2030, a key UN Sustainable Development Goal globally agreed in 2015.

“Data availability – or the lack of it – in itself may be an excellent indicator of water security,” says Dr. Oluwasanya. “Action needs to be taken immediately by national governments with support from international agents to radically improve data collection efforts for Africa.”

Hence water security is not just about how much natural water a country has but also how well the resource is managed. It is defined as “The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.”

UNU-INWEH led the UN’s development and definition of water security and its related tools are now the most widely accepted in the world. This was a fundamental milestone, contributing to conceptualization of the SDGs and to ongoing efforts to assess national water security in a quantifiable way.

The assessment tool is still a work in progress, Dr. Smakhtin notes, adding that UNU-INWEH’s goal is to have by 2025 — five years before the deadline for meeting the UN’s Agenda 2030 — “an improved, influential and nationally-owned tool” for assessing water security in all African countries.

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