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Between the Great Rivers: Water in the Heart of the Middle East

David Brooks

Director, Environmental Policy Program, Environment and Natural Resources Division, IDRC, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Water has been the key natural-resource issue during the three millennia of recorded history in the Middle East. Some regions of the world are drier, and others have higher populations or larger economies, but no other region of the world embraces such a large area, with so many people striving so hard for economic growth on the basis of so little water.

Three dimensions, three crises

This paper describes water stress in the region between the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates river systems and extending southward to encompass the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf Islands, a little bigger than what is sometimes called the Mashrek. Reference will be made to a larger group of countries that includes the Maghreb, Libya, Sudan, and Turkey. Throughout this region, the origin of water stress is not limited to scarcity but stems from three interacting crises:

· Demand for fresh water in the region exceeds the naturally occurring, renewable supply.

· Much of the region’s limited water is being polluted from growing volumes of human, industrial, and agricultural wastes.

· The same water is desired simultaneously by different sectors in some society or wherever it flows across (or under) an international border.

Water scarcity has been a source of stress since history began, but water quality is a new problem coming to dominate the crisis in many parts of the world. In this region, though, the politics of water is probably of greater concern than anywhere else in the world. Moreover, because these three crises are interdependent, any resolution must deal with all three - quantity, quality, equity - at the same time if it is to be economically efficient, ecologically sustainable, and politically acceptable.

Physical and economic sources of stress

For most countries in the Middle East, water is the limiting resource for development (Fig. 1). Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, and Turkey are all fairly well endowed with water; the three Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia), Israel, and Egypt form a middle group; and Jordan, Libya, and countries of the Arabian Peninsula are least well endowed. For Palestinians, the West Bank is relatively well endowed with water resources (Lowi 1993; Lonergan and Brooks 1994). (Much of the water that occurs in the West Bank is today used in Israel.) The Gaza Strip is perennially short of water. However, water availability per capita is decreasing in every country of the region.

Variation and uncertainty

The region between the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates is highly varied in geography and climate. Coastal plains merge in a few kilometres with mountain ranges, which then plummet to rift valleys with the lowest land elevations on Earth. Rainfall ranges from more than 1 000 mm/year to essentially nil. The average is about 250 mm, which is the limit for unirrigated agriculture, but in this region, averages can be highly misleading. It is much more important to understand the spatial, seasonal, and annual variations in rainfall than national or annual averages.

Bakour and Kolars (1994) showed that the Mashrek lies in a transition zone. To the north, the land receives more rainfall; to the south, even less. The dominant hydrological characteristic is the combination of aridity and uncertainty. Figure 2, taken from their study, compares the two curves: one showing diminishing average rainfall, and the other showing increasing variance (both from north to south across the region). In their words, “the zone of greatest unpredictability is at the intersection of the precipitation and variance curves,” that is, in the populated, semi-arid regions of the Middle East. Whereas regions of higher rainfall sometimes suffer droughts and regions of lower rainfall sometimes experience floods, this region has to cope with both.

Even where the variations of rainfall are predictable, sharp transitions bedevil any attempt to use averages. Rainfall along the coast, at the higher elevations of many countries, and in the northern part of the region is more than 500year, which suggests that irrigation is unnecessary. However, all the rain falls in four winter months, so storage systems are necessary to hold back the flow and permit release during the summer, when demand for water is at its peak. (Unfortunately, large storage systems are generally built as surface reservoirs, which increase evaporation and, thus, decrease still further the volume of water available.)

Variations also occur across short distances. The north end of the Gaza Strip gets rain at upwards of 400 mm/year; barely 50 km to the south, at the border with Egypt, the Gaza Strip gets less than 250 mm/year. The thin coastal strip of Lebanon gets nearly 2.5 x 109 m³/year; just 50 km to the east, across the Lebanon mountains, the Beka’a Valley, where most of the irrigated agriculture is located, gets only 0.9 x 109 m³.

The most important variations in rainfall are neither seasonal nor geographic but annual. In eastern North America, reliable flow (defined as what can be expected 9 years out of 10) will be 60-80% of the long-term average; in western North America, reliable flow falls to 30% of the average. In the Middle East, reliable flow is less than 10%. These year-to-year variations in rainfall in the Middle East have enormous implications for water systems. In contrast to Europe, Canada, and much of the United States, extreme years in the Middle East must be treated as normal, not abnormal, and water planning and management must focus on risk minimization, not maximum use.

Demography and economy

Most countries in the region are experiencing rapid population growth, with rates of 2.5% per year. Although population densities are not particularly high by world standards, density per hectare of agricultural land is another story. Bahrain has a remarkable 7 000 people per arable hectare; Egypt and Kuwait have close to 2 000; and the other Gulf States, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon, have more than 500 (Rogers 1994). In the United States, the ratio is less than 2. Other sources of stress come from rapid urbanization (which increases the demand for high-quality water, without diminishing the demand for irrigation water), and the booming economic growth.

Demographic and economic sources of stress are common to many regions of the world. What makes a difference in this region is the dominance of agricultural uses of water, mainly irrigation. Even in relatively urbanized Lebanon, irrigation takes close to 80% of total water. Every country provides water to farmers at moderately to heavily subsidized prices. Although not all water withdrawn for irrigation is actually consumed, the proportion that is returned to a watercourse and the extent of degradation in the natural recycling remain controversial (Moore and Seckle 1993). In Egypt, a great deal is returned with relatively little degradation, but it is dangerous to generalize from the Nile (Allen 1994).

In contrast to agriculture’s dominance of regional-water accounts is its decline in economic accounts. Agriculture represents less than 5% of gross national product (GNP) in Israel and Turkey and less than 10% in Jordan and Lebanon. Agriculture represents about 20% of GNP in Egypt and Iraq, and a little more in Syria and the West Bank. Only in Ethiopia, the Gaza Strip, and Sudan does the share approach 40% of GNP. In most countries, the share of employment in agriculture is higher than agriculture’s share of GNP, but in Israel and Lebanon, with their capital-intensive farming, the share of employment is lower. With such disproportionate use of water in one sector, and a declining sector at that, political sources of stress are bound to occur.

Quantity: the economic crisis

With its limited water resources, the region from the Nile to the Euphrates not surprisingly contains some of the most parsimonious users of water in the world. A Bedouin may get along with as little as 4 or 5 L/person per day for all uses. Only Australian Aborigines seem to use less. What is a surprise is that the same region also contains some of the least parsimonious users of water. The Gulf States rate among the highest per capita users of water in the world.

Almost all the states of the Arabian Peninsula are consuming much more water than their annual renewable water supply, as are Israel, Jordan, and Libya. Egypt, Syria, and Sudan are fast approaching this situation. Indeed, some projections suggest that by 2025 domestic uses (about 100 L/person per day), plus municipal and industrial uses, will require all the freshwater available, leaving none for agriculture, in the countries of the Lower Jordan (Shuval 1992; Assaf et al. 1993). Even if no more water is devoted to agriculture over the next few years, these countries are in trouble: their water use is unsustainable, which implies that their whole economy is unsustainable. Apart from desalination or imports, the only ways to significantly improve the situation are to improve water efficiency in existing uses and to shift water from low-productivity to high-productivity water sectors. The dominance of irrigation means that both efficiency improvements and sectoral shifts must emphasize agriculture.

Principal sources of water

Throughout history, this region has depended on three main sources of water: rivers, aquifers, and imports (through trade in food). Allen (1994) estimated that the quantity of water imported indirectly into the Middle East as food amounted to 50 x 109 m³, equivalent to one third of the water directly used and about equal to the annual flow of the Nile in Egypt. Of course, the Middle East also exports food, so the net indirect trade in water is smaller.

Rivers are the best-known sources of water, and the rivers in this region include two of the greatest in the world, the Nile and the Euphrates. As well, many short streams or ephemeral wadis occur, typically being fed by springs in the mountains and spilling into the sea. Aquifers of various types are also common. Some are replenished regularly by rainfall and constitute renewable resources; others contain water buried in sediments eons ago and, thus, constitute nonrenewable resources; a few others occur along fracture zones. Over time, as surface sources have become fully committed and as technology has permitted deeper drilling, there has been a shift to groundwater. Even so, only about 10% of the total supply for the region comes from groundwater. However, in Israel and Jordan, the share from groundwater approaches 50%; and in the Arabian Peninsula, 100% (if desalination is put to one side). Apart from a few cities, no other region is so dependent on aquifers.

Few opportunities remain for further development of major rivers in these countries; on the contrary, if development occurs, it will more likely be in the upstream countries, such as Ethiopia and Turkey, which could reduce flows downstream (Allen 1994; Hillel 1994). Major freshwater aquifers remain to be developed (indeed, to be discovered), but they are either very deep or located far from points of consumption.

Recycling water

Recycled water may well be the fourth conventional source. Today, the use of treated, recycled sewage water is accepted practice in countries, such as Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Morocco. (In some countries, raw sewage continues to be used, which risks the spread of cholera and other diseases.) Countries in the region that are truly short of water will have shifted largely from fresh to recycled water for irrigating crops early next century. Some recycled water receives only primary treatment, in which case, use should be restricted to nonfood crops, and special care should be taken to protect farm workers. A good part of the water receives secondary treatment, which means that it can be used for crops that are eaten after cooking. Only water that has received tertiary treatment can be used for all crops. The European Economic Community is considering a proposal to embargo crops grown in reclaimed sewage, but this rule should be resisted as a nontariff barrier designed to protect European farmers. If implemented, it would be a severe blow to Middle Eastern agriculture. Tests for heavy metals and other contaminants not eliminated by conventional treatment are reasonable, but not a flat embargo.

Alternative sources of water

There are many other small, but potentially much larger, sources of water. They can be divided into two groups, depending on a pair of criteria that tend to move in parallel: capital requirements and degree of centralization. Of particular interest in the Middle East are the following:

Low-capital-decentralized solutions

· rainwater catchment from roofs and other structures
· rainwater harvesting in fields and in limans
· capture of flood and winter runoff
· desert dams
· aquifer recharge

High-capital-centralized solutions

· desalination of seawater
· desalination of brackish water
· imports of water by tanker, pipeline, or medusa bags
· cloud seeding

Much more attention should be paid to the low-capital-decentralized options than to the high-capital-centralized ones. To a large extent, the former are not only technically proven but typically more cost effective, given the marginal costs of new conventional water supply. Some options, such as rooftop rainwater catchment, produce only small total quantities of water, but it is potable water. Even in areas of low rainfall, such as the Gaza Strip, it is possible to design low-cost systems, with cisterns scaled to families, that will provide for all drinking and cooking needs (5-7 L/person per day) in most years. The greater problem is not designing the systems but convincing people unused to this technique that the stored water is, indeed, potable.

With the exception of cloud seeding, which has been practiced in some countries for years, the remaining systems are generally too expensive for widespread use. A partial exception must be made for brackish-water desalination, which, depending on location and salt content, can be an appropriate option. Imports of water must be considered, if only because in some countries the use of water depends on the importation of energy. For example, about 20% of Jordan’s electricity and 12% of Israel’s is used for water pumping. Although such a high share may not be typical (both nations must move large volumes of water from lower to higher elevations), these countries are willing to import oil, in one case, and coal, in the other, so that they can pump water. Of the import options available, the Canadian technology of medusa bags (large plastic bags towed behind ocean-going tugs) appears attractive but remains to be proven at full scale. Turkey is the one country in the region that appears to be both willing and able to consider water imports.

Desalinated seawater is, of course, the ultimate, unlimited source, and about two thirds of the world’s “desal” capacity is located in this region. However, all technologies use such vast quantities of energy that major use is restricted to those countries with low-cost oil reserves or heavy-oil fractions left after refining. More potential exists for desalination of brackish water containing up to about 5000 ppm of salts. Relatively small quantities of brackish water have been desalinated in many countries. In its peace treaty with Jordan, Israel committed itself to desalinating the saline springs that it has diverted to the Lower Jordan, which now makes this water too salty for use by Palestinian and Jordanian farmers.

A few sources do not fit neatly into either of the two groups. For example, there are numerous aquifers that contain 1 000-5 000 ppm of salts - too salty to be potable but acceptable for certain uses. Some of these aquifers are huge, including one that underlies almost the entire Sinai and Negev deserts. Issar (1994) suggested that the area could be developed on the basis of industrial and agricultural uses of saline water. The aquifers contain fossilized water and, therefore, are nonrenewable, but the supplies are so vast that centuries of use is possible at any likely pumping rate.

The submarine springs that occur all along the coast of Lebanon, Israel, and Gaza and maybe farther are another source of unknown potential. The locations are well known to fisherfolk because some fish can be found at the point where the freshwater and seawater mingle, but no one has ever proposed a practical and ecologically safe method for capturing and bringing the water to the shore.

Main uses of water

Except in a few cases where the objective is to preserve natural beauty, water is not desired for its own sake but because it can satisfy human needs. Despite this basic fact, nowhere is the information available on water use as detailed or comprehensive as that on water supply. Worse yet, with some exceptions, the information is based on deliveries of water, not actual use, which means that it is impossible to make accurate measures of efficiency.

Water use can be broadly divided into four categories: household, municipal, industry, and agriculture. (Municipal use refers both to the water delivered to commercial buildings and hotels, mainly for the same purposes as households, and to the generally larger amounts used for municipal gardens, street cleaning, fire fighting, etc.) Household use accounts for 3-20% of the consumption; municipal, 3-10%; industry, l-10%; and agriculture, 50-90%.

A surprisingly small proportion is required to meet the drinking-water standards defined by the World Health Organization. At 5-7 L/person per day, only about 2 x 106 m³/year is needed for every 1 million inhabitants, which is not very much. In most parts of the world and, certainly, in this region, major uses do not require water of potable quality. Depending on the potential contact with humans or the possible fouling of equipment, water of moderately to significantly lower quality can be used. In the future, cities may move to dual systems, with a small pipe providing potable water for drinking and cooking and a larger one providing lower quality water for other uses. Unfortunately, in many countries of the region, there is only a single system, and the water delivered meets only the lower standard.

Pricing reform is at the top of the agenda of every economist who has looked at water supply and demand in the region. Studies of water use in the region have found that consumers of water are subsidized and that these subsidies increase water use above what it would be if consumers had to pay the full costs. Despite the differences in supply, most consumers in this arid region pay no more for water than consumers in humid parts of the United States (Rogers 1994). The need for water-pricing reform is reinforced by other factors. First, because the volumes of water needed to sustain life are so small, it does not matter much whether drinking water is subsidized in the interests of equity or public health. Drinking water is not the problem! Second, among all consumers, farmers receive the greatest subsidies, particularly in comparison with value of output. For some crops, the value added by irrigation is less than the average cost of supplying the water. Third, water prices are typically compared with average cost, but, for economic efficiency, consumers should be paying the marginal cost (the cost to get additional water), which is higher yet. Although most other countries also subsidize water consumers, especially farmers, few countries are so short of water as those between the Nile and the Euphrates. Gradual movement toward more economically efficient water-pricing should be possible without major social losses but with definite ecological gains.

Conservation of water

Conservation of water, including both increases in efficiency of existing uses and changing use patterns, has always been a major consideration in the water-short Middle East. (Efficiency and conservation are commonly used as synonyms, but, more precisely, the former refers to minimizing inputs to achieve a given output, whereas the latter includes changes in the output. Less formally, efficiency deals with how one accomplishes a task, whereas conservation also includes changes in the task.) However, as we learned from deeper analysis of energy use, the fact that a region is short of energy (water) does not imply either that existing uses are efficiently satisfied or that the pattern of use is appropriate. Many factors, including capital barriers, ill-designed policies, inaccessible technology, lack of information, and habits and traditions intervene.

Continuing with the analogy with energy (Stiles, this volume), we can say that private firms and public bodies must begin to look at reductions in the use of water as a source of supply - a very large source, equivalent to but, in many ways, better than new primary sources. In separate analyses of water-rich Canada and water-short Israel, quite comparable proportionate cost-effective savings were identified (Brooks and Peters 1988; Kahana 1991). This does not mean that Canada and Israel are at equivalent levels of water efficiency. Canada uses four and a half times as much water per capita as Israel. However, because water prices are so much lower in Canada than in Israel, the potential gains in economic efficiency are similar. Without changing use patterns but relying only on off-the-shelf technologies, savings typically exceed 25% and, in some cases, reach 50%. In just 2 years, the city of Jerusalem cut its municipal water use by 14%. These results suggest that the largest potential source of water for most countries in the region will be found through savings achieved by conservation.

Although none of the countries under study comes close to maximizing economic, much less technical, potentials of efficiency in using water, the dominance of irrigation requires special attention. Israel is generally regarded as a model of efficiency in irrigation. Israel pioneered the development of drip irrigation and has gone on to improve the technique with sensors and computer controls that respond to plant requirements, rather than using a predetermined watering schedule. Today, water use per irrigated hectare is 40% less than it was in 1955, and gains continue to be made, although at a declining rate (Kahana 1991; Hillel 1994). Drip irrigation also reduces the likelihood of both salinization and pollution from runoff. Other nations in the region, notably Jordan, have adapted drip irrigation for many crops and are now producing their own pipes and other equipment. Unfortunately, drip irrigation is a capital-intensive technology, and it is not appropriate for all crops.

The greater question about Israeli agriculture and, by extension, all agriculture in the region is not, however, whether water is used efficiently in irrigation but whether irrigation is an efficient use of water. Almost every analysis shows that Israel’s economy would be stronger and the total value of output would be increased if water was transferred from agriculture to industrial or municipal uses (Lonergan and Brooks 1994). The opposite appears to be true in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; those economies would be stronger if water could be transferred into agriculture. Careful analysis would be needed to say whether other countries in the region lie closer to the Israeli or to the Palestinian case.

In conclusion, the social gains from approaching water problems from the demand side are very high and not restricted to direct financial savings. Reducing demand is also a very effective strategy (perhaps the most effective strategy) to minimize risk and to reduce environmental damage. The demand approach suggests that in most countries of the region, some water could be transferred from agriculture to other sectors, with overall gains for the standard of living and, very possibly, for the quality of life. The implication is that the long-term demand for water is much more elastic to price and policy than is recognized. In contrast, some analysts believe that water-short areas, such as the Jordan Valley countries, will have no alternative but to turn to external sources by early in the next century (Assaf et al. 1993). These analysts argue that even a higher level of end-use efficiency and a total shift of freshwater out of agriculture would be insufficient.

Water quality: the ecological crisis

Water quality, the second component of the regional water crisis, is less ancient but equally pressing. In the spring of 1994, five nations (Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates) participated in an environmental conference organized by the American University of Beirut, and each of them identified water pollution as a critical issue. The key point is that - again by analogy to energy - it is just as important to conserve the quality of water as to conserve its quantity (Brooks 1994; Lonergan and Brooks 1994). According to Assaf et al. (1993), Israel is losing 3-10 x 106 m³/year of drinking water because of declining water quality.

Most water-quality problems derive from one or more of four factors: overpumping of aquifers, runoff from agriculture, discharge of human and industrial wastewater, and loss of habitat.

Overpumping of aquifers

Overpumping of wells causes a decline in the water table. During the recent drought, when aquifers were pumped particularly hard, water levels in Israel were falling typically by 10-40 cm/year. Unfortunately, overpumping, or “mining,” of what should be renewable aquifers is all too common in this region.

A decline in the water table has several adverse effects. At a minimum, it adds to pumping costs and increases energy use. More important, a lower water table permits lower quality water to flow inward and contaminate the freshwater of the aquifer. Many of the countries in the region have coastal aquifers that, in their natural state, are 3-5 m above sea level; this, in turn, creates an outward pressure that blocks the inflow of seawater. Pumping, or, more accurately, overpumping, has lowered the freshwater level to below sea level, so the effect is reversed and salt water from the Mediterranean can now be found 1-3inland.

Runoff from agriculture

Irrigation is obviously good for farmers (MacLean and Voss, this volume). However, irrigation systems also pose environmental problems. In most countries in the region, agricultural runoff is the major non-point source of pollutants, including sediment, phosphorous, nitrogen, and pesticides. Per-hectare use of pesticides and fertilizers in Israel, Jordan, and Palestine rates among the highest in the world, and runoff is correspondingly high. One result of this is that over the past two decades, nitrate (from both fertilizers and reused sewage effluent) concentrations in the coastal aquifer underlying Israel and the Gaza Strip have doubled (Gabbay 1992). In Syria, Al-Sin Lake, the main freshwater source, is polluted by runoff. Such problems are anything but inevitable. Practices like conservation tillage, contour planting, terracing, and the use of filter systems can control soil erosion and reduce phosphorous and nitrogen runoff by up to 60% (World Resources Institute 1992).

Problems are magnified at the greenhouses and poultry factories, which are increasingly widespread in the region. Greenhouses are periodically rinsed, with as much as half of the chemicals going directly into the soil. Good practice isolates these operations from contact with groundwater and recycles the rinse water, but good practice is uncommon. In addition, the otherwise attractive use of brackish water for irrigation can increase soil salinity. Washing out the salts with freshwater can alleviate local problems, but this would allow the salts to drain into watercourses or aquifers, with potential long-term problems. For this reason, irrigation with brackish water is subject to special regulations where it is done just above sensitive parts of the coastal aquifer in Israel.

Discharge of human and industrial wastewater

Cities in this region are old - in some cases, ancient - and, just as with many newer cities, water-supply and sewer systems have either begun to deteriorate or cannot handle the growing loads placed on them. For example, the city of Jerusalem still discharges half its wastewater untreated into dry riverbeds. (A treatment plant is now being built.) In some cases, systems have been damaged by war. Water losses in Beirut went up from 40% to well over 60% during the 15rs of civil strife, and many sewage-treatment plans are inoperable because of shelling. Generally, however, urban areas in the region have adequate systems. In contrast, the situation is far from adequate in smaller cities and rural areas. In a few cases, as in much of the Gaza Strip, the need for investment in water-supply, drainage, and sanitation facilities is immediate.

It is difficult to assess the extent of industrial contamination in the region because so few tests are done, and when tests are done, the results are seldom disclosed. Spot checks by the Ministry of the Environment in Israel have found concentrations of specific contaminants at levels that are a few to 100 times the levels allowable in European countries. Conditions elsewhere are unlikely to be any better. Throughout the region, dumping of industrial wastes is common, sometimes directly into watercourses and sometimes into wadis, which, at the next rainfall, allows contaminants to seep into aquifers. Cleaning a polluted river is difficult; cleaning a polluted aquifer is much more so, and in some cases is simply not possible (Goldenberg and Melloul 1992). Even agricultural processing has its problems. Olive-oil mills, an otherwise excellent innovation that increases the value added from farming and provides employment in rural areas, produce both solid and liquid residues. The solid residues can be put back on fields, but the liquid residues have so high a biochemical oxygen demand that they are generally just dumped. The impact of about 40 mills in Jordan is equal to that of a city of 1lion people.

Loss of habitat

Finally, water quality in the region is being seriously degraded by losses of natural habitat, mainly wetlands. As a result of decisions to drain swamps, canalize rivers, or expand the agricultural frontier, water that was providing habitat for a multitude of plant and animal species is lost. Dredging and reclamation of land to expand urban space in Bahrain has not only destroyed commercial fishing grounds but also blocked natural drainage of agricultural land and increased the salinity of groundwater.

Why are these losses important? It is because water in place and the habitats it supports have value. Some of the values of in situ water, such as those associated with fisheries and hydropower or even with the prevention of subsidence above an aquifer, can be measured in conventional economic terms. Other values are partially calculable, such as those associated with recreation and tourism or with the dilution or purification of wastes. Some values are extremely difficult to capture in economic terms, like those associated with the regulation of river flows or the support of plant and animal habitat.

Losses in the region resulting from uncontrolled use of wetlands are unknown but clearly high. For example, the King Talal reservoir is too polluted for recreational use, but, as the only standing body of water in Jordan, this pollution carries an extraordinary opportunity cost. Wetland conversion can also be controversial. Construction of the Jonglei scheme to increase water flows to Egypt and Sudan “was stopped in the early 1980s as a result of violent opposition by the local communities who did not want their livelihoods and ways of life changed by the draining of the swamps of the Sudd” (Allen 1994). In the case of the Hula Swamp, the draining of which was Israel’s first megaproject, plans are under way to restore part of the drained area to its original ecology.

Water equity: the political crisis

Water, not oil, has historically been at the heart of most political conflicts in the countries in this region. This section considers the internal institutions that have been developed to manage conflicts among sectors; and the international institutions that have been developed to manage conflicts among nations.

Internal institutions

This region is characterized by some of the largest and most sophisticated water-management agencies in the world. By and large, they have achieved the goals set out for them. They manage the water systems within their jurisdiction with great care, and they have developed impressive databases that permit control on a well-by-well or pump-by-pump basis. The real problems lie deeper - one begins to question the goals themselves and the structures erected to achieve these goals.

In every country of the region, water-management institutions are oriented to the goals of supply management (construction of dams, storage reservoirs, and other engineering works), with little attention to demand management. Further, the national institutions typically devote most of their attention to large-scale, centralized forms of supply management. Small-scale, decentralized options tend to be neglected or left to communities. The national institutions tend to be insensitive to indigenous practices, gender concerns, ethnic groups, and the environmental impacts of the institutions’ actions. Such organizations merely reflect the concerns of the governments that created them.

Water-management agencies in this region differ only in degree from their counterparts in most other countries, North or South. Their true distinctiveness lies in two other characteristics: the centralization of water management at the national level and their close relationship with national agricultural agencies. Every one of the Middle Eastern countries has a ministry or senior agency in control of water affairs. Lebanon, for example, has the Ministry of Water and Electricity. Jordan has the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. In Israel, the Water Commissioner, a powerful official who controls planning, construction, and management of the nation’s water system, reports to the even more powerful Minister of Agriculture. The situation is mixed in Syria and Egypt, where central agencies maintain control over irrigation water, and domestic water supply is left to local or municipal agencies.

The close political association of water and agriculture means that intersectoral conflicts tend either to be ignored or to be resolved in favour of farmers. It also means that internal water institutions resist suggestions to increase water prices for farmers or to move toward any form of water market or other means of establishing rational allocation. (There are many policy choices between volume allocation and pure markets that can provide for efficiency and equity.) As a result of the use of nonmarket prices in the face of limited water supplies, central control is required to impose allocations by volume or time of use; in rural areas, like those along the upper Nile, traditional patterns of allocation may still hold. Outside agriculture, prices are less closely controlled, and there is less need for allocation. In many countries (notably, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen), demand is supply limited because of the infrastructure being unreliable or undersized or because of the poor quality of the water, particularly in the summer.

An exception to the bias in favour of agriculture occurs in times of drought. When water-supply allocations must be cut back, farmers typically bear the brunt of cutbacks. No sector can reduce water use so extensively and so quickly as agriculture.

International institutions

Surface water commonly crosses or forms an international border; aquifers commonly underlie a border. For a somewhat larger part of the Middle East, Rogers (1994) counted 25 international rivers. I know of no comparable tabulation for aquifers, but two examples are the Disi Aquifer, which underlies the border of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and the Mountain (Yarkon-Taninim) Aquifer, which underlies Israel and Palestine. The Litani, in Lebanon, is one of the few rivers carrying more than 500 x 106 m³/year that does not cross an international border.

International water is almost everywhere a subject of intense debate, with the discussion dominated by international lawyers and diplomats, rather than by social or physical scientists. In the Middle East, the basic principle for sharing water remains that of equitable use. This implies that the ways specific bodies of water are shared must be negotiated to fit the physical, economic, and social context of the parties involved. The rights of parties to specific quantities and qualities of water remain a contentious issue. In these circumstances, it might be helpful to shift attention from rights aimed at the supply side to rights to guarantee certain levels of demand. This is the effect of an approach supported by an Israeli-Palestinian team (Assaf et al. 1993), who proposed entitlements of 125179; of potable water per person per year (Shuval 1992).

Although international law applies most directly to surface water, each of the principles used in dealing with surface water applies to underground water, qualified of course by the limited knowledge of aquifer hydraulics and the greater difficulty of monitoring. A model treaty for internationally shared aquifers has been drafted (Hayton and Utton 1989), but it has not yet been extensively discussed by politicians.

Discussions about international waters, including those in the Middle East, typically conclude with a call for basin-wide or aquifer-wide commissions to manage them as a unit. In my view, such schemes are visionary or, at best, premature. There is simply too little trust among these nations to consider joint management. It has taken the United States and Canada many years to establish joint procedures for management of the St. Lawrence River and almost as long for the Netherlands and Belgium to learn how to manage the aquifer that underlies their border.

This go-slow approach toward international management is not intended to preclude cooperation by way of prior notification of changes in river regime or specific joint institutions, such as those for research. Nor does it exclude the possibility of true joint management in those cases, such as the Mountain Aquifer, where Israelis and Palestinians really have no other alternative (Feitelson and Haddad 1994). Even in these cases, step-by-step movement toward cooperation with parallel but not united institutions on either side of the border would probably be more successful than attempts to move quickly to regional institutions.

Although joint management seems premature for quantity issues, it may not be so for quality issues. Competing demands for water rights have something of a zero-sum aspect about them, whereas environmental problems can affect all parties together. Nations that share water resources, particularly aquifers, should therefore experiment, at first, with joint water-quality management.

Militarization of water

Over the years, many people have argued that a war over water in the Middle East is more or less likely (most recently, Bulloch and Darwish 1993). It is true that, at times, shots have been fired and bombs dropped on water installations. Skirmishes were occurring between Israel and its neighbours just prior to the 1967 war, and Israel bombed a partially completed dam on the Yarmouk, late in that war. Iraq destroyed much of Kuwait’s water-desalination capacity during the Gulf War. However, to go from these examples to a general proposition of water wars ignores the wide range of options available for overcoming water scarcity, such as drip irrigation and shifts to crops that consume less water. Such approaches can relieve the pressure much less expensively and with much less risk than military conflict.

Consider what is presumably the point of greatest dispute: the Jordan Valley. Even here, where the allocation of water is anything but equitable, water problems stem as much from internal economic decisions as from the special conditions of military occupation (Elmussa 1993). Using a different approach, researchers in the Harvard Middle East Water Project have reached the same conclusion. Depending on the particular resolution of the property rights to water, the total value of water in dispute between Israelis and Palestinians cannot exceed $600 million CAD per year (in 1996, 1.36 Canadian dollars [CAD] = 1 United States dollar [USD]) and probably lies closer to $200 million CAD. This is not very much money in international terms. The annual cost of water loss appears to be well under the daily cost of modern warfare.

If water wars in the Jordan Valley are unlikely, one wonders whether they will occur anywhere. There are simply better alternatives than war. However, these may not be politically easy or free of conflict. “Water shortages will aggravate tensions and unrest within societies,” but, as opposed to outright warfare, “internal civil disorder, changes in regimes, political radicalization and instability” are the more likely consequences (Homer-Dixon et al. 1993).

Research as part of the solution

Research priorities should cover three categories: technical, socio- and enviroeconomic, and institutional. The following are the most pressing research gaps.

Technical studies

1.gricultural techniques appropriate for water scarcity:

· use of poor-quality or saline water;

· degree of natural recycling under different conditions; and

· long-term effects of recycling irrigation water and treated wastewater.

2.quifer hydraulics and potentials:

· discontinuous or karstic formations; and

· fossil aquifers.

3.lternative sources of supply:

· rooftop harvesting for drinking water; and

· rainwater harvesting and savanization for improved ecological conditions and farming.

4.xisting and alternative strategies in agriculture and industry for times of water stress.

Socioeconomic and enviroeconomic studies

1.pplication of “soft energy” approaches to water to determine how far the analogy can be pursued and whether comparable policies could be proposed.

2.areful estimation of the elasticity of long-term water demand to combinations of price, income, and policy change.

3.etter definition of noncommercial services, such as recreation; of environmental services, such as habitat preservation; and of water in situ.

4.valuation of market-based options for national or regional water management:

· efficiency and equity effects of marginal-cost pricing and other pricing structures on various sectors, ecosystems, and classes;

· efficiency and equity effects of alternative quasi-market allocation techniques;

· methods for adjusting pricing for different qualities of water supply and of wastewater runoff; and

· approaches based on international trading at nationally determined prices (such as the Harvard Middle East water model).

5.eview of traditional methods of augmenting water supply and limiting water demand to see how they compare (in efficiency, equity, and gender effects) with modern methods.

6.valuation, using various criteria, of the range of megaproject and regional import options for major increments of water supply, to develop a preferred ranking under various conditions.

Institutional studies

1.etter identification of the barriers to the adoption of, or investment in, water-saving technologies; and design of policies to lower those barriers.

2.omparison of market and nonmarket institutions for distributing water efficiently and equitably.

3.ptions for joint or shared management of transboundary water resources, particularly with respect to water quality.

4.ptions for community- or common-property management for water.

5.easures to increase awareness of the need and the means to conserve water.

6.mproved design for water utilities that incorporate

· water supply and wastewater removal and reuse;

· supply-side and demand-side concerns; and

· economic, ecological, and social issues.


What the Middle East faces is not so much a water crisis as a chronic problem escalating to crisis dimensions because older problems are deepening at the same time as newer ones are becoming evident. With few exceptions, the countries in this region have already reached or are fast approaching the limits of their indigenous water supplies. In the absence of imports, greater efficiency in water use or shifts of water from one sector to another are the only options left, except for those few countries with enough energy to run desalination plants. Greater efficiency in water use may be encouraged by the existing institutions; shifts of water from one sector to another are almost never encouraged by the existing institutions.

Water is the consummate political issue in the Middle East. The role of research should be to ensure that economically efficient, ecologically sustainable, and politically acceptable alternatives are developed and put forward forcefully enough to lead to both the necessary internal adjustments and the equally necessary international negotiations. In the absence of political movement, water could, indeed, be a destabilizing or disruptive element in national and international relations.


Allen, T. 1994. Water: a substitutable resource? Department of Geography, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, UK. Unpublished paper.

Assaf, K.; al Khatib, N.; Kally, E. Shuval, H. 1993. A proposal for the development of a regional water master plan. Palestine Center for Research and Information, Jerusalem: Israel.

Bakour, Y.; Kolars, J. 1994. The Arab Mashrek: hydrologic history, problems and perspectives. In Rogers, P.; Lydon, P., ed., Water in the Arab world: perspectives and prognoses. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Brooks, D.B. 1994. Economics, ecology and equity: lessons from the energy crisis in managing water shared by Israelis and Palestinians. In Isaac, J.; Shuval, H., ed., Water and peace in the Middle East. Elsevier Scientific B.V., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, pp. 441-450.

Brooks, D.B.; Peters, R. 1988. The potential for demand management in Canada. Science Council of Canada, Ottawa, ON.

Bulloch, J.; Darwish, A. 1993. Water wars: coming conflicts in the Middle East. Victor Gollancz, London, UK.

Elmussa, S. 1993. Dividing the common Israeli-Palestinian waters: an international water law approach. Journal of Palestinian Studies, 22, 57-77.

Falkenmark, M.; Lundqvist, J.; Widstrand, C. 1989. Macro-scale water scarcity requires micro-scale approaches. Natural Resources Forum, 13(4).

Feitelson, E.; Haddad, M., ed. 1994. Joint Management of Shared Aquifers: the first workshop. A cooperative research project. Palestine Consultancy Group, East Jerusalem, Israel; Truman Institute of The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.

Gabbay, S. 1992. The environment in Israel. National report to the 2nd United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Ministry of the Environment, Jerusalem, Israel.

Goldenberg, L.C.; Melloul, L.C. 1992. Restoration of polluted groundwater: is it possible? Israel Environment Bulletin, 15(1), 16-24.

Hayton, R.D.; Utton, A.E. 1989. Transboundary groundwaters: the Bellagio draft treaty. Natural Resources Journal, 29, 663-722.

Hillel, D. 1994. Rivers of Eden: the struggle for water and the quest for peace in the Middle East. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Homer-Dixon, T.F.; Boutwell, J.; Rathjens, G. 1993. Environmental change and violent conflict. Scientific American, 268(2), 38-45.

Issar, A.S. 1994. Water under the deserts of the Middle East. In Isaac, J.; Shuval, H., ed., Water and peace in the Middle East. Elsevier Scientific B.V., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, pp. 351-362.

Kahana, Y. 1991. Water conservation measures in Israel. Israel Center for Waterworks Equipment, Report prepared for UNEP-Mediterranean Action Plan.

Lonergan, S.C.; Brooks, D.B. 1994. Watershed: the role of fresh water in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. International Research Development Centre, Ottawa, ON.

Moore, D.; Seckle, D., ed. 1993. Water scarcity in developing countries: reconciling development and environmental protection. Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development, Arlington, VA.

Rogers, P. 1994. The agenda for the next thirty years. In Rogers, P.; Lydon, P., ed., Water in the Arab world: perspectives and prognoses. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Shuval, H. 1992. Approaches to resolving the water conflicts between Israel and her neighbours-a regional water for peace plan. Water International, 17, 133-143.

World Resources Institute. 1992. World resources 1992-93: a guide to the global environment. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Sources of Strain and Alternatives for Relief in the Most Stressed Water Systems of North Africa

Mohammed S. Matoussi

Resource Economist, Faculty of Economic Science and Management,

University of Tunis, Tunis, Tunisia


North Africa, which includes the three countries of the Maghreb - Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia - is one of the most water-scarce regions of the world. The demand for water from all sectors has increased tremendously because of rapid economic and population growth. The immediate result has been acute scarcity in some countries. If this growth in demand continues at its current rate, an overall deficit will be unavoidable.

The countries of the Maghreb, faced with the possibility of chronic water shortages in the near future, must increase supply or control demand. The options for increasing supply are very limited. The most accessible water sources have already been exploited; exploiting those that remain would require heavy investments and might cause significant, perhaps irreversible, environmental degradation. Even if the Maghreb succeeded in exploiting all of its potential resources, an overall deficit would appear in the near future.

This paper examines alternatives for reducing the chronic deficits that could be effected within the framework of the current economic situation. It also looks at possible measures for reducing demand after appropriate economic and institutional reforms have been instituted.


North Africa, extending across 2 000 km, is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Sahara desert to the south. The Maghreb is a land of contrasts. Parts of the region are green and lush, but others are very hot and dry. Rainfall is, of course, the major climatic factor. Commercial and subsistence agriculture depend significantly on the vagaries of the weather.

According to hydrologists, countries with less than 1 700 m³ of freshwater per person per year will experience periodic shortages; below about 1 000 m³, the shortages will be chronic. North Africa, with 611 m³ of exploitable water per person in 1992, is therefore below the critical threshold of chronic shortages. Projections give an even more frightening picture: by 2020, renewable freshwater availability per person per year will fall to 378 m³. Worse yet, these averages for the whole of the Maghreb mask enormous disparities among the three countries. Morocco is well supplied with water, but Tunisia is one of the most water-scare countries of the world, with 432 m³/person per year, and projections indicate that this number will fall to 285 m³ by 2020.

Water uses

The Maghreb countries receive an average rainfall of about 257 x 109 m³/year. Only 37.2 x 109 m³ is exploitable with existing technology. In 1991, 17 x 109 m³, which included 10.1 x 109 m³ of surface water and 6.9 x 109 m³ of groundwater, was exploited. The index of exploitation (the ratio of exploited to potential resources) was 32% in 1992.

Irrigation consumes most of the water: 14.65 x 109 m³/year. Morocco uses 10.2 x 109 m³ of its water resources for irrigation (60% of the water in the Maghreb). Households and industry use 2.18109179;/year (13%). This shows that the industrial sector is not very well developed and that the supply to households is inadequate. Table 1 shows the allocation of water to these sectors.


Groundwater sources are generally used for potable water. Morocco gets 62% of its drinking water from such sources, and Tunisia gets 53%. There is a need to shift to surface sources because accessible aquifers are becoming depleted.

The reliability and quality of water vary from urban to rural areas and from one country to the other. Tunisia has the highest quality drinking water. The urban population is served by a public distribution network, and about one third of the rural population has access to safe drinking water. Major efforts are being made to improve the quality of the water supplied to the rest of the rural population. In Morocco, 75% of the urban population and 30% of the rural population are supplied with water from public systems. Algeria, on the other hand, has the greatest difficulty providing water to both its rural and its urban populations.


Irrigation is now used on about 1.6 x 106 ha, of which 716 000 ha is in public areas served by La grande hydraulique, a huge irrigation project. Morocco has the largest area (460 000 ha) under modern irrigation systems. It also has the largest irrigated area, with 1.3 x 106 ha (60%) of the 2.25 x 106 ha in the Maghreb.

Although irrigation has been practiced for centuries in many regions of North Africa (such as Rif, Dir of the Atlas, Haouz of Marrakesh, Cap-Bon, and Sahel), La grande hydraulique is the biggest agricultural development since independence. The project has tremendously increased the region’s agricultural output, but not without some adverse effects:

· Excessive irrigation has led to waterlogging by raising the water table.
· Eutrophication and salinization are becoming common.
· Inappropriate management of watersheds has led to silting of reservoirs built at huge cost.

Water balance in the Maghreb

If current trends of consumption continue and there is no major structural change in the allocation of water or in the technology of exploitation, there will be water shortages throughout the subregion after 2 000. Tunisia will experience the most severe deficit, but even Morocco, with water resources significantly greater than the average for the region, will also experience difficulties.

Morocco can expect to face a chronic water shortage in the future. Table 2 shows that by 2020, with the exception of Rifains du Nord and Sebou, every watershed will be affected. The large Atlantic west-central region, which is undergoing rapid economic development and urbanization, has major water resources, including several coastal streams and rivers, yet it faces a deficit to the tune of 850 x 106 m³/year.

Projections indicate that Algeria will have an overall chronic deficit of about 245 x 106 m³/year by 2010. The Algiers region, already experiencing declining quality of water from phreatic sources, aggravated by industrial, agricultural, and urban effluent, will have serious shortages by 2010.

Of the three countries of the Maghreb, Tunisia will face the most serious water deficits ion 2010. Projections suggest that the index of exploitation for water will exceed the renewable limit and go well beyond it, which means Tunisia will be mining its water system. No matter what scenario is chosen, Tunisia is faced with the most worrisome deficit.

Regions of chronic water shortage in the Maghreb

Although there are disparities in water availability among the three countries of the Maghreb, disparities within each country are even greater. This section briefly reviews some characteristic cases and suggest ways to alleviate the growing problems.


The most water-scarce region of Morocco is Moulaya, which receives irregular rainfall. According to estimates. the annual water requirements there will soon reach 1.2 x 109 m³, which will exceed available supply by 200 x 106 m³, or one fifth of anticipated needs. Since independence this region has witnessed increased exploitation of water sources through intensive mechanization and deep pumping. The combined pressure from expanding agriculture, industry, and tourism, along with the effects of the droughts during 1972-86, has led to a steady lowering of the water table, exceeding 30 cm in some areas. No other part of Morocco has been affected as seriously as Moulaya. However, growing deficits in the region of Souss-Massa are expected to provide an equally serious challenge in the coming years.


The Oran region, with an annual rainfall of less than 300 mm, faces severe water shortages, which limit large-scale irrigation and reduce industrial output. In addition, the water-distribution system is inadequate, and the basic sanitary standards for water are not respected. The aquifers of Mascara and Sidi Be Abbes provide more than 150 x 106 m³ of water annually for irrigation but are being overpumped to the extent that degradation is almost inevitable.


Water shortages in Tunisia are chronic in the coastal region, which has the greater part of the population and major economic activities (large urban centres, factories, and hotels). Surface water is very limited along the coast and represents only 2% of the national potential. Deep aquifers are rather more widely distributed but still represent less than 10% of the national potential. Phreatic water alone is in major supply. Unfortunately, these shallow sheets of groundwater are threatened by pollution and overpumping.

Alternatives for reducing chronic deficits

To address the water-scarcity problem, the countries of the Maghreb must use existing technical means to increase the water supply.

To match water supply to demand, water-resource managers have the following options:

· treating wastewater;
· reducing distribution losses;
· improving drainage systems in agricultural areas;
· using brackish water; and
· developing a master plan for soil and water conservation.

If implemented, these approaches could increase supply dramatically. For example, Tunisia could recover up to 1.6 x 109 m³ of water, equivalent to half of the water resources currently being exploited by the country.

Treating wastewater

Treated wastewater constitutes a resource that is not only constantly available but also increasingly available, with the development of cities, tourism, and industry. Because of growing demand for water, on the one hand, and limited water resources, on the other, the countries of the Maghreb have little alternative but to recycle treated wastewater for use in irrigated agriculture. Eventually, treated wastewater is likely to be used in other sectors, as well.

Reuse of wastewater has a number of advantages:

· It provides a permanent source of water for the agricultural sector while protecting the environment.

· It reduces the use of groundwater, contributes to the recharge of aquifers, and prevents seawater from intruding into aquifers along the coast.

· It reduces the cost of production and use of inputs in agriculture to the extent that the organic content of the treated water covers the nutrient requirements of the majority of crops.

Reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture is thus a technique that adds to the value of the water resource while it protects the environment. All three countries in the Maghreb have developed programs to use wastewater.


In 1982 about 217 x 106 m³ of wastewater was produced in Morocco. This is expected to reach 725 x 106 m³ by 2000 and will certainly exceed 900106179; in 2020. The office for water research and planning (Direction de la recherche et de la planification de l’eau) has an ambitious development program to reuse this currently wasted resource. However, up to now, implementation of the program has been very limited; treated wastewater is used on only 700 ha of land devoted to vegetables and orchards around the cities.


More than 350 x 106 m³ of wastewater was disposed of in Algeria in 1979; and 660 x 106 m³ in 1985. Total wastewater is expected to rise to about 1.5 x 109 m³ in 2010, but projections suggest the possibility of reusing about 600 x 106 m³ in that same year.


Tunisia has fully accepted the treatment and reuse of wastewater as one of the principal ways to reduce the need to desalinate seawater. In 1992, Tunisia already had 28 treatment plants around the country. The volume of wastewater treated is about 88 x 106 m³, of which about 14.6 x 106 m³ is reused in agriculture. The country has also prepared an ambitious program for expanding wastewater use. Some 57 new treatment plants are expected to be built before 2000. The capacity for treatment will then be about 200 x 106 m³/year, almost one third of the total phreatic water potential of the country. Agriculture will use 95% of the treated wastewater to irrigate 20 000 ha of land. Treated wastewater will therefore play a significant role in the near future.

Reducing distribution losses

The physical efficiency of a water-distribution network can be measured by the difference between the water that goes into the pipe and the water that comes out. A new pipeline system should not have losses of more than 10%. Losses in the distribution systems of the three countries of the Maghreb are much higher. In Algeria, for example, losses in the urban system are currently 50%. The immediate result is that the majority of residents have running water only intermittently, which, in effect, means that shortages are common. In Tunisia, losses in urban pipelines amounted to 85 x 106 m³ in 1993, which represents a loss of 28%. The absolute loss is almost exactly equal to the capacity of the two dams at B-Metir and Kasseb.

These pipeline losses are greater in the irrigation-water network. It has been estimated that an improvement in physical efficiency of just 6% in these networks would be equivalent to saving 270 x 106 m³ of the water resources behind the dams in Morocco.

Recovery of the water losses in the urban and irrigation distribution networks in Tunisia would save 700 x 106 m³/year. This represents one quarter of all water currently exploited and exceeds the total of all phreatic sources in the country.

Improving drainage systems in agricultural areas

Poorly managed irrigation fields lead to waterlogging and consequent environmental degradation. The problems of drainage are in some cases exacerbated other factors, such as

· flat terrain with poorly aerated soils;

· intensive irrigation following a long drought, which occurs in the southern parts of all three countries; and

· intensive irrigation in vast, modern fields, such as those around Tadla in Morocco.

Many studies have shown that drainage systems and soil improvement on agricultural land could translate into significantly greater productivity:

· Draining the land would permit easier access to more distant parcels of farmland, so agricultural work could be accomplished under optimal conditions.

· A reduction in net use of water would mean an increase in the productivity per unit of irrigation water consumed.

In Tunisia, where irrigation is used on more than 300 000 ha of land and takes more than 2 x 109 m³ of water per year, drained water could be recovered for a second round of use. Studies show that it would be feasible to recover about 200 x 106 m³ of water. However, research on this subject is still in its initial stages, so any steps toward actual recovery must be taken with caution.

Using brackish water

Brackish water includes groundwater with a salt content that exceeds 4-5 g/L. All three countries have important reserves of brackish groundwater.

Using irrigation water with a higher level of salinity than acceptable is already a common practice. However, this practice entails serious risks over the long term because brackish water affects the aquifers and damages the soil.

In Tunisia, where brackish water is abundant, authorities have decided to exploit it. A brackish-water treatment plant in the southeastern part of the country is expected to begin operations very soon.

The decision to desalinate brackish water will require, over the next few years, a program built around three components:

· an inventory of brackish aquifers, for determining the quantity and quality of the water they contain;

· explicit integration of brackish water in planning the use of future agricultural water resources; and

· implementation of a research program aimed at determining the optimal patterns of use of brackish water in agriculture and industry.

Developing a master plan for soil and water conservation

In the Maghreb, which is characterized by uncertain rainfall and by heavy runoff when it rains, soil and water conservation are crucial. Particularly after prolonged dry periods, flows of water cause a major and characteristic form of erosion, with serious consequences for water resources:

· Hydraulic works, such as dams, suffer rapid silting and thus a loss in their valuable production capacity.

· Fertile layers of earth and sometimes even the vegetation that covers the soil can be lost.

· Recharge of aquifers is insufficient.

If the three countries of the Maghreb wish to make major improvements in their water balances, they must develop a master plan for soil and water conservation, with a range of objectives, each integrated with the others. Among many possible objectives, the following seem to be the most urgent:

· reforestation in the watersheds behind major reservoirs;

· new small dikes and dams to retain water in the hills and mountains;

· a program to recharge near-surface aquifers and groundwater;

· a program to identify and evaluate favourable sites for water harvesting and spreading; and

· an intensive research and testing program to evaluate additional resources (including artificial recharge) and to optimize conjunctive management of surface water and groundwater.

All three countries of the Maghreb have already launched activities to promote soil and water conservation. Morocco has created an integrated management plan for surface and groundwater on the plain of Souss-Massa, which could serve as an example for other countries. Tunisia has established a 10-year program for the construction of 1000 small lakes in the hills and 200 mountain dams, with the objective of recovering 160 x 106 m³ of water per year.

Measures for reducing demand

The three countries of the Maghreb must design economic and institutional measures for the rational use of water. These measures would significantly improve water availability in the region. However, results will remain quite short of the potential if the economic and institutional framework remains unchanged.

There is need to shift toward measures that limit demand, because development of additional conventional supply is becoming more and more difficult. These countries have already exploited 43% of their water resources, those most accessible and least costly. Development of the remaining water resources will be even more complex technologically, and future investment will certainly be less profitable.

On the demand side, several measures can be implemented to create the needed change in water strategies. The measures appropriate to the current conditions in the Maghreb are the following:

· setting realist water prices;
· establishing a new strategy for irrigation;
· increasing public awareness and encouraging research; and
· integrating and decentralizing management.

Setting realistic prices for water

Any action to control demand, if it is to be effective, has to begin with modification of the price system for water, along with other means for allocating the resource. Pricing policies currently in effect (water tariffs) throughout the world, in humid countries as well as in arid, do not take into account the cost of bringing the water to consumers and neglect totally the opportunity cost of the water. Opportunity cost would be zero only if the supply of water were infinite.

Water prices are generally very much below real costs of delivery, and, in the agricultural sector, irrigation water is commonly priced below operation and maintenance costs. The immediate results are waste of the resource and poor service to users. However, policies are changing. The need to protect water resources, the increasing costs of supply and distribution systems, and the demand for adequate supply of water for domestic use and agriculture are some of the reasons for renewed interest in pricing systems for water as a notably effective means to the optimal management of the resource.

Water-pricing policies must be designed and implemented in the near future, and they should not only cover the direct operation and maintenance costs of supply and distribution and of management agencies but also cover, at least partially, the capital costs of the investment. The same policies aimed at covering costs will also reduce demand for water and promote its more rational use. The Maghreb countries have all adopted progressive pricing systems for drinking water, and these tariff systems serve as an illustration of what can be done. However, it is important to note that an optimal price system for water does not at all imply an excessive price increase. The exorbitant prices that are sometimes levied can be counterproductive if they induce big consumers to turn to other sources of supply.

Establishing a new strategy for irrigation

The countries of the Maghreb, especially Morocco, with its Million Hectare Program, have initiated very ambitious programs to expand irrigation. Indeed, modern irrigation has transformed whole regions, and it has enabled the Maghreb to increase its food production tremendously.

The competition for water for different sectors will invariably lead to its reallocation to those activities that are most profitable, at the expense of traditional and subsistence activities. To minimize the adverse consequences of this inevitable restructuring, an appropriate strategy is needed to establish a new role for irrigation that aims at optimal allocation. Some of the elements of this new irrigation strategy could be described as follows:

· Experience in the region has shown that private irrigation is generally both more profitable and more frugal in its use of water than large, public irrigation schemes. The new strategy should take this into account and reorganize the public irrigation schemes, at least by offering them more organizational and financial autonomy so that they may collect tariffs and provide services more effectively.

· Users should participate in the development and maintenance of their irrigation networks through specially created irrigation associations.

Increasing public awareness and encouraging research

One initiative that can contribute significantly to water conservation is the development of programs to disseminate information, to increase public awareness, and to encourage training and research. Among other things, such activities should include

· training senior and operational personnel for work in the field of resources conservation;

· training maintenance staff; and

· educating and training users.

The last of these is particularly important because water users have to be fully aware of the debt that their country will eventually have to face for its water supply.

Integrating and decentralizing management

Two major characteristics of water management in the Maghreb - and in most other parts of the world - are (1) the absence of integrated but decentralized management and (2) public monopolies that produce and distribute water without attention to basic criteria of profitability. These factors have led to inefficient allocation of water.

Integrated and decentralized management systems

The supply and distribution of water in the Maghreb are organized so that each use (irrigation, potable water, etc.) is managed by a central office following very rigid rules and operating independently of other offices. For example, in Morocco, irrigation is controlled by offices for agricultural development (offices de mises en valeurs agricoles); in Tunisia, by regional commissions for agricultural development (commissariats ronaux au dloppement agricole). These agencies are highly centralized and pay little attention to profitability. Generally, the supply of potable and industrial water is managed by public agencies that have social, regional, and even political objectives, whereas pipelines and water transportation are organized by independent public monopolies.

This fragmentation of water management leads to wastage and overemployment in the water sector. A single, conceptually global management system is necessary. This would strengthen linkages among alternative uses so that an efficient allocation of water would be attained.

The concept of a global and integrated system of water resources assumes that there is some preexisting definition of an appropriate spatial framework. The concept of such a system should include consideration of all externalities in its objectives. The watershed for example, has just these appropriate characteristics for all watercourses. Indeed, the natural or ecological interdependencies, sometimes called technical interdependencies, between water resources and agricultural resources are so linked that any planning in one sector will always affect the other.

Decentralized management agencies

Decentralization should be adopted in stages but, in the end, should be as extensive as possible. In the first stage, financial autonomy should be given to user organizations and should involve delivery of services at the full cost of the water. Where possible, decisions, such as those relating to repairs, maintenance tasks, and construction of sewage-pipe systems, should be left to the market.

Decentralization should also involve the creation of user associations, permitting them to progressively take over the management of certain components of the water system, such as irrigation networks.

Water markets

The ideal form of decentralization of water management would involve the creation and operation of water markets to allocate and manage water resources. The concept of water as a good involves a number of characteristics related to both its physical and its economic nature, and this explains why water supply is controlled or regulated by public bodies. However, recent experiments with water markets, mainly in the United States, have given encouraging results and have therefore raised interest in applying this method to water management in the Maghreb.

Nonetheless, if market forces are to determine access to water resources, some serious problems will ensue. Water, particularly groundwater, is common property, as well as being a public good. Therefore, purely private management would certainly lead to speculation and monopoly and result in waste of the resource. Low-income people, particularly those living in rural areas of developing countries, would be severely affected, as would those relying on subsistence and traditional agriculture. If a water market is to be feasible and work well, that is, with optimal allocation to defer recourse to nonconventional sources, it must have well-defined rules and mechanisms.

Water Crises and Constraints in West and Central Africa: The Case of Côte D’Ivoire

Jean Bi

Lecturer, Faculty of Science and Technics, University of Abidjan, Abidjan, Cd’Ivoire

Water resources

The main sources of water in West Africa are rain, surface water, and groundwater. In recent times, changes in climate, deforestation, and drought have seriously affected these resources in most parts of the subregion.


Rainfall diminishes progressively from south to north and as altitude increases. Some regions receive plenty of rainfall, and others get very little. Generally, however, much of the region receives sufficient rain, but the full potential of the rainy seasons has not been exploited. During certain months of the year, water is plentiful and sufficient to cover the dry spells that follow, but techniques to harvest this water are lacking.

The equatorial forests get plenty of rain, but their soils are poor. The peasants who live in the forests cannot afford fertilizers, so they keep clearing one patch of land after the other. This constant relocation makes the construction of waterworks impractical.

There is inadequate rainfall in tropical areas, so people rely on permanent rivers or wells. In tropical dry areas, rains are insufficient during the major part of the year, although the soils are rich. People use water from wells and boreholes to irrigate their farms.

The arid areas receive hardly any rainfall. They are occupied by nomads (with their herds), who live around grazing lands and oases.

Surface water

In West Africa, especially the humid zone, water is obtained from springs, marshes, lagoons, lakes, and national and international rivers.

Springs and streams

The humid zone has many natural springs and small streams. Springs are found mainly close to the shore and around mountains, such as in the Fouta Djalon in the Man region of Cd’Ivoire. Some of these perennial sources are believed to have thermo-mineral qualities. Natural springs and streams, especially in Precambrian rocks, generally have excellent-quality water and have been used to supply potable water from time immemorial. Unfortunately, these springs are no longer used.

In 1964, most villagers around the Dans Hills in Cd’Ivoire were relocated by the government. New villages were created after 1973, but the people dug wells, neglecting the springs.

Rational use of springs, especially in the mountainous areas and along the shores of West Africa, could play an important role in the supply of potable water to the region’s growing population.


In the sub-Sahelian zones, natural springs are scarce, and most of the watercourses have seasonal flow. There is an acute shortage of water, so villagers fetch water from marshes. Even where there are wells, water from marshes is used for household activities (washing, building, etc.), to conserve the wells’ limited capacity. In some cases, marsh water is also used for drinking, either because the water from the wells is insufficient or because people do not like it for some reason (unusual taste, or location in a sacred forest or near a cemetery). Because water from the marshes is of poor quality, waterborne illnesses, such as diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera, are common. Endemic goitre has for a long time affected people who live around Danannd Biankouma (western region).


Cd’Ivoire is well endowed with lagoons, which include Aquien, Aby, EbriTendo, Potou, and Egny. Local people are proud of these lagoons, and Abidjan is commonly known as the Pearl of Lagoons. The lagoons have various uses: sailing, boaters’ dances, pirogue (canoe) races, swimming, fishing, and international trade and transportation. The lagoons also play a role in religious life: parts of a lagoon may be worshipped, and sacrifices may be offered to the water spirits on the eve of a fishing trip.

Unfortunately, the lagoons are easily polluted. High rainfall (Abidjan gets 2800 mm/year) washes away the soil, carrying it into the lagoons. However, pollution is mainly caused by human activities: most of the city’s domestic and industrial wastes end up in the lagoons. The problem is aggravated by the pressure and waterproofing effects on a sandy soil from the weight of buildings, which forces water down from the surface, either vertically toward the deeper sheets or laterally toward the lagoons.

Freshwater sources are further threatened by the opening of the lagoons to the sea. Before the construction of the Vridi canal, lagoon water was fresh, but today the lagoons receive 10 000 m³ of seawater annually, which nearly equals the 12 000 m³ of freshwater they receive from continental rivers every year.


The two main lakes in the subregion are Lake Chad, along the borders of Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad, and Lake Nyos, which lies within Cameroon and Nigeria. Conflicts often occur among the countries sharing Lake Chad, when, for example, the level of the lake declines and small islands emerge, which are quickly invaded by fisherfolk from each country. More than 50 agreements have been signed by Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic to regulate the exploitation of the Lake Chad basin.

National rivers

In the humid zones of West Africa, national rivers are the main sources of water supply for urban centres. Major construction, such as dams, affect not only the ecosystem of the watercourse but also local people, who derive no benefit from either the electricity or fishing. They are often relocated and end up losing their livelihoods. For instance, the Baoul from the central part of the country, were relocated to the southwestern forests in San-Po, among the Krou ethnic group. This has posed some serious problems because the mixing of various ethnic groups has often led to fights over land, sometimes culminating in deaths.

Rivers are often polluted, which is a particularly serious problem where they are the sources of potable water. For example, in the main cities of Cameroon, Yaounde, and Douala, the government has to use expensive chemicals to treat water for urban residents.

International rivers

The five international rivers in West Africa are the Senegal River, which originates in Fouta Djalon in Guinea, crosses Mali, and enters Senegal after crossing several kilometres along its boundary with Mauritania. The Niger River also originates in Fouta Djalon; it flows through Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria, before it empties into the sea. The Bua tributary of the Niger River, originates in northern Cameroon, before joining the main course in Nigeria. It links Guinea, Mali, Cd’Ivoire, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Cameroon. The Volta originates in Burkina Faso and empties into the sea in Ghana. Its main three tributaries are Black Volta, White Volta, and Oti. The Logone River originates in Cameroon and the Central African Republic and empties into Lake Chad, and the Chari flows from the Central African Republic to Lake Chad. These two watercourses link Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Chad.

Conflicts can arise among riparian states over use of international rivers. Congo and Zaire often meet to talk about their common river, which has two names: Congo on one side of the border and Zaire on the other side. There are conventions regarding its use, although each country is keen to keep its name on its portion of the river.

Groundwater resources

Groundwater is found in loose soils near the shores, in alterites on crystalline bedrock, and in fissures in bedrock in the humid zones of West Africa.

Loose soils

In the sedimentary basins of the shores of Cd’Ivoire, Togo, Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, and Sierra Leone, large volumes of underground water are found in the aquiferous strata of Quaternary sediments at a depth of less than 10 m or in older rocks at depths of 10-80 m. Additional resources are found in the Upper Cretaceous sediments, but only at 100-200 m depth.

In Cd’Ivoire, phreatic sheets with discharges of 2-22 m³/h are found in certain Quaternary sands, within the top 10 m. In Abidjan, water is drawn from these sheets at a depth of 3-4 m, from pits dug in the sand, and is used for washing hands and cars, raising pigs and poultry, making bricks, and watering gardens and flowers.

Water sheets of Miocene-Pliocene age are found at the continental edge in clayey river sands near the surface and in coarse sands at greater depths. Flow rates are 7-338 m³/h, but depths may reach 200 m. Abidjan is better located for potable-water supply than other cities of West Africa. Although all the phreatic waters of the continental edge risk pollution from seawater, in Abidjan the beds feeding the city are sheltered from seawater incursions by the lagoon fault.

Beds of alterites on crystalline bedrock

Peasants and drillers are familiar with groundwater occurring in beds of alterites lying on top of crystalline bedrock. For a long time, they were considered the only sources of exploitable water resources on bedrock. These alteritic reservoirs reach 50 m thick in Cd’Ivoire (100 m in the “cocoa loop” above volcanic sediments) and 10-20 m thick in the humid zones of West Africa. Deeper layers are composed of grainy grits and are the most productive and sought after. However, these zones are generally not more than 5 m thick. Exploitation of alteritic reservoirs is decreasing because of the depth at which the water is located and the thinness of saturated zones. Large-diameter water wells, even those of modern design, cannot normally reach beyond 30 m.

Alterite water reservoirs are subject to significant seasonal variation (decrease of the sheets in the dry season and refilling in the rainy season) and can easily be depleted because of the limited height of the water column. Local use by people with ropes and buckets can reduce its level. In alteritic beds in the north of Cd’Ivoire, for example, 85% of the wells are characterized by a decrease of water level; only 4% show no decrease; and the remaining 11% show a slight increase.

The water of the alterites is used in the rural areas and some urban settlements that are not connected to the mains. Because irrigation is not well developed in West Africa, no real conflict has arisen over water coming from alterite sheets. The real problems stem from pollution and depletion.

Fissures in crystalline bedrock

Water in fissures of crystalline bedrock is generally of good quality and is used for human consumption. Some water is found in schists that have been folded and deformed, which can increase porosity. However, the greatest water potential occurs where the rocks are fractured. Original permeability is generally low, except in detritic layers, which play the roles of drains and locally develop important capacity, but at depth.

Migmatic reservoirs are aquiferous, which can be seen by the impressive number of water traces recorded in the bedrock. In fact, at depths of 120 m in Mali, 124 m in Cd’Ivoire, and 400 m in the Tarkwa mines in Ghana, numerous traces of water were recorded, revealing the high water content of the undisturbed crystalline formations. Water circulates in those crystalline rocks through networks of fractures that serve as drains and that are capable of discharging sufficient quantities of water when reached by drilling.

As reservoirs, fissures appear to be more regular and more stable than the alterites. Fluctuations of water levels do not generally exceed 5 m one way or the other, which indicates rapid replenishment. Even after significant withdrawals, the wells readjust their water level as soon as there is a break in the pumping.

Exploitation of groundwater

There are various methods of exploiting groundwater. Sumps or ponds provide small quantities of water to some villages in the sub-Sahelian zone. These sumps are small holes up to about 2 m deep, dug into the alluvial soils near beds of small lakes or rivers. They often last for a very short time, from a few days to a week or a month, but never from one season to another. During the rainy season these sumps often overflow. Although large volumes of water can be drawn easily into these pits, the water is of very poor quality.

Peasant wells are typically 3-10 m deep and 1 m in diameter. Women draw water from the wells by hand. The wells are dug into surficial alterites on plateaus and hills close to villages. Rains easily feed these wells, but during the dry season, water levels decrease, and in some cases the wells dry up. These wells are dug by hand by Malian or Burkinabsinkers, seldom by Ivoirians. The wells are tubeless, and the concrete coping, built 0.5-1 m above the soil surface, is the only means of protecting them from pollution.

Modern wells generally penetrate the whole thickness of the disturbed geological layer above the sound bedrock. However, the depth of the wells is limited to the sandy or clayey alterites and to the maximum capability of the drilling equipment (35 m). These water points are built with a diameter of 1-2 m (cistern wells), which allows them to store considerable amounts of water. This water is easily drawn by groups of women, each holding a rope attached to a pail. Maintenance costs are low, and breakdowns are rare. However, because of their limited depth (8-35 m), they are subject to the same seasonal effects as the peasant wells and generally do not reach the most productive levels (coarse-grained sands) at the top of the bedrock. Furthermore, the risk of pollution is high because of the possibility of seepage.

The diameter of deep wells is small, not more than 20-23 cm through alterites and 15-16 cm in bedrock. However, their depth reaches 124 m in Cd’Ivoire (drilling of Brou Akpaoussou in Bondoukou). The protection of the wells is easy because they essentially gather water stored in the fractures of the crystalline bedrock. In Cd’Ivoire, several types of pumping equipment are used, of which the most modern can exploit water located at depths of 80 m or more and discharge about 1 m³/h.

Unfortunately, these pumps can be difficult to handle and often break down. Field surveys from 1984 to 1987 showed that of 212 wells constructed since 1982, nearly 23% were out of order at any given time. More than 8% of these wells were rejected by the population because the water had an unusual taste, or the wells were on sacred land or too far. Some 18% were dry. Estimates in 1986 indicated that 15-20% of the pumps were experiencing technical problems or breakdowns. An earlier investigation by the World Health Organization, in 1976, showed that breakdowns increased after three years of pump operations and that 40-80% of the pumps originally installed may no longer be working.

Water institutions and pricing

International organizations

A number of African countries have come together to create the Union africaine des distributeurs d’eau (UADE, African Union of Water Distributors). Member countries are Benin, Cameroon, Cd’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, Chad, Togo, and Zaire. Thanks to UADE, certain principles for improved water exploitation, distribution, and pricing are practiced by the member states. Perhaps it is even more important that West African states have created a water research organization, Comitntert d’de hydraulique, which has, among other things, improved the state of knowledge concerning fissured rocks bearing water.

Organization in Cd’Ivoire

According to estimates, in 1964 more than 70% of the villages in Cd’Ivoire lacked sufficient or good-quality water. Water-related diseases were endemic. From 1973, because of disparities in water distribution and a severe drought, the government launched a big water program: Program national de l’hydraulique. This program was supported by a national water fund, Fonds national de l’hydraulique, inside the Caisse autonome d’amortissement, and by an autonomous water service department in the ministry.

From 1973 to 1988, the plan aimed to

· supply potable water to all urban centres with more than 4000 inhabitants; and

· equip villages with more than 100 people with water points, with supplementary points for each additional 600 inhabitants.

The program was highly successful. More than 270 communities were provided with potable-water systems, and more than 12000 water works were built in almost 8000 villages. By 1985, more than 80% of the population was supplied with potable water in both urban and rural areas.

Up to 1988, the national water program had invested 104 billion XAF (in 1996, 277 CFA Francs [XAF] = 1 United States dollar [USD]) for urban activities alone, plus another 40 billion XAF for water works in rural villages. Of this 144 billion XAF, nearly 9 billion was from the government and the rest was from international development agencies. In 1988, the program was revised, with the following objectives:

· provide water in 168 small urban and rural centres with more than 4000 inhabitants;

· maintain the level of water supply, through programs to strengthen production utilities and extend distribution networks;

· restore existing waterworks in villages where they were exhausted, defective, or insufficient;

· increase the number of water points to meet identified needs, with a total of 15000 to be installed by 1990; and

· create awareness and train villagers to undertake the maintenance of the pumps.

Water tariffs

In Cd’Ivoire, water is treated as a commodity and sold at a price that reflects cost. Of course, in the sub-Sahelian areas, where water is scarce, cost of supply exceeds by far that in forest areas and especially that in Abidjan. Water in the city is subsidized, although it should be sold at a higher price than in those parts of the country that are close to sources, where piping is not needed.

The aim of water tariffs is to meet the costs of production, including equipment, installation, distribution, and maintenance. The full price is made up of three components: maximum basic price, surcharge, and development charges.

The maximum basic price corresponds to the different charges that are included in the production of 1 m³ of water and a 5% profit margin for Soci de distribution de l’eau en Cd’Ivoire (SODECI, Society for the distribution of water in Cd’Ivoire), a private company that manages water distribution.

The installations used by SODECI belong to the government. The government borrowed money for these water projects, and the surcharge added to the maximum basic price paid by the consumer is devoted to the loan repayment. The surcharges are kept in a special fund, which, until 1992, was managed by SODECI on behalf of the state. From 1992, the management of the fund was entrusted to the Caisse autonome d’amortissement.

The development charges cover recurrent costs: extension of pipelines, rehabilitation of equipment, modernization, and reinforcement of lines and other works.

The price depends on consumption, which, among other things, reduces the impact of water pricing on the incomes of small consumers. The four brackets include social (small-scale consumers), domestic (below-scale average consumers),mal (average-scale consumers), and industrial (big-scale consumers). In addition, there is a special rate for administrative use of water, which is payable as a lump sum. For consumers who pump directly, the price is currently set at 193/m³, of which 188 XAF goes to the state and 5 XAF goes to SODECI.

Water is sold at prices ranging from 159 to 350 XAF m³. The prices for this are about 200 XAF in Chad, 168 XAF in Congo, 120 XAF in Burkina Faso, and about 680-900 XAF in Guinea. In Cameroon, water is free up to a certain volume, and tariffs are applied only beyond this point.

A special problem of pricing occurs in rural villages where a well has been drilled but there is no pump. In such cases, there is no direct cost to provide water, but the cost of the pump must be amortized and payments must be made for well maintenance. The state requests some contribution from the villagers, rate is variously set: 10 XAF/pail of water in some cases; 25 or 30/family each week in other cases; and an annual fee of 1 000 XAF/person or 55 000-60 000 XAF per village for each pump in still others. Despite these charges, the state bears an annual cost of 100 million XAF for unreimbursed expenses, just to repair the pumps, and up to now no attempt to increase villager contributions has been successful.

Coordinated management and protection of water resources

Water legislation

Each country in Africa needs a permanent water code to define the techniques and conditions for water exploitation, distribution, and pricing, as well as the techniques and conditions necessary for collective and individual water use and sanitation. The code must include measures to prevent waste and pollution.

In Cd’Ivoire, only the Abidjan water-map sheet was completed during the 1980s, and this sheet covered only one part of the aquifer. In the interior of the country, no town has a study on underground water. Consequently, in some localities, wells supplying drinking water and sanitary latrines are built at random, without taking into account the direction of the flow and the permeability of the soil. Consequently, contamination occurs.

A water code is necessary to define the African standard for potable water. To date, the continent does not have any specific standards for water. It uses the international ones, which do not take into consideration African particularities. For example, in rural areas, the nitrate content is often excessive in consumption water, without the population being aware of this.

The water code must provide for the creation of national and international commissions on management, protection, and use of all important water reserves. Agreements should be concluded on the water reserves to define the conditions of use by members. Such commissions should make special allowance for the particular interests of vulnerable populations. For example, a commission for the protection of the Ebriagoon, of Abidjan, could compel the counties to treat their wastes before pouring them into the lagoon, which would greatly improve conditions for the low-income people living on its shores.

Improvement of water institutions

In West Africa, each state has a company dealing with the exploitation and distribution of water: SODECI in Cd’Ivoire, SNEC in Cameroon, SONEES in Senegal, SNE in Niger, etc. These companies formed UADE. For research, there is an Inter-African committee for water research (Comitnterafricaine d’des hydrauliques), based in Ouagadougou. This committee deals with extension work to spread new technologies and information concerning water in Africa. As well, in the Sahel, an interstate committee for drought control (Comitntert de lutte contre la seresse au Sahel) has been established. This committee is also based in Ouagadougou.

Results obtained by these organizations are already encouraging, but much remains to be done. In certain cases, the quality of service is below standard because of the heavy-handedness of the state in the management and control of water services. Maintenance is badly performed. Much water is wasted through leaks in the pipes, and leaks may last for months. Some people do not pay their water bills, and the loss must be made up by the small consumers, who are helpless and have no procedure for complaints.

It would be judicious to liberalize the field of water and let private societies play a greater role in exploiting water and distributing it in urban areas. This would create some competition and would lead inevitably to an improvement in the quality of service.

Water conservation policy

The water sector needs to be organized in most states of West Africa because there are many large losses of water and other forms of wastage, particularly in public services. However, consumers are unorganized.

Proposals for research

Social research

Displaced populations

Study is needed of the populations displaced by the construction of big dams. Follow-up is necessary to determine whether these people could return to their original lands or be compensated.

Marsh dwellers

Certain groups remain linked by tradition and by preference to their marshes, even where well water is clearly potable. It would be appropriate to study these people to see whether they could become interested in alternatives to marsh water without modifying their ancestral diet and other practices.

Institutional and economic research

Creation of databases

Attempts are being made in Africa to create a database to include both climatic parameters and surface waters. However, little has been done to gather information on groundwater, not even in those villages where wells have already been drilled and water prospecting is carried out. The necessary studies include the preparation of hydrogeological maps.

Management of pumps

Study is needed to develop regulations for village water systems to check the use of pumps that easily break down or are difficult to operate. For example, the SEEE pump widely used in Cd’Ivoire needs at least two strong women on each handle to operate it. In other cases, pumps are very difficult to repair or require imported parts.

New options are needed for village waterworks to replace the present pumping system with a solar system or an electrical system using submersible pumps. In this case, distribution points may be established in the villages and maintained by selected people. The water could then be sold by the pail or other conventional container.

Reduction of waste

Management of water resources and improvement in distribution networks have to be studied to control waste. Leaks in the distribution facilities must be located and repaired.

Climate change in the Fouta Djalon

One of the most urgent research tasks in Cd’Ivoire is to find ways to manage and reduce environmental vulnerability in the extension of the Fouta Djalon in the western part of the country. Even in their severely disturbed state, the forests of Man are the only source of wood for heating, construction, carpentry, and handicraft (tool handles, kitchen utensils, basketwork).

Humid-zone research

Coordinated management of the water-vegetation-habitat linkages is needed in the humid zones of West Africa. Lack of surface-water resources is more and more becoming a problem in certain regions, such as western Cd’Ivoire, where vegetation is disturbed by the destruction of forests.


The region of Man-Dananas serious problems of demographic instability (refugees from Liberia), problems in agriculture (erosion of slopes and lack of land), difficulties with transportation (unevenness of soil surface), and climatic problems (degradation of forests). Research in this region would be important for the knowledge of water constraints resulting from the operation of natural systems.

Technical research

Aquifer rehabilitation and management

Research is needed on ways to reclaim and rehabilitate aquifers and on ways to manage water and treat runoff and wastewater to protect the underlying aquifers. Such projects must take into account the problems of waste management, agriculture, and the potential for seawater incursion.

Lagoon protection

Lagoons, especially Ebriin Abidjan, should be studied to develop a comprehensive protection plan, including the installation of treatment plants at the head of every sewer.

Rainwater use

Rains are very abundant in the humid zone of West Africa, but rainwater is not used except in the natural runoff across the countryside and the recharging of aquifers. Stored rainwater could serve many purposes, which would leave the wells to supply potable water.

Cistern design

In West Africa, water is abundant in the rainy season and scarce in the dry season. Simple designs and construction techniques for underground cisterns are required, particularly for villages located in the Sahelian and sub-Sahelian regions. Basins or excavations could store enough water in the rainy season to meet the continuing needs of the dry season.


Hydrological study is needed for all programs of village water development in crystalline rocks. The goal should be to create a map, or feasibility study, for each village. This would involve the analysis of aerial photography, remote sensing, and geophysics (electric probing and electric tracking). Hydrogeological studies are also needed in urban areas; fortunately, some are under way.

Effects of climate change

In many regions of Africa, there is consensus that climate has been changing for about 30 years: rains are becoming scarce; deforestation is common; and drought is more frequent. Study is needed to determine the extent of the apparent climate change and of its consequences for the water resources in Africa. In particular, we must study the vulnerability of water resources.

Strain, Social and Environmental Consequences, and Water Management in the Most Stressed Water Systems in Africa

George Khroda

Director, Research and Programs, REDPLAN Consultants, and Consultant for the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Nairobi, Kenya


Mean rainfall in Africa is about 670 mm, but there are great regional disparities. Although Africa has abundant water resources, they are spatially and temporally maldistributed because of variability of climate, topography, and geology. Of these factors, climate is probably the most important because the distribution of rainfall is determined by the wind system, topography, and pressure of large water bodies.

The heaviest rainfall occurs near the equator, especially in the region from the Niger Delta to the Zaire River basin and central Zaire. Along the coasts of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Madagascar, annual total rainfall exceeds 2 000 mm. Northward, rainfall decreases rapidly to about 250 mm at 18°N, except along the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, where the annual total ranges between 250 and 1 000 mm.

Rainfall distribution in the southern hemisphere is complex. Between the equator and the tropic of Capricorn, there is a north-south decrease, whereas farther south there is an east-west decrease (Fig. 1). Reliability also decreases, with variability of more than 40% in the deserts to less than 15% over the tropics. The humid tropics generally receive a lot of rainfall throughout the year, whereas the subtropical semi-arid regions experience marked rainfall seasonality and frequent droughts. The deserts are dry, and water is deficient throughout the year.

The semi-arid region is most affected by droughts because of its high population (about 30 million in 1985). The poor spatial distribution and temporal variability of natural resources in the region make small-scale, community-based, low- to medium-level technological approaches ineffective.

Major types of water systems

River systems

The climatic variability has an impact on the runoff characteristics of the continent. Although there is considerable runoff in tropical West and Central Africa, the overall runoff of the continent is lower than the runoff in North and Central America, which have a land area of only 80% of that of Africa. The high rate of evaporation, about 570 mm/year, reduces the effectiveness of rainfall and introduces marked seasonality in the river regime. River systems or basins constitute land area drained by a river and its tributaries and form a framework for understanding the inputs and outputs of the system.

Africa has nine major river basins - Nile, Congo, Zambezi, Okovango, Orange, Volta, Niger, Lake Chad, and Senegal - as well as small ones draining the east coast and discharging their waters into the Indian Ocean. Nearly all are international basins, some traversing more than eight countries.

Total river runoff amounts to 4.2 x 1012 m³/year, and total stable runoff is about 2.1 x 1012 m³/year (Endersen and Myhrstad 1987). Africa withdraws about 3% of its annual river flow, but the percentage going to countries north of the Sahara is high. Although the Congo Basin alone has more than 50% of the total river runoff, Africa would require only 0.5-1% of the stable runoff, or a maximum of 1.06 x 1010 m³/year, to adequately supply its entire population.

The main characteristic of the runoff is its seasonality, which makes harnessing water resources possible only through the use of reservoirs. Most of the reservoirs use capital-intensive means, requiring large amounts of foreign or donor assistance. Moreover, many reservoirs are situated in sparsely populated areas, thus increasing the cost of delivering water to inhabited regions.

Lakes and dams

Lakes and dams regulate the flow of running water. They are also receptacles of sediments and other pollutants. These sediments build up behind the dams and can quickly diminish the storage capacity of reservoirs, interrupt sediment for floodplain fertility, and disrupt the integrity of the delta lands.

The African lakes have a total volume of 30 567 km³, covering a surface area of 165 581 km². Lake Tanganyika alone could supply 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africa through the extraction of only 0.05% of its volume annually. All the lakes in Africa are international, shared by more than two countries, except Lake Tana in Ethiopia.

These lakes contain more aquatic biodiversity than any other lakes in the world. Lake Victoria has more than 300 endemic species; Lake Tanganyika, more than 140; and Lake Malawi, nearly 500 (Master 1990). Pollution, as well as misuse of the water, poses the greatest threat to this aquatic biodiversity.

The continent has 2.4% of the world’s large reservoirs (those more than 15 m high). Half of Africa’s are in South Africa. These multipurpose reservoirs were mainly designed for hydropower generation, although many are used for water supply, irrigation, industry, and domestic purposes.

However, the development of dams and reservoirs is currently fraught with environmental problems, such as high rates of siltation and evaporation, tropical diseases, weeds, and eutrophication. River water generally carries substantial amounts of suspended matter into lakes and reservoirs. Although these particles could be removed by presedimentation, followed by coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation and filtration, dams and reservoirs require huge capital outlays for construction, operation, and maintenance, sometimes far beyond the means of a single state. Moreover, the mineral constituents in lakes vary considerably, and some lakes, such as Turkana in Kenya, have salinities beyond acceptable limits and require demineralization.

Groundwater systems

Groundwater accounts for more than 95% of the Earth’s usable freshwater resources and plays important roles in maintaining soil moisture and streamflow and in sustaining wetlands. Groundwater has several advantages over surface water:

· It has natural protection against evaporation, especially in deep aquifers.
· It does not require storage.
· It can be developed on a small scale for rural and dispersed communities.
· It can be developed at low cost, especially in the case of shallow wells.

However, these benefits are experienced in states that have reliable groundwater recharge. The arid and semi-arid areas of the continent, therefore, are excluded.

Although groundwater is intricately related to surface-water resources through the hydrological cycle, its availability depends on climate, geology, and vegetation cover. Rainfall and geology determine the rate of recharge and are therefore responsible for sustainable supplies. Groundwater, on average, contributes approximately 30% of total runoff, although this proportion varies considerably within different geographical zones. For example, in arid and semi-arid areas, surface runoff is more than 90% of the total runoff.

The main hydrogeological formations (Fig. 2) are sedimentary basins, the crystalline basement-complex rocks, and volcanic formations. The sedimentary basins occur in the arid and semi-arid areas of Africa, the Sahara and the Kalahari. The Sahara basin alone holds more than km³ of water (Burdon 1977) and has high yields and 60 000water of good quality. Because recharge is poor, much of the water is fossilized and not sustainable. The groundwater resources appear to be rather more developed in Algeria, Libya, and Egypt, whereas the potentials of the Congo and Kalahari basins have yet to be explored.

The crystalline basement-complex rocks are less productive, but their importance is great because of their geographical distribution. The aquifers occur within the weathered residual overburden, usually about 15-30 m thick, and along fractures that typically extend downward some 60 m (Wright 1985). The rates of recharge vary considerably, although typical rates are 3-10% of the mean annual precipitation (Chilton and Smith-Carington 1984). The richest aquifers produce 12-15% of the total annual precipitation. However, the boreholes drilled in fractures may have very high yields during the wet seasons but generally dry up during long droughts.

The exploitation of regional aquifers, such as the Nubian sandstones covering Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and Chad, requires regional cooperation for standardizing data and information and for improving knowledge of the aquifer.

Water stress

A country whose renewable freshwater availability on an annual basis exceeds about 1 700 m³/person will suffer only occasional or local water problems. Below this threshold, countries begin to experience periodic or regular stress, a condition in which the annual availability of freshwater is 1 000-1 700 m³/person. When the annual availability of freshwater falls below l 000 m³/person, countries experience chronic water scarcity and the lack of water begins to hamper economic development and human health and well-being. When annual renewable freshwater supplies fall below 500 m³/person, countries experience absolute scarcity.

The annual renewable freshwater available declined from 20 000 m³/person in 1950 to about 10 000 m³/person in 1980. Renewable water, unlike nonrenewable water, is continuously renewed within reasonable time spans by the hydrologic cycle. The amount of renewable water available depends on its natural rate of recharge and the rate at which it is withdrawn for human needs.

There are abundant water resources available within the humid tropics. Figure 3 indicates countries in which water scarcity or stress will be predominant by 2 025. The areas mainly affected - subhumid tropical, arid, and semi-arid countries - are some of the world’s most disadvantaged countries (UNSO 1991).

Uses of water

When water supplies were plentiful and most rivers were unregulated, society considered water a free commodity. However, as demand rises, water uses begin to compete for limited supplies, and effective instruments for making rational decisions regarding water-use allocation become important. As demand rises even further, freshwater supplies become a less freely available commodity, as a result of shortage and degradation. As society places more demand on water resources and the cost of producing and delivering water increases, water becomes an economic commodity in socioeconomic development, just like capital and labour. Consequently, over the longer term, investments in water will compete with investments in other forms of production; allocation will be dependent on market forces; and subsidies will be difficult to justify.

There are many competing uses of water, including those for recreation, hydropower generation, navigation, and fisheries, domestic purposes, municipal and industrial supplies, and irrigation. It must be noted, however, that water as a resource must be culturally defined because water by itself is not productive: its use requires some minimum level of social infrastructure for it to be productive. Indeed, lack of such infrastructure is the main hindrance to water-resource management and effective water use in developing countries.

Municipal and rural domestic water supply

Although the United Nations (UN) International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (1980-90) set out to supply 500 000 people with safe drinking water and sanitation, by 1993 more than half of the African population had neither safe drinking water nor sanitation. The variations from country to country were staggering. For example, in the urban water-supply sector, almost 80% of the urban households in Egypt received piped water, but only 7.2% received this in Burkina Faso. Water supply from public stand posts ranged from 2.3% in Madagascar to 59% in Botswana. Rural water supply was predominantly from community stand posts throughout Africa. The daily level of water-supply services also varied, from 15 L/person in Angola to about 270 L/person in Madagascar; in the rural areas, the average varied from 20 to 40 L/person.

The population of cities in Africa is growing by 6-9% per year, and the demand for increasing amounts of water can no longer be met by sources within the urban areas. Thus, unavailability of water, as well as heavy pollution of water sources in and around cities, has made basin transfers from distant locations inevitable. ln this respect, the cost of producing and delivering a unit of water to urban areas has not only escalated but has also taken water away from other competing users. Although many countries are expanding their urban water systems, rural areas continue to suffer from neglect. The conflict related to reallocating water from rural to urban areas is growing, but no mechanisms for solving such problems presently exist.


Africa’s agricultural potential is vast. Currently, only 24%, or 2.817 x 109 ha, of the arable land is under cultivation. About 68% of Africa’s economically active population is currently engaged in agriculture but contributes only 24% of the gross domestic product (GDP), although regional variations occur (World Resources Institute 1993).

Irrigation takes up 88% of the total water withdrawals but represents only 1.9% of the cultivated land in Africa (UNECA 1989). With the greatest part of African agriculture under rainfed crop farming, food insecurity is largely caused by variability of rainfall. Moreover, about one third of the continent has a mean annual rainfall of less than 700 mm, which is too little to support rainfed crop production.

From 1975 to 1979, Africa produced 83% of her cereal requirements and imported 8 x 106 t. However, it is estimated that by 2 000, the net import will have risen to 49 x 106 t, with only 56% produced locally. Because 53% of all irrigated land is under cereals, the importance of irrigation to obtain food security must not be underestimated.

The current emphasis on irrigation in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, and Somalia is aimed at rehabilitation and expansion of old schemes that have not made a sustained contribution to food security because of improper management. In Egypt, some efforts are being directed toward improving irrigation efficiency. Moreover, African countries involved in the Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel plan to bring nearly 1.0106under irrigation by 1998. The construction of Nanatali Dam on Senegal River will increase Senegal’s irrigable land by 400 000 ha, and Mali’s by 300 000 Egypt and Sudan will irrigate a further 2.0 x 106 ha in the Nile Valley, and 400 000will be irrigated in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.

In the dry areas of Africa, irrigation consumes 100 m³ of water per tonne of biomass produced (Falkenmark 1992). Increasing biomass production will deplete the amount of water available for other uses. Moreover, irrigation water is frequently used for growing rice and maize or for grazing pasture, which, compared with cotton or horticultural crops, have relatively low values, particularly because national food policies tend to subsidize the cultivation of such low-value crops. Only Botswana has considered the cost of irrigation water realistically and has decided that it cannot pursue the policy of self-sufficiency in food security.

Industry and mining

Industries require large amounts of water. The average consumption for industry in Africa is 5% of the water withdrawal, but the actual amount depends on the extent of the manufacturing and the type of industry. Textile and steel mills, canneries, tanneries, and breweries, which are predominant industries in Africa, are some of the heaviest water users. Except in food processing, about 80% of water used by industries is for cooling and cleansing and, therefore, often does not need to be of high quality.

More than 30% of the world’s mineral resources are in Africa. Open-cast methods of mineral extraction are prevalent. The expansion of mining activities in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging region in South Africa, where 60% of industrial production is concentrated, has led to the development of transboundary water resources from rivers emerging from the Lesotho Highlands and the Komati River in Swaziland (Forster 1993). Further expansion of the water supply is planned for Tswasa and the Limpopo.

Sources of stress and stress indicators

Water is important in socioeconomic development. The presence or absence of water stress is, therefore, indicative of whether a nation has adequately or inadequately managed its resources, and failure manifests itself through acute water shortages and rising conflicts among the various water users.

Water problems may be grouped into two broad categories: those caused by contamination and those caused by overexploitation.

Contamination, especially of groundwater, is usually difficult to detect, and monitoring is costly, time consuming, and not always effective. The contamination is usually not detected until noxious substances appear in drinking-water supplies, as in the Bamako water supply in 1993 (Heidenreich 1993), at which point pollution has already dispersed over a large area. Evidence shows that freshwater quality is declining everywhere, with contaminants coming from agricultural, urban, and industrial land uses. The growing contribution of non-point sources of contaminants, such as fertilizers, pesticides, septic systems, street drainage, and air and surface-water pollution, has challenged known cleanup methods developed for large point sources.

Overexploitation of freshwater resources occurs in areas where there is scarcity. People are increasingly moving into areas of marginal productivity. Ideally, sustainable groundwater extraction must not be greater than recharge, if recharge occurs. However, in arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, more than 40% of the total groundwater is fossilized water. When average groundwater withdrawals exceed the average recharge rates for an extended period, aquifers become depleted, and the water table or water pressure begins to drop, which leads to the following:

· Shallow wells dry up.

· Production wells must be drilled to progressively greater depths, requiring more energy for pumping.

· Aquifers in coastal areas can become contaminated by saltwater intrusion.

· Subsurface materials may gradually compact and cause surface subsidence.

Diagnostic surveillance for risk assessment is only vaguely defined in Africa. There are no inventories of the sources and magnitude of pollutants or monitoring of pollutants. Simple technologies are currently used, although such methods require surveillance at the source; other methods include the use of a very narrow range of chemicals for domestic water supplies. Some are useful at the tap or source of distribution. The best surveillance methods to adopt will depend on the size of the basin and the type and extent of the pollution.

Long-term risks resulting from these water problems include

· water shortages, requiring expensive interim measures like developing new water sources or adapting sophisticated treatment measures;

· health hazards, such as exposure to pathogens, carcinogens, and nitrates;

· damaged ecosystems;

· structural damage and coastal flooding, as a result of land subsistence;

· economic and social hardships, especially affecting the rural poor; and

· political conflicts, diverting resources from productive investments.

Population growth

Africa’s population has more than doubled in three decades, from 220.3 million in 1950 to 470 million in 1980. Between 1981 and 1990, 110 million people were provided with safe drinking water, but the population increased by 140 million, thus diminishing progress during the UN International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. Presently, 54% of the continent’s population does not have safe drinking water, and 64% has inadequate sanitation. Moreover, there is evidence to show that 80% of endemic disability is caused by waterborne diseases and that water scarcity and low incomes are related in many parts of Africa.

The effects of high rates of population growth on water-resource management are twofold. On the one hand, the cost of producing and delivering a unit quantity of water will be enormous just to keep the present levels of service, thus removing investment opportunities from other sectors of development. On the other hand, development along traditional lines will become ever more difficult as demand pressure on water grows, leaving less water on a per capita basis. Although there is no one-to-one relationship between population growth and higher water requirements, it is evident that with substantial increase in population, total water requirements for various uses will increase.

Human settlement

Urbanization greatly influences water quantity and quality because of runoff and sewerage. Land-use changes, such as impermeable surfaces replacing permeable ones, increase the volume, velocity, and temperature of urban runoff; reduce the base flow of rivers during dry periods; raise the temperature of urban streams; and concentrate pollutants. Untreated sewage, on the other hand, introduces large quantities of nutrients, pathogens, heavy metals, and synthetic organic chemicals into surface water.

In most African cities, sewage treatment is poor because the plants are old, technical knowledge is limited, operation and maintenance costs have escalated, and water standards are poor or nonexistent. About 95% of urban sewage is discharged into surface water without treatment. With about 2 x 106 t of unguarded and unmanaged solid waste generated every year (WRI 1993), bacteria, parasites, and viruses in water supplies remain a more serious threat than toxic contaminants. The problem of waste management is further aggravated by the development of unplanned slum settlements, some of which house about 50% of the urban population, as is the case in Nairobi.

A major sewage-treatment problem is the lack of separation of various wastes (household, industrial, and hazardous) that would facilitate recycling or reuse. In addition, there are thousands of poorly maintained or simply uncontrolled dumping sites, contributing significantly to contamination of local aquifers, lakes, and rivers. In Maputo, Mozambique, for example, nitrate contamination is far beyond World Health Organization (WHO) standards. The local authorities have neither sufficient funds, transport, and technical expertise nor the water-management infrastructures to deal with such solid waste in urban areas.

Industry and mining

Industry employs about 12% of the active population in Africa and contributes 36% of the GDP. Many African industries involve wet processing of agricultural commodities. Industrial pollutants include dust from smelting and metal processing; heavy-metal solutions used in plating, galvanizing, and pickling; metals and metal compounds used in paints, plastics, batteries, and tanning; and leachate from solid-waste dumps. Heavy metals and synthetic organic chemicals accumulate at higher levels of the food chain, thereby posing a special risk to humans and aquatic systems. Such pollutants increase the risk of cancer and reproductive anomalies in humans, fish, and aquatic mammals.

Although industrial sources of pollution in Africa are negligible compared with those in developed countries, the absence of standards and lack of monitoring make any form of industrial pollution significant. In many countries, highly toxic industrial waste and chemical-liquid wastes are discharged into municipal sewerage systems. Pretreatment of industrial effluent is generally nonexistent or insufficient for industries that use old technologies. Breweries, textile mills, and tanneries are everywhere, and they discharge wastes of relatively high loading, for which the organic removal efficiency decreases rapidly (Otieno and Kilani 1991). Similarly, mining and petroleum extraction pollute freshwater, either through discharge of brine or through leaching from mine tailings into the groundwater, and their impact is likely greater than that of manufacturing or processing.


Agriculture causes water stress both through use of water and through runoff of agricultural inputs. Because of the need to feed more people, forests and grasslands are converted into farmlands, often increasing soil erosion, sedimentation, and the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Frequent ploughing and excessive irrigation also pollute freshwater systems with sediments, salts, and pesticides.

Agriculture is responsible for 24% of the soil degradation in Africa; overgrazing, common among the pastoralists in the arid and semi-arid areas, contributes 49% (Ayoub 1993). Livestock grazing removes vegetation, compacts the soil, and generates large quantities of manure, although high-potential areas with abundant rainfall generally do not suffer much from overgrazing.

Diversion of irrigation water causes deterioration of water quality. Irrigation consumes a large proportion of the total water supply, although the volumes consumed vary slightly from country to country. Egypt, for example, uses 84% of its supply on irrigation for 95% of the country’s agricultural production. However, evaporation accounts for an additional 4% of water use, which generally is not taken into consideration. Such large water diversions create scarcity, distort the market for water, and raise issues of equity. Because the cost of water delivery is shared by all consumers, the consequence is that small consumers subsidize large ones.

In irrigated areas, the return flow and drained water can pollute freshwater by introducing fertilizers and pesticides that cause eutrophication and algal growth. Besides destroying habitats and reducing biological diversity through unfair competition of species, the pathogens transmit diseases to humans. In addition, excessive irrigation contributes to salinity and raises the water table, although the higher water table may be used for recharging groundwater, which in turn may improve or encourage conjunctive water use. In South Africa, the lower portions of major rivers, such as Modder, Rietz, Vaal at Douglas, and Orange, are at various stages of salinization as a result of irrigation and urban development (Herold and Kakebeeke 1991). No irrigation scheme in arid and semi-arid areas can be successful for long unless it has adequate drainage.

Land-use changes


Cutting trees mainly for fuel, building materials, and farmland and urban extensions is responsible for about 14% of soil degradation in Africa (Ayoub 1993). In West Africa, forests are disappearing at a rate of 2.1% per year, and in Central Africa, deforestation occurs at a rate of 0.6% per year, mainly as a result of the need to clear land for grazing. This deforestation leads to stream-bank erosion, stream sedimentation, and loss of habitat for a wide variety of organisms. In East Africa, increased sunlight, combined with nutrient enrichment in streams, is promoting growth of the filamentous algae favoured by schistosomiasis-carrying snails and of weeds that are threatening freshwater lakes. Deforestation also changes the hydrological cycle, especially the rate of rainfall infiltration and evaporation, soil moisture, and temperature conditions, although the magnitude of each of these changes depends on the nature of the new land use. Deforestation, therefore, has the potential to contribute to climate change.

Property rights

Ambiguous or nonexistent property rights constitute one of the main causes of land degradation in Africa. The semi-arid and arid areas are inhabited by pastoral groups that, over the years, have been grossly marginalized. The phenomenon is widespread and requires immediate attention so that desertification can be arrested and the impact of drought mitigated. Research should be focused on integrating land-water relationships, analyzing human impact on the hydrological cycle, and improving the efficiency of water uses.

Land-use planning

Land-use planning cannot be separated from the issues of water supply and the health of freshwater systems. Six phenomena provide the linkages between land and water:

· rainwater partitioning in the hydrological cycle;

· water’s mobility and capacity as a solvent (which, on the one hand, guarantees the effective transport of substances needed for life and stimulates both biotic and abiotic diversity and, on the other hand, spreads pollution and causes the deterioration of water quality);

· societal use (which always results in the return of water used for industry, agriculture, and households to natural systems, carrying with it a load of pollutants);

· water’s erosive capacity;

· soil fertility; and

· pore water in soil (which links soil drainage and groundwater decrease with the soil cover and land surface).

Currently, these links between water resources and socioeconomic development are at best vaguely understood. In most cases, water development, rather than management, is emphasized; environmental degradation is not integrated into water-resource planning; integrated riverbasin organizations are weak and highly politicized; and gaps between water users and water ministries are wide.

Drought and desertification

Drought, more than any other single factor, has caused food insecurity and water shortage. Major droughts occurred in the 19th century; the most dramatic one, in the 1980s, affected 20 countries and some 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. In Gambia, for example, drought reduced recharge of the groundwater, necessitating further deepening of wells. These wells then collapsed, aggravating the competition for water. Subsequent overuse of wells caused salt-water intrusion in those boreholes that survived the drought period.

Although research continues to decipher the climatic trend, people in high-risk areas must evolve a drought and disaster management strategy, establishing early-warning systems, strengthening institutions, and removing obstacles to the free movement of food. Early-warning systems have already been established in 30 countries, mainly along the Sudano-Sahelian zone and in East and Central Africa, with the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and of other bilateral aid agencies.


Natural occurrences (such as drought, desertification, and climate change) and human activities (such as agriculture, population growth, industrial development, and land-use changes) are causing untold pressure on freshwater resources. These pressures have caused both environmental deterioration (including pollution of freshwater systems) and overexploitation or deterioration of important water catchments, resulting in lowered groundwater levels. The magnitude and major cause of stress vary from one region to another. In North Africa, where the levels of irrigation and industrialization are high, water shortages appear to result from scarcity and overuse. In the Sahelian region and East and Central Africa, water scarcity appears to be due to drought. In southern Africa, water shortage is due to drought and overuse. Because many countries in northern and southern Africa have mineral resources and are fairly industrialized, their approaches to tackling water shortage will be different from those of the rest of the continent.

Water stress has several repercussions. Socially, human health is at risk, and water-related conflicts are imminent. Economically, the cost of producing and delivery of a unit quantity of water has escalated, thus diverting investments from other productive areas. Environmentally, sustainability of the ecological systems is threatened by overexploitation or pollution.

Some water-related problems are local, but others are regional. Most of the water systems in Africa that are able to endure marked seasonality in climate are international, whereas local water sources that are generally prone to drought are local. Because nearly two thirds of the continent is arid to semi-arid, poverty and insufficient agricultural production put pressure on freshwater management almost across the continent.

Each type of risk requires different assessment methods and solutions. A large proportion of Africa’s population is affected by domestic-water shortages. Although the source of drinking water is not always the same as that of industrial or irrigation water, there is a growing tendency to divert water from domestic use to industry or agriculture.

Responses to stress

International responses

Research and training

International organizations have played a major part in catalyzing development in the water-resource sector, creating awareness and focusing sharply on the problems and challenges in that sector by contributing funds; providing technical assistance and training; and facilitating research, networking, and information dissemination.

Enhanced awareness of the problems, challenges, and opportunities in the sector in Africa has been accomplished to some extent through international conferences, from which workshop proceedings, protocols, and binding statements have been produced. From these outputs, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and other UN agencies have assisted countries with follow-up. The Lagos Plan of Action provides one example of increased emphasis on water-sector issues.

Current freshwater research focuses on two key issues:

· the need to integrate population growth with sustainable water use (high rates of population growth are diminishing the impact of any successes that have been achieved); and

· the need to integrate land use with freshwater systems, thus liberating the water sector from structures that inhibit participation by resource users and the private sector.

Further elaboration of the catchment approach to water-resource planning is needed.

Current irrigation research focuses on system performance, water management, irrigation organization, institutional change and policies, farmers and the farming community, and the environment. The World Bank, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, have funded the establishment of the International Program for Technology Research on Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID). The mandate of IPTRID is to coordinate and focus research activities on the efficiency of water use in irrigation, the modernization of irrigation and drainage systems, and the improvement of maintenance technology. Also needed is research in biotechnology to isolate high-yielding crop varieties that consume less water.

National responses

Reallocation of water from irrigation to industry

Because irrigation consumes more than 80% of all the water, there may be an argument to be made for the reallocation of water to urban households and industry. However, government commitment to food security or, in some cases, lobbying by certain interest groups may make reallocation difficult. In general, African urban water supplies are better developed than rural ones, partly because urban areas are able to raise funds and reduce marginal costs. Urban areas also have adequate institutional structures, through local authorities.

One way to make the reallocation of water workable is to set the tariffs paid by agricultural users high enough to force them to conserve.

Population policy

Population mobility and rural-urban dynamics are affected by national policies on rural development, land tenure, and equitable sharing of resources. Rural development is important because more than 80% of Africa’s population lives in rural areas that are poor and lack infrastructure and employment opportunities. The issue of land tenure is problematic in much of sub-Saharan Africa. The poorest, marginalized farmers have often been forced to sell fields to bolster their incomes and have subsequently had no choice but to overfarm their remaining land, thereby contributing to ecological degradation. Newly landless farmers, on the other hand, migrate to the urban centres and swell the ranks of the unemployed there. Security of tenure is fundamental to achieving rational use of water in the wider context.

There is a need for a national population policy that takes into account available freshwater resources and the rate at which such resources may be developed. In addition, priorities must be defined to target specific populations for increased water activity. At present, it seems expedient to target poor rural people, small-scale entrepreneurs, and minorities.

Methods to improve efficiency and reduce water losses

Different methods have been adopted to improve efficiency. For example, in Conakry, Guinea, 50% of the water pumped in 1988 was unaccounted for, and only 10% of the bills were collected. Today, only 25% of the water is lost, and 85% of bills are paid. In LomTogo, only 20% of the water is now unaccounted for, almost all bills are collected, and water subsidies are not required. This efficient management is attributed primarily to the commitment and job satisfaction of the employees. Although water management in Conakry is undertaken by a private company, whereas that in Loms undertaken by a public utility, in both cases there is suitable environment for efficiency, as the companies have streamlined their operations.

Water systems have tended to operate more efficiently if the responsibility for daily operations and that for capital investments are kept separate. Such is the case in Guinea, where 51% of the company is privately owned and the remaining 49% of the stock is held by a parastatal, which supervises investments. By keeping the two functions separate, there is less likelihood of corruption. The parastatal is autonomous and, therefore, does not depend on subsidies. However, there is no guarantee that these measures will always bring the benefit of efficient management.

Water-resource planning

Planning requires adequate information for understanding both the hydrologic systems on which water-resource management is built and the nature of the interactions between the natural and the socioeconomic systems. Collection of data on the quantity and quality of water resources, on the demands and supply, and on conservation measures is essential for proper management. African countries were drawn into hydrological networks in the 1960s and 1970s, through international cooperation, and the information gathered improved the rational use of water resources. However, current challenges associated with the dynamics of socioeconomic development, including budget deficits, reduced government spending, inflation, and increased price for raw materials, have caused deterioration of these hydrometeorlogical networks. Programs for monitoring sediment discharge, pollution control, and water usage have become inadequate or are in disuse. Currently, only 20 African countries have some kind of integrated environmental-management plan. In many cases, such plans are used as shopping lists for donor investments, and there is little actual implementation.

Community responses

Involvement of consumers

Participatory approaches to water-resource management require consumers to play a part in the decision-making process. Consumers who know the status of the resource and are informed about the limitations of their actions will make rational decisions. Emphasis on natural-resource management is thus being devolved to local communities and authorities. The process is slow, but it is expected to become more popular.

Water-management issues

Water policy

African nations are aware that water scarcity is a problem. Most countries have a ministry of water affairs and a parastatal dealing with commercial water supply. In addition, there are usually several institutions dealing with water supply and related issues, such as waste management and health. However, the mandates of these diverse institutions tend to be fragmented and unclear, and linkages among them are weak. Only Morocco has a central water board with a mandate to formulate policy.

A national water policy can chart a clear direction and provide the necessary linkages between the water sector and critical areas of the economy, including health, agriculture, sanitation, and rural development. This would eliminate conflicting priorities that otherwise may exert unnecessary pressure on the resource.

There are several levels at which a national water policy can be enacted. At the highest level is the overall water policy, such as exists, for example, in Botswana and Morocco. The necessary instruments to support the policy are those that define water use; institutional responsibilities and coordination; issuance of permits for water abstraction and use; treatment of effluent and its safe discharge; groundwater exploration; water abstraction and use; tariffs; population and water use; water and health; the role of women and popular participation; wetland and aquatic ecosystems; international water courses and regional cooperation; and training and registration of water scientists.

In general, national water policies are almost nonexistent in Africa, but where they do exist, they are weak, poorly stated, or unimplemented. In other cases, personnel may be unmotivated and poorly trained.


All African countries have laws that require permits or licences for abstracting water from either surface or groundwater sources and for discharging waste or effluent into a water body. However, these laws are often inadequate for the following reasons:

· Legislation governing rational use and management of water resources is scattered in various enactments, and responsibilities for implementation and monitoring are also scattered in various government departments.

· Complementing institutions are poorly organized and have no resources for monitoring, policing, and punishment of offenders; field and laboratory equipment and logistical support are lacking; and human resources are unmotivated.

· Rules and regulations have not been elaborated to provide a firm basis for applying the laws.

· Appropriate quality standards have not been set for effluent discharges.

· Penalties for offenders are lenient and constitute an inadequate deterrent.

Botswana is one country that revised its entire water law in 1990. Its experience suggests that satisfactory legislation depends on the prior definition of a water policy, and the success or failure of the legislation must be measured by the extent to which it succeeds in helping to fulfill the objectives of the water policy. A framework of integrated land and water management is needed to ensure harmonious allocation and development of water and land resources, both for increased supply and for agriculture, forestry, recreation, and urban and industrial development. In turn, integrated land and water planning based on an agreed water policy with a sustained long-term strategy should be integrated with overall socioeconomic planning, taking into account population growth and national needs and aspirations. Such policies and legislation require public consensus and political commitment.

Development of human resources

Training institutions in Africa and elsewhere have produced many water scientists and administrators, but the shortage of skilled human resources remains serious. Many trained Africans seek better opportunities elsewhere. A 1988 UN report indicated that there were about 70 000 African professionals working outside the continent; at the same time, about 80 000 expatriates worked in Africa.

Most countries have gone through educational reforms since independence. To meet human-resource needs of the new nation-states, educational institutions were expanded in scope and coverage. In addition, there has been constant exchange of technical training and expertise, not only among African countries but also between these and developed countries. However, since the early 1980s, the level of spending on education has been going down in many countries.

Human-resource-development policies need to be strengthened to ensure more effective use of trained personnel and improved employment conditions. Many countries in the region are reforming their civil service to prune the workforce and reward productive workers. However, the results of these reforms will take time.

Demand management

Demand management encompasses mechanisms by which water is allocated efficiently to different user groups. This requires that the rules and regulations governing allocations be known. Cost recovery and tariff policies should take into account expenditure investment, operation and maintenance, system expansion and replacement, and return on investment. In countries where the state dominates the water sector, policies must also take into account potentially adverse effects on the poor and disadvantaged sectors of the population.

This concept is particularly relevant in societies with scarce water resources, where choices about allocation may preclude opportunities for some people. This concept may also be used to increase awareness of the need to harness scarce and vulnerable water resources. It provides a means of attaching value to water and estimating how alternatives may facilitate or hamper the achievement of desired objectives.

Price mechanisms

Although water has traditionally been considered a common good, shortages have occurred and the cost of getting water from alternative sources has increased, so its value has gone up. At the same time, there has been reduced investment in water infrastructure in developing countries. However, external funding for water projects has increased or remained constant over the past decades, thereby giving a false value to water as a resource. Disbursements from the UN increased from 31 million United States dollars (USD) in 1973 to 184 million USD in 1985, representing an annual growth of 16.9%. The highest rate of growth was in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, where 50% of disbursements went to drinking-water supply and sanitation and 24% went to irrigation. Loans and credits for water projects from the World Bank-International Development Agency and the International Fund for Agricultural Development increased from 504 million USD in 1976 to 1 748 million USD in 1985. Of the total disbursements of almost 11 billion USD over the period 1976-85, 54.6% went to agriculture; 28.7%, to drinking-water supply and sanitation; 15.4%, to hydropower; and 1.3%, to navigation. Loans for irrigation were mainly made to the countries north of the Sahara with proven irrigation cultures, whereas loan disbursements for water supply were mainly for urban water, thereby explaining the disparity in service between urban and rural areas.

In the early 1980s, an analysis of the tariff policies of 31 African countries showed that 28 had one-tariff policies for urban and rural areas. For the urban areas, 18% of the countries had policies aimed at full-cost recovery; 75% had tariffs partially covering cost; and 7% did not impose any tariff at all. Absence of cost-recovery measures meant that 82% of the countries’ urban water systems relied on the central government to subsidize their operation and maintenance costs. For the rural areas, all countries charged some tariff, but 46% charged tariffs that covered only part of the operation and maintenance costs. The implications were as follows:

· Almost all rural water systems depended on central-government revenue to meet their operation and maintenance costs.

· Even where such subsidies existed, they were inadequate, and there was a need for upward revision to cover mounting costs of producing and delivering water.

· It was not clearly defined what costs the tariffs covered-investments, operation and maintenance, system expansion, plant renewals, or various combinations of these.

· The subsidies were established without targeting the disadvantaged segments of society.

There are many opposing views about pricing water. Politicians often argue that water must be cheap to ensure that the poor have access to it. Frequently, the poor do not benefit from low tariffs, partly because they lack water connections and they usually buy water from vendors at prices 10 times more per litre than those paid by people with household connections. High-income groups tend to benefit from low tariffs. Moreover, when water charges are low, people tend to use it carelessly. The poorest segment of the population consumes 15-20 L/person per day, compared with the 50-125 L/person per day consumed by the wealthier people with direct connections to water systems. Under these conditions, the poor inadvertently subsidize the wealthy because funds needed to cover water-company deficits are shifted from other social programs, such as education and health, which might otherwise benefit the poor.

The cost of production and delivery of a unit quantity of water includes initial investment, operation, and maintenance costs. The price of water or tariff charged to consumers should include costs plus interest on capital, depreciation, expansion, and return on assets. Using this framework, one can cost each new system that is built and then establish appropriate tariffs. Alternatively, costs incurred in setting up new systems can be added to costs of existing ones, for a method of average costing and pricing. Either method has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the political situation, rural-urban balance, and the established institutions that provide water and sanitation services.

However, the costing and pricing of water do not take into account the willingness to pay. The willingness to pay depends on the beneficiaries’ perception but does not necessarily go with the ability to pay, which depends on income. The World Bank estimates that the cost of water should not exceed 5-6% of the incomes of the poorest households. This puts a ceiling on whom may be charged a particular tariff. Recently, as a result of inflation and depreciation of local currencies, the cost of production and delivery of water has increased considerably, thus aggravating the problem of cost recovery.

The problem of cost recovery in water supply must be approached from an integrated planning framework that combines three considerations:

· the need to supply basic needs at affordable costs, sufficient for the maintenance of public health and appropriate social dignity;

· the need to recognize the market imperfections resulting from the behaviour of consumers who are either insulated from price mechanisms or not provided with public education on the cost implications of certain water-use habits; and

· savings that can be achieved from improved water control in the reticulation system (accepting some reduction in reliability of supply at times of water shortage).

· However, there are no data to quantify price elasticities of water demand.

Options for improving water supply

Several attempts have been made to respond to increasing demand for water. In the past, the tendency has been to increase supply in line with demand. However, caution has to be exercised to limit the amount of water being extracted. The repercussions of responding to demand elasticity, or continuing to provide water in proportion to population growth and other factors without restraint, could have irreversible effects. Whatever limited success could be achieved in arresting apparent problems would also cause severe economic and environmental damage.

Reduction of environmental effects

The notion that prevention is better than cure is generally considered the least expensive and most advisable approach to maintaining water quality. Traditional end-of-pipe waste-management strategies, based on cleaning up water sources and fining offenders, can be combined with tighter government regulations and economic incentives. Two options open to polluters include reducing the volume and toxicity of wastes by recycling; and redesigning processes and products. Institutions that undertake waste-reduction programs often save money by using materials and energy more efficiently or by reducing the costs of conventional pollution control and waste disposal. Transnational companies that operate in Africa can often obtain appropriate technologies for waste reduction from their headquarters in the industrialized countries. However, lack of appropriate legal and economic instruments have hindered progress in this area.

Clear policy instruments are also needed to control runoff pollution. Soil-conserving agricultural and forestry practices, road management, land-surface roughening, and redesigned streets in urban centres are some land-management techniques that can reduce pollution in runoff areas. Improved agricultural management can considerably reduce runoff containing pesticides, fertilizers, and sediments. Other harmful forms of runoff can come from livestock farms and logging areas. Enhanced management activities might include the creation of buffer zones along the riverbanks, dams, and lakes, the use of pretreatment ponds, and the introduction of the biological control of pests. These could reduce the agrochemicals discharged into the water systems.

Various economic incentives or disincentives can also be aimed at waste reduction. These include increasing the taxes on pesticides and fertilizers, increasing the fees for irrigation water, and removing the production subsidies. Production-tax rebates to encourage clean technologies and waste processing, subsidies to encourage environmentally friendly activities, and user charges for municipal-waste collection to encourage waste separation and recycling are some of the many economic incentives that countries may adopt. Unfortunately, poor communication among scientists, planners, and politicians is responsible for the lack of understanding of the potential benefits of such economic instruments.

Pollution-permit trading has been introduced in the United States as a means of reducing pollution. Under this system, the government issues a fixed number of pollution permits, which are then bought and sold at market prices by firms. This can be feasibly applied to tanneries, abattoirs, canneries, and textile mills, some of which are the substantial polluters. However, fixed levels of permissible pollution must first be established by governments. In many countries, such pollution standards are nonexistent, monitoring mechanisms are very poor, and pollution regulations are impossible to enforce.

The goal of all these pollution-reduction activities is to improve the quality of decision-making in integrated water-resource management. It will be possible to take full advantage of the water-reuse option only when it is economically, socially, and politically feasible.

Use of marginal water and reuse of wastewater

Even when the most economical state-of-the-art methods are used for cleaning wastewater, only 80-95% of harmful materials are removed. This still leaves 5-20% of the stable pollutants in the water. However, different uses or reuses may be made of low-quality water. Simple technologies exist to reclaim wastewater for reuse. For example, treating sewage in wetland and fish ponds offers tremendous potential for constructive wetland use. The only requirements in addition to those of traditional wastewater treatment are land and alternative uses for reclaimed water. In Algeria and Tunisia, drainage water from irrigated fields is already being recovered and reused in irrigation systems, and in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco, UNDP has pilot projects to study the technical, economic, and social feasibility of using treated wastewater.

Within Africa’s growing cities, great quantities of water will be used and discharged into the environment. Greater Cairo generated 0.9 x 109 m³ of wastewater in 1990, for example; this is expected to increase to 1.93 x 109 m³ by 2010. Similarly, Morocco and Tunisia will discharge 555 x 106 and 227 x 106 m³ of wastewater, respectively, by 2000, and all the urban centres in Botswana combined will produce 66.4 x 106 m³ of wastewater by 2020 (CEP 1993).

The level of wastewater recycling in Africa is very low: Zimbabwe and Namibia, for example, recycle only 10-25% of their effluent (CEP 1993). However, wastewater is starting to be used for irrigation and aquaculture. In Tunisia, about 3000 ha has been irrigated, under controlled conditions, with secondary-treatment wastewater effluent; this uses about 7 x 106 m³ of treated effluent per year. Tunisia’s stated policy (like Botswana’s) is to achieve 100% reuse, and its ultimate goal for 2010 is to irrigate 30 000 ha with treated wastewater. Wastewater is also used to irrigate the greenbelt around Khartoum, Sudan, and 1 000 ha of Egyptian farmland.

UNDP is supporting research on wastewater reuse to develop treatment strategies that improve the cost effectiveness of reuse and provide systematic quantitative evaluation of the costs of water supply, treatment, and disposal.

Wastewater reuse, especially around major cities, has three advantages:

· creation of a new water resource at the local level that could be used without significant negative impact on the environment;

· decrease in the cost of treatment and disposal of wastewater; and

· generation of additional revenue through the sale of treated wastewater and sludge to farmers to cover the cost of treatment and disposal.

Morocco and Tunisia, for example, charge farmers fees for using reclaimed wastewater (Khouri 1989).

Desalinization of seawater

Desalinization of seawater, a capital- and energy-intensive source of freshwater, is growing in importance in oil-rich countries. The number of desalinization plants worldwide increased throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Production capacity since 1970 has increased roughly 13-fold, from 13.3 x 106 m³/d to 18.7106179;/d (WRI 1992-93). The distilling process and the reverse-osmosis method are used. Desalinization is still three to four times more expensive than conventional methods of obtaining freshwater. Some of the plants are also being used for treating effluent water or river water to obtain water for boilers. Both groundwater polluted by nitrates and pesticides and municipal water are treated to make ultrapure water for the electronics industry. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco have desalinization plants.

Regional cooperation

Effective water management requires a broad plan for an entire riverbasin. Most river basins in Africa are shared by two or more countries. Cooperation in water-resource management needs to be pursued at two levels: (1) through comprehensive management of domestic supply and demand; and (2) through comprehensive regional planning and arrangements to import water from surplus countries to deficit countries. Competition and conflicts in water use generally emerge when there is lack of cooperation, leading to international tension. International law on shared freshwater resources is limited to ensuring that the activities of upstream nations do not conflict with those of downstream nations. The role of the Organization of African Unity in arbitrating water disputes is not clear. As a result, many downstream countries pursue their rights through diplomacy.

Regional treaties and protocols concerning water resources have been negotiated. There are 54 transboundary river-lake basins. Among these basins, only a handful-Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Chad, and Kagera-are overseen by some form of intergovernmental organization charged with the exclusive task of planning for integrated development of natural resources, energy, and other water-related infrastructures. But these organizations have suffered breakdowns from, for example, failure to apply the concept of multipurpose planning, lack of funding, institutional weakness, and poor governance.

Among the nine countries in the basin of the world’s longest river, the Nile, there are no agreements, nor is there any forum for negotiations on how its water should be shared. In the meantime, Ethiopia plans to divert 4 x 106 m³ of water from the Nile every year for irrigation schemes, with serious consequences expected for Egypt and Sudan. Similarly, Zimbabwe plans to divert water from the Zambezi River, which it shares with Zambia, Angola, Botswana, and Mozambique, without any consultation. It is possible that a joint management plan, the Zambezi Action Convention, drawn up by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), will reduce the risk of conflict.

The risks of new tensions and conflicts, especially in North Africa, are clear, and the need for cooperation and agreement on the use of water resources has never been greater. The strategy, therefore, must be to recognize the role of cooperation in harmonizing nations’ social- and economic-development strategies and instilling a sense of security among the member states. In the meantime, existing organizations must be strengthened, and new ones must be formed. Capacity-building and institutional arrangements are needed in these organizations to strengthen the planning units and improve policy and legal frameworks.

Community organizations and water supply

Although it is now accepted that community participation is essential for the success of any project, the water sector is still fraught with a heavy top-down approach. A central unit is essential for coordination of water policies, formulation of rules and regulations, and overall national planning, but this sometimes negatively affects the management of water resources at the grass-roots level. Ideally, implementation of projects, operation and maintenance of water activities, and management of water resources should be passed on to local communities.

Many African countries have completed or are on the verge of completing national water master plans, which will, through continuous updating, contain an inventory of existing water resources and their quality and quantity, including water supply, environmental problems, and rehabilitation needs. In addition, these countries have either national environmental action plans, national conservation strategies, or both to guide any analysis of water-related environmental issues. However, there are important barriers to community resource management.

The first of these barriers is the difficulty of devolving sufficient responsibilities for water management to local authorities and community institutions. Although a central policy-making body is required, water is extracted and used locally, so it is at the local level, primarily, where safeguards must be introduced. Decentralization, such as that undertaken in Botswana, needs to be planned on the basis of a complete drainage basin. One problem with a catchment approach is that the boundaries of the catchments and of the local authorities may not coincide. In many cases, various authorities will have to work together.

Another barrier to community resource management is the need to build the capacity of local authorities and local institutions to manage the resource. Trainees need “tool boxes” that describe visions and aims and explain how to set about planning and optimizing various parts of the development process. Regional and local decision-makers and officials also will need to be sensitized so that, with knowledge and vision, they will be inspired to act.

As physical planning and, to some extent, economic planning are being done at the regional-local level in many African countries, water-resource planning should also be carried out at that level. However, the local authorities may not have financial and jurisdictional powers over other sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, and mining; thus, the coordination of socioeconomic development required to maximize benefits from water-resource development is impaired. In addition, local authorities are known to lack financial resources to develop management issues fully. These barriers may be removed by clear water policies supported by encompassing laws.

To promote community participation, techniques that promote rational water use and management must be disseminated, and experience-sharing must be stimulated. Furthermore, research initiatives must seek to address the problems encountered by those who are affected and most concerned. The legal systems of most African countries need to recognize the various rural organizations and institutions that are ready to address local water needs and problems.

Water users’ associations are new to Africa. However, with the liberalization of political and economic structures, resource-user associations are beginning to emerge, with the aim of managing their own local natural resources. The best examples of such user associations are the community wildlife-management groups in Zimbabwe and Kenya. In Kenya, the Lake Naivasha Riparian Owners’ Association has been deliberating on land and water disputes since 1939. Presently, the association is involved in a three-phase study that will culminate in the formulation of an environmental-management plan.

Collaboration among communities, grass-roots institutions, and nongovernmental organizations is essential for improving the management of freshwater resources. Such collaboration also accelerates the sharing of experiences, knowledge, new ideas, and information between sector planners and practitioners.

Summary and recommendations

The availability of water resources in Africa is characterized by a striking paradox. On one hand, Africa contains many of the world’s largest rivers and freshwater lakes, evoking a picture of an abundance of water resources. On the other hand, the Sahara and Kalahari deserts are surrounded by large tracts of marginal lands with rainfall of less than 700 mm/year. The overall water scarcity is, therefore, due to low runoff, high evaporation rates, and threats associated with nature (drought and salinity) and humans (overuse and pollution). The threats from human activities are most important because they can be controlled by improving water-management strategies. The impact of the environmental factors may be reduced by deliberate reorganization of socioeconomic policies.

Population stabilization

The rate of population growth in sub-Saharan Africa is very high, and, as a result, increased demand for water obliterates any gains that may have been achieved through increased focus and funding. Suggested methods for augmenting supply and managing demand will have little effect unless the rate of population growth is reduced considerably, for which the following are recommendations:

1.vernments need to mobilize both domestic and foreign resources to prepare for the inevitable increases in population that will further strain their freshwater systems. It is imperative that water conservation be combined with population strategies.

2.nditions and strategies to help stabilize population growth and to achieve a sustainable balance between socioeconomic needs and available water resources should be instituted and encouraged. These include improved opportunities for women and better family-planning services.


Institutions and policies related to water-resource planning, development, and management are weak or absent in many sub-Saharan countries. In the past two decades, the problem of pollution from domestic, industrial, and agricultural sources has been growing. Industrial pollution is especially significant because of the absence of standards or a monitoring system. Several countries have problems with water loads contaminated by bacteria, organic matter, suspended solids, and nitrate pollutants. Expanding agriculture and associated increases in fertilizer and pesticide use are also a growing threat. Although many shallow groundwater resources appear to be contaminated by pathogenic agents, largely from fecal matter, there is no systematic water-quality monitoring system to regulate the problem. The negative impact of such uncontrolled contamination on the health of people is becoming more prevalent and visible, a problem for which the following are recommendations:

1.ter institutions must be strengthened and their mandates must be reviewed so that water-resource planning and development can be steered in an integrated manner.

2. integrated and multisectoral approach to water-resource management needs to be established.

Capacity-building and technical assistance

Human-resource development is a major constraint to proper planning, development, and management of water resources. The following are recommendations to improve human-resource development:

1.ucation and training programs on pollution control and hazardous-waste disposal need to be established, and existing ones need to be strengthened.

2.untries should be given support to improve their capacity to identify and quantify problems and their causes and to find solutions, as well as to gather information and identify strategies for surveillance, equipment, and human-resource development.

3.mmunity-based management institutions, such as water users’ associations, should be given support to manage freshwater resources.

Water policy and legislation

The following are recommendations to improve water policy and legislation:

1.tional water-resource committees or commissions should be established to set policy and priorities. country should establish a comprehensive national water policy.

3.iorities in water policy, such as community water supply, health assurance and sound environment, cost recovery, and use of wastewater, must all be covered by law, to give them sufficient weight. Water law, where it exists, should be updated to deal with current management issues.

Water-resource planning and management

Water-resource assessment and monitoring are inadequate in many countries, and water standards are absent. Many countries have not used the data from IDWSSD and other projects in drought-stricken areas of Africa. In addition, excessive pumping of aquifers has led to negative economic and environmental repercussions, and some of the damage is permanent. An added constraint on availability of water also results from natural causes, such as high temperatures, high rates of evaporation, and decreased rainfall. The following are recommendations to improve water-resource planning and management:

1.cause each water source has a dynamic personality, general rules on water-source management are impractical. The responsibility for planning and managing water resources should, therefore, be decentralized and left to the communities and their institutions.

2.feguards on freshwater management must be introduced at the local level.

International cooperation

The following are recommendations for facilitating international cooperation:

1.ternational organizations, in cooperation with UNEP and WHO, must establish water-quality standards, provide workable guidelines, and promote water-source protection at all levels. methodologies and stress indicators need to be developed.

3.ternational cooperation and institutional capacities to monitor and control transboundary movements of hazardous wastes must be promoted and strengthened.

Demand management

The following is a recommendation for improving demand management:

1.mand management, through water pricing, cost recovery, privatization, and community management, should be introduced.

Water-use efficiency and conservation

The following are recommendations to improve water-use efficiency and water conservation:

1.rategies for improved efficiency and water conservation must be instituted.

2.andards for water recycling and the use of water of marginal quality need to be established.

3.dalities for reallocation of water rights must be developed.

4.ternal and internal sources of funding need to be mobilized, and appropriate use of water-generated public funds need to be ensured, with emphasis on transparency and accountability.


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Strain, Water Demand, and Supply Directions in the most Stressed Water Systems of Eastern Africa

Maurice M. Ndege

Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya


This paper examines sources of strain and water demand and supply directions in the most stressed systems of eastern Africa. According to hydrologists, an annual renewable freshwater availability per person of less than 1 000 m³ constitutes water scarcity. This paper defines stressed system as a system where quantity and quality have been jeopardized because of overuse or exploitation.

The countries covered in this paper are Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Some attention will also focus on Somalia, Rwanda, and Burundi. Eastern Africa receives most rains from the monsoon system. The climate is equatorial, with great variation in the distribution of rains from the Indian Ocean front toward Central Africa and from the north to the south, as a result of different altitudes and latitudes.

Stressed water systems

The number of freshwater systems vary from one country to another in the region. In Burundi, fresh surface water is abundant, and springs are numerous. There are four hydrological regions: the Imbo Plains, the Zaire-Nile watershed, the high plateaus, and the Mosso Plains. The Imbo Plains include the hydrographic basin of the group of direct tributaries of Lake Tanganyika, including the Mushara, Rwaba, Murembwe, Dama, Ruzibazi, Mugere, Mutimbazi, and Ntahangwe rivers; and the Ruzizi Basin, which has 22 rivers, the main ones being the Luhwa, Myakagunda, Kaburantwa, Kagunuzi, and Mpanda.

All the rivers of Lake Tanganyika and the Ruvubu Basin rise in the Zaire-Nile watershed. The main watercourses of the high plateaus are the Ruvubu, Kanyaru, and Kagera. The Ruvyiranza is the southernmost course of the Nile. The Malagarazi flows into Lake Tanganyika after a long detour through Tanzania. In addition to Lake Tanzania, there are five smaller lakes: Cohoha, Rwera, Kanzigiri, Rwihinda, and Gacamirinda.

Ethiopia is well endowed with water resources. It has a number of Africa’s major rivers and extensive drainage networks, which cover much of the highlands and considerable portions of the lowlands. There are 14 river basins, from which a total of 105.1109179;/year flows out of the country into transboundary water: 78.7109179; to Sudan (77.5%), 16.1109179; to Kenya (15.9%), 6.5109179; to Somalia (6.2%), and the remaining 0.2109179; to the Red Sea. Most of the lakes are in the southern region.

The availability and suitability of the groundwater in the hard-rock formations vary greatly from one location to another, depending on the possibility of recharge, the density of the fractures, the permeability of the rock, the presence of internal obstacles to the movement of groundwater, the concentration and nature of the chemicals in the water, the depth of the aquifers’ water table, and the physiography and difficulties encountered in drilling. The great depths and small yields of the boreholes are a hindrance to their wider use, other than for domestic purposes. Rational planning and exploitation of the resources are still limited because of inadequate reliable data and information about hydrogeological characteristics of various lithologic systems.

Kenya has five drainage basins: Lake Victoria, Rift Valley, Athi River, Tana River, and Ewaso Ng’iro. The country receives an average of 289.5109179; of rainwater annually, based on an estimated national annual mean precipitation of 510 mm. Most of this water escapes through evapotranspiration, and some infiltrates the ground. The rest is drained by rivers and streams into lakes and the Indian Ocean. Most streams are concentrated in the central highlands and western Kenya; in the rest of the country, dry valleys or seasonal rivers are common. Like Ethiopia, Kenya has an uneven distribution of water resources, which is well recorded. The Tana and Athi are the only two large rivers that transverse the dry areas in a southeastern direction, discharging into the Indian Ocean.

Groundwater resources are also unevenly distributed in quantity and quality. The drier areas have poor-quality water, with low borehole yields (less than 80 L/min), whereas the high-rainfall areas have many freshwater aquifers with high yields (about 117 L/min). In some areas, groundwater is not readily available; in others, potential aquifers lie at considerable depths and could be reached only through expensive drilling operations. In still other areas, available water is unsuitable for human consumption because of high salinity and high fluoride and other mineral-salt concentrations.

Rwanda has an abundance of surface water and springs. The main watercourses are the Kagera River and its tributary, the Nyabarongo. These are part of the upper Nile Basin and cover 40450 and 14600 km, respectively, with corresponding flows of 295 and 60-240 m³/s.

Somalia, with the longest coastline in Africa, has two large rivers, which rise in Ethiopia: the Juba and the Shebeli. The Juba River crosses the country for more than 875 km; at Bardera the annual flow is 100-120 m³/s, with a maximum of 1100 m³/s. The Shebeli is 750 km long and has a mean flow of 65 m³/s at Beled Wyne, near the Ethiopian frontier, and 500 m³/s at Afgoi-Andegle.

In Tanzania, the mean rainfall over most of the country varies from 250 to 1 000 mm. Higher rainfalls of 1 000-3 000 mm are recorded in northeastern Lake Victoria basin and in the southern highlands. Hydrologically, Tanzania is divided into five major drainage basins: the Indian Ocean basin, the internal drainage into Lake Eyasi, the Lake Natron-Buba depression complex, and the internal drainage complex.

The major river systems constitute the principal surface-water resources of the country, with mean annual runoff in millions of cubic metres. Half of the surface runoff flows into the Indian Ocean from the river systems of Pangani, Wami, Ruvu, Rufiji, Ruvuma, Mbwemkuru, and Matandu. The remainder drains northward, into Lake Victoria, westward, into Lake Tanganyika, and southward, into Lake Nyasa and the River Zambezi and then to the Indian Ocean. Some of the runoff also flows into drainage basins with no sea outlets. Groundwater is abundant in Tanzania and is a major source of water, particularly in the central regions of Shinyanga, Dodoma, Singida, and Arusha.

The chemical quality of water is generally good, except for pollution by municipal and industrial effluent of water sources in the Tanga, Kilimanjaro, and Arusha regions. Lake Victoria water is also polluted by untreated municipal sewage at a point close to the intake at the town of Mwanza. Salinity from brackish, saline connate waters or saline intrusion exacerbated by overpumping is found around Morogoro and in depressions near Lake Rukwa. High fluoride concentrations are found around the Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions. Boreholes are most common around the Dodoma, Singida, and Rukwa regions. The Ruvuma, Mbeya, and Kigoma regions have fewer than 100 of the country’s 4 500 boreholes. Most of the water supplies come from boreholes.

Uganda is the “water tower” of eastern and Central Africa. The country has many high plateaus 900-1 500 m above sea level, and 18% of its area is covered with freshwater-swamps and lakes. There are seven main basins:

· Lake Edward (1 935 km²) receives water from the Ntanga, Ishasha, and Nyamwere and other streams.

· Lake Victoria (58 161 km²) receives water from the Kagera and Ruwizi rivers.

· Lake Albert (16 699 km²) receives water from the Musizi, Nkusi, Wanbabye, Wake, and Weiga rivers.

· Victoria Nile (27 773 km²) receives water the Kafu and swampy areas.

· Lake Kyoga (57 004 km²) receives water from the Sezibwe, Victoria Nile, Okere, Okok, and Akweng. The water of this lake discharges into the Victoria Nile.

· Aswa is a tributary of the White Nile (26 558 km²).

· Albert Nile (19 773 km²) has tributaries from the West Nile hills.

Groundwater exploitation in the Karamajong region, an arid region, has yielded sufficient water to meet the needs of livestock and people. In areas around Lake Victoria, the groundwater has a salt content of 200-300 mg/L. Fecal pollution is a concern in Lake Kyoga and Karamajong, where groundwater aquifers rise almost to surface level during the rainy season.

Stressed systems occur in the northern districts, Jinja and Kampala regions, and around Lake Victoria. In Tanzania, the Rufiji, Pangani, Lake Victoria, Rukwa, and Ruvuma basins all are stressed. Kenya’s stressed systems include lakes Victoria, Nakuru, and Naivasha and rivers Nzoia, Nyando, Turkwell, Kerio, Athi, Voi, Tana, and Ewaso Ng’iro. All of Ethiopia’s rivers are under stress, except the Nile, which has not yet been used effectively for agriculture.

Sources of stress

A stressed water system is one that cannot adequately meet the demands of households, communities, and nations. The main factors that contribute to stress are population growth, irrigation, and livestock watering. Others include droughts and deforestation, poor land management, and pollution from human activities and industry. The most critical issue in the region is the deterioration of the water quality in lakes, rivers, springs, and groundwater, resulting in water resources becoming unfit for human consumption and other purposes.

Population growth

The annual population-growth rate of most countries in the region is 2.5-3.1%. This high growth rate, combined with economic development, results in ever-increasing demands for a finite resource. Hence, water availability per capita is steadily decreasing. Human activities have impacts not only on the water quality but also on the general availability of water resources and the state of aquatic ecosystems in the region.

Increased population pressure in large parts of the region has led to deforestation and increased cultivation. This, in turn, is affecting the hydrology and water balance and may lead to increased flood and drought problems, as well as to land degradation, soil erosion, and siltation problems. Afforestation may, however, lead to increased evapotranspiration losses and hence reduced water availability for downstream users as in the Ruaha Basin in Tanzania.


Tanzanian agriculture is mostly rainfed, and irrigation is used for protection against drought and for stable crop production. In some areas, communities use irrigation for dry-season farming, mainly growing vegetables. The national irrigation potential is 1106 60% of which is in the Rufiji Basin. Two thirds of this potential could be used for double cropping. Irrigation potential is estimated by the availability and easy exploitation of water. The Rufiji Basin comprises the three major basins, the Great Ruaha, the Kilombero, and the Luwegu. About 60% of irrigation potential in the Rufiji Basin is in the Kilombero and lower Rufiji; 40%, in the Great Ruaha. The Pangani Basin has the best developed irrigated agriculture.

The critical situation affecting the users is the competition for water between agriculture and hydropower production. Because agricultural activity takes place upstream from Pangani Dam, any increase in farming will affect the level of water in the dam. In the Great Ruaha, more irrigation upstream from Mtera Dam will cause shortages in the dam, especially during drought. Because of this, the Tanzania Electricity Supply Company (TANESCO) insists on the closure of all irrigation systems upstream from the dam. Increased irrigation in the two basins will therefore have an environmental impact on the basin. At the national level, the government is trying to improve the water management of the basins by instituting prohibitive measures for users and punitive measures for offenders. It is likely that TANESCO will have increasing difficulty, because farmers will continue to irrigate their fields. There is a need for users to sit and discuss ways to equitably share this limited resource.

In Uganda, about 206106179; of water is used annually for irrigation. More than 32510 ha is estimated to be under irrigation. Swamps provide the largest areas, with about 30000 ha of small-scale irrigation in the Tororo, Iganga, and Pallisa districts.

There has been an increasing interest in rice cultivation by farmers. In areas surrounding the Doho rice scheme, hundreds of small-scale farmers grow rice outside the regular scheme; each farmer has an approximate cultivated area of 0.5 ha.

In the Lake Victoria crescent area, many horticultural farmers plan to start small-scale irrigation. However, the generally undulating topography precludes the use of gravity irrigation in most areas. This necessitates the pumping of irrigation water from lakes and streams, and some farmers have already bought electrical pumps for this purpose.

The Olweny Swamp Rice Irrigation Project aims to develop 800 ha of the swamp in Lira District for smallholder rice farming. Six hundred smallholders are the beneficiaries, with individual holdings of 1 ha. Inputs, credit, extension, and other services are provided under the project.

In 1992, the failure of the usually reliable first annual rainfall undermined the food security of Uganda, causing crop failures and decreases in livestock production. Of the 38 districts of Uganda, 15 experienced a long dry spell; food-security problems reached crisis levels. The areas worst affected were Kasese, Kabale, Mbarara, Rakai, Bundibugyo, Masaka, Masindi, Mpigi, Mukono, Luwero, Moroto, Kumi, Soroti, Kotido, and Rukugiri.

In Kenya, irrigation is carried out at both the local and national levels. People are aware of the potential boost in harvest from irrigation. The present national policy relating to irrigation-water supply emphasizes taking low-cost approaches to implementation while increasing the acreage under irrigation.

The government has instituted the National Irrigation Board, and big irrigation schemes like the Mwea, Bura, and Ahero are partly government controlled. But unless legislation is enforced, communities upstream may use all the water, leaving little for downstream users. Another pressing issue of a regional nature is that extensive irrigation from rivers that flow into Lake Victoria may interfere with the ecosystem. The lake level will fall, and more pollutants will find their way into water. The Water Appointment Board, the body legally empowered to control and regulate the abstraction of water (surface water and groundwater) needs strengthening. Currently, the Water Act, first enacted in 1962 and revised in 1972, is awaiting another revision and approval by Parliament. In terms of protecting water resources from pollution the Act is weak. In a move to avert any environmental damage associated with flood irrigation projects, environmental-impact assessments are now preconditions for starting any irrigation projects in Kenya. In Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, and Burundi, irrigation is not well developed.

Livestock watering

Livestock makes significant water demands, especially in the semi-arid, pastoral areas, where surface-water sources are scarce and long dry seasons are experienced. The seminomadic pastoralists who inhabit these areas often encroach on natural reserves, such as Lake Mburo National Park in Uganda, in search of water and pasture. In the past, 425 medium-sized dams and valley tanks, as well as several small valley tanks, were provided. Most of these are silted because of lack of maintenance, poor animal-watering methods, and soil erosion that results from overstocking.

Water use

Domestic and industrial use


In Tanzania, most of the domestic and industrial water supplies are from surface water. Groundwater sources, though potable in most cases, are not used because abstraction requires sophisticated and sometimes expensive technology.

The installed capacity for rural water-supply schemes, as of June 1992, served about 47% of the population. However, the reliability of the data is questionable because more than 35% of the schemes were not in operation. Many of the pumping units were worn out and nonoperational and needed replacement. Urban water supply, by June 1992, served about 67% of the population. This figure didn’t take into account the quality of water supplied. Sometimes, because of the nonfunctioning of treatment plants and nonavailability of water-treatment chemicals, water is supplied either partially treated or untreated. The operational costs are normally higher than the revenue collected. This is because water tariffs do not meet running costs, and billing and revenue collection systems are insufficiently streamlined. In both the rural and the urban sectors, water demand far exceeds supply. Table 1 shows the low water-supply coverage.

Table 2 shows the distribution between investments in the rural and urban water supplies. The apparent bias in investment, toward the urban centres is attributed to differences in the levels of service, technology, and institutional requirements in the two areas. For example, although per capita investment in the rural areas may be as low as 6 United States dollars (USD) (spring protection), the corresponding figure in the urban centres often exceeds 120 USD.


In Uganda, water supply and sanitation in the urban areas are provided by the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) and the Department of Water Development (DWD). NWSC is responsible for supplying water to about 1lion people in Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja, Mbale, Tororo, Masaka, and Mbarara. The average coverage is 51% of the urban target population.

Existing water-supply systems are in a poor state of repair because of maintenance constraints, and most often the population has to rely on unsafe water sources. An umbrella program, the Rural Towns Water and Sanitation Programme, has been instituted to coordinate all the urban water projects under DWD. This reflects a major shift in government policy toward decentralization and represents a demand-driven participatory approach.

In 1992 DWD estimated the rural potable-water-supply coverage to be 26%. The level of investment required to raise the coverage to 100% is estimated to be 351 million USD. The major rural water-supply development programs are RUAWASA East Uganda Project (financed by Danish International Development Assistance), running up to 2000 and covering eight districts; and SWIP (financed by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund [UNICEF], Canadian International Development Agency, and Swedish International Development Agency), covering nine districts. Other programs include WATSON the National Water and Sanitation Programme (financed by UNICEF and various nongovernmental organizations [NGOs]), covering nine districts; and the West Nile Rural Water Supply Programme (financed by Italy and NGOs), covering two districts.

Ugandan industry is mainly engaged in processing raw materials from agriculture, livestock, and forestry. Major industrial activities include the production of textiles and garments, leather, sugar, foods, soft drinks, beer, and flour. These activities are concentrated in southern Uganda, particularly Kampala and Jinja, on the shores of Lake Victoria and the Victoria Nile. Uganda had a strong industrial base in the 1960s, but this was destroyed during the 1970s. To date, there are only about 5 000 factories, many of them operating below capacity. Industry contributes 5% of the gross domestic product, and industries are generally connected to the urban water-supply networks.


In Kenya, water for agricultural use will continue to command the highest demand. It is projected that the national water demand will progressively increase from 5.68106179;/d in 1990 to 15.94106179;/d by 2010. Of this, 73% will be for agriculture, 4% for livestock development, 22% for domestic use and industry, and 1% for inland fisheries and wildlife.

The government has recognized the need for environmental protection and promoted various measures to ensure sustainable agriculture. These include intercropping, under the agroforestry program, soil and water conservation measures, and proper use of agrochemicals to minimize adverse environmental effects. Other measures will include a shift from agrochemical dependence to organic farming, which has a lower environmental cost.

The water-supply needs of a rural person are estimated at 50 L/d; those of the urban dweller, 100 L/d. According to estimates, the total rural water-supply demand, based on the above figures, will be 749.3106 by 2000; the total urban water-supply demand, 1.17109. The water demand for wildlife has been estimated at 21.0179; of fresh water per day, on the basis of wildlife species and their distribution in the country. Water for fish-farming needs, based on a fish-production capacity of 2.5/ha, has been assessed at 0.96179;/s.


In Uganda, most hydropower generation takes place at Owen Falls Dam, at the Victoria Nile near Jinja. The present installed capacity is 180 MW. An extension program intended to bring about increases of 270 and 300 MW of generating capacity has been prepared. The identified hydropower potential on the Victoria Nile within the Ugandan territory is 2 700 MW, with the Murchison site having a potential for 600 MW and the Bujagali site having a potential for 250 MW.

At present, there is no artificial storage on the upper Nile, and river flows have been unchanged by the construction of the Owen Falls dam. The minihydropower stations have small storage reservoirs, and there is a slight tendency to equalize the natural river flows.

Hydropower generation can be expected to increase as a result of the transboundary distribution of electricity and the increase in rural electrification and industrial and in domestic demand. However, the impact on the water resource (Victoria Nile) will be negligible.

Most of Tanzania’s hydropower potential is in the Rufiji River system. Other rivers with hydropower potential are the Kagera, Ruhuhu, Wmai, and Rufirio. Most of the hydropower potential of the Pangani and Great Ruaha has been developed. Of the existing power-generating facilities, 86.5% are hydropower units. Of the total available hydropower-generation capacity, more than 99% is in the Great Ruaha and the Pangani.

In Kenya, about six hydropower projects are considered promising. These are proposed for commissioning toward 2010. There are also plans to develop hydropower on the Yala and Nzoia rivers.

Responses to water stress

Governments’ response

Governments are recognizing that the problems of water stress are not confined solely within their national borders. Issues related to the management of international waters are being addressed at various forums, and various regional bodies have been formed for such purposes. One example is TECONILE, a body incorporating all the countries of the Nile Basin. TECONILE was formed for the sole purpose of proper management of the basin’s water resources. Treaties signed years ago are being revised and drafted to take into consideration the needs of all the upstream and downstream users.

Governments are also undertaking the following:

· forming high-level, cross-sectoral water-policy committees to formulate guidelines for task forces and to coordinate the legal framework for management of shared water resources;

· setting up modalities for tariff charges and prices;

· embarking on national environmental programs to preserve and conserve forests;

· promoting the operation of water projects by entrepreneurs in rural areas and by autonomous water entities in urban centres;

· preparing guidelines for estimating water-related opportunity and environmental costs; and

· preparing dynamic water action plans (covering water-resource assessment, required institutions, management instruments, etc.) based on water-resource policies.

Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia are preparing water action plans, but Kenya has yet to develop one.

Communities’ response

Communities are undertaking the following to address the problem of water stress:

adopting technologies and management approaches that increase the efficiency of water use, allocation, and distribution (such technologies and management practices make it easier to conserve water, to increase the efficiency of water use and conveyance, and to reuse wastewater);

· drilling boreholes, shallow wells, and pit and VIP latrines;

· discussing, planning and implementing development projects in their areas;

· promoting environmental protection practices, like planting trees and establishing nurseries;

· creating intersectoral project task forces;

· organizing education programs, targeted at the household level, on the benefits of potable water and on related costs, especially for operation and management; and

· setting prices and collecting fees to cover operation and management, either in kind or in cash.


Sources of stress should be looked at, not just from the hydrologic point of view, but also from the perspective of accessibility (distances users have to travel to collect water), socioeconomic development, poverty, pollution, human and livestock population increases, and increases in agricultural production (for instance, irrigation acreage).

Ethiopia, despite all its rainfall, has access to only 9% of its water resources for development because 91% flows into international waters. Each country should develop water policies, to be followed by water action plans. Uganda is a good example to be emulated.

Research opportunities

Research opportunities and needs for different countries vary and may be linked to the levels of development and economic stability of each country. The following research initiatives are recommended.


1.unch a national exploratory program to map out areas suitable for future water development; identify the most suitable and economical methods for such development.

2.dress pollution laws covering the contamination of surface waters and groundwaters by various activities and make the laws practicable and workable. up with pollution indicators that ordinary people can use at the community level.


1.opt the technology needed for studying and recovering groundwater.

2.dress the pollution from municipalities and agricultural sectors.


1.entify sustainable sources of water for human beings and livestock.

2.e technical staff from water-related government departments, instead of the private sector, to constrain water schemes. Look into the effects of this bias toward using the private sector on human-resource development at the national level.

3.ok at pollution bylaws and improve them for efficient management of the water sector. In cases where no bylaws exist, develop some and enforce them.

Governments of all countries in the region

1.udy hydrological regimes to understand why some rivers, like the Katonga and Kafu, in Uganda, are drying up.

2.velop technology for studying and recovering groundwater, including that in contaminated wells.

3.udy the problems related to the operation and maintenance of water-supply schemes, with a view to making them sustainable and operational.

4.velop mechanisms, tools, and models for updating information in the water sector.

5.amine country-level institutions.

6.rk out a cooperation framework for the management of common water resources.

Strain, Water Demand, and Supply Direction in the most Stressed Water Systems of Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland

Kathy Eales, Simon Forster, and Lusekelo Du Mhango

Consultants, Economic Project Evaluation (Pty) Ltd, Rivonia, South Africa


This paper addresses the sources of stress (including conflicts among uses and users of water) and the effects of this stress on the availability, accessibility, and quality of water in Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. In addition, water-demand-management strategies aimed at resource conservation and alternative water-supply sources and mechanisms are considered.

The approach taken in this study was to collate all available literature on the water situation in each country and then to follow up with visits to the countries to interview government staff, academics, consultants, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). To preserve the confidentiality of the discussions, we do not identify the sources of the views and opinions presented. Data were collected mainly from government sources, with some inputs from consultants.


Water supply and demand

Water availability

The surface-water resources of Lesotho are substantial and far exceed the present and future needs of the nation. However, the high runoff is often rapid and occurs in inaccessible mountainous terrain. Major capital-intensive engineering works (unaffordable to Lesotho) would be required to harness this water for use by people.

Less than 9% of the land is arable. There is an acute shortage of land for settlement, overgrazing is severe, little fuelwood remains, and the annual rate of population growth is 2.6-2.9%. The result in many areas is acute environmental degradation, manifested by soil erosion and silting of rivers and dams. One reason for this degradation is that the Basotho people have only lived in the area for the past 140 years, and although their stock-management practices were well suited to the sparse settlement patterns of the flat Orange Free State and Transvaal, these practices have not been sufficiently adapted to the mountainous terrain of Lesotho.

The sedimentation of Lesotho’s surface-water resources has serious implications for South Africa and Namibia as well, because the headwaters of the largest drainage system in South Africa, the Orange River, are located in Lesotho. About half the total flow of the Orange River is provided by the Senqu River.

Despite the high availability of surface water, there are problems with its suitability for community water supply. Untreated surface water is generally not considered potable because of Lesotho’s high livestock levels, and water is rarely boiled because of the scarcity of fuelwood.

Although the total potential yield of Lesotho’s groundwater resources is unknown, this source currently accounts for about 70% of the water used in Lesotho and is derived primarily from a large number of low-yield springs. People in the highlands use mainly spring water, whereas in the lowlands the rural communities are provided with water from both springs and boreholes. Groundwater availability is erratic, and aquifers are generally discontinuous along doleritic dikes. This makes drilling of boreholes unpredictable and expensive. Most boreholes yield less than 0.5 L/s. Recharge is extremely slow, and boreholes are frequently pumped dry.

Water demand

Water demand in Lesotho centres primarily around domestic and stock-watering needs. Annual demand is projected to increase from 26.7106179; in 1994 to 46.2106179; in 2020. Most towns rely on a mix of surface water and groundwater, although groundwater represents only 10% of total urban water consumption. Two urban settlements, Morija and Mapoteng, with a combined population of about 9 000, rely solely on groundwater.

There has been no long-term monitoring of changes in the yield of springs, but anecdotal evidence suggests many springs are drying up because of the loss of protective vegetation and soil. In turn, this loss promotes rapid surface runoff, as opposed to infiltration.

Water-management systems

Lesotho’s Department of Water Affairs is responsible for hydrological services, resource management, development of a water-resource master plan, and water-quality monitoring. Coordination with other agencies addressing water resources is poor. Management of soil erosion falls under the Department of Agriculture. Rural water supply falls under the Village Water Supply Section (VWSS) of the Ministry of the Interior; urban water supply, under a commercialized parastatal. No master plan or national water-supply strategy exists.

Rural water supply

Of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people, 1.53 million (85%) live in rural settlements. Of these, 890 000 (58%) have access to improved water-supply systems, and the remaining 640 000 draw water from unprotected rivers, springs, and earth dams.

Rural water supply is the responsibility of VWSS. VWSS operates at three main levels: district, regional, and national. Communication among these levels is generally good, but with other government departments it is unstructured and informal and, between VWSS and villagers, limited. There is very little evaluation of projects, either before construction commences or after commissioning.

Government officials generally have less faith in the success of local water management than do the NGOs working in close contact with village committees. The head of VWSS believes that voluntary community structures don’t work without cash incentives and maintains that if the government doesn’t provide all the necessary resources, there will be a further breakdown. However, the government lacks the staff and resources to take full control of rural water supply. In contrast to this view, a recent report by consultants indicated that the rural water-supply system is starting to work relatively well, with local villagers managing basic maintenance and repairs fairly competently. Table 1, which is based on a mid-1994 survey of the Maseru region (regarded as typical of the mountainous areas), illustrates this point.

Water-improvement projects in Lesotho’s rural areas are initiated at the village level. Villagers are required to form a village water committee (VWC) and start collecting funds toward construction and future maintenance. They approach VWSS through village leadership structures; in due course (this can take several years), VWSS provides a technical team of masons, engineers, and whatever else is needed. The major task of the VWC is to coordinate the inputs of local residents during the construction and installation of an improved water system. This includes free labour and accommodation for VWSS personnel. A major effort is required from local residents: trenches, often many kilometres long, have to be dug to lay pipes, and stones have to be cut for the construction of siltboxes and water tanks. Average construction time is 170 d, but some schemes can take more than 2 years to complete. Women carry out the bulk of this work because many men are absent as migrant labourers and because women tend to be the primary beneficiaries of water schemes, through reduced time spent collecting water and reduced risk of family illness from contaminated water.



Systems that are handpumps


Systems that are gravity fed from springs


Systems that are a combination of handpumps and protected springs


Villages that have fully functional water-collection points


Villages that have a vwc


vwcs that have a bank account for repairs


vwcs that have a tool box


Villages that have a water minder


Villages that have a water minder who can undertake repairs


Note: vwc, village water committee.

Once the project is complete, the VWC tends to become inactive until a problem arises. Residents are supposed to try to fix the problem themselves, and when they can’t, they notify the district VWSS office. In due course, a technician is sent out. VWSS can barely cope with breakdown maintenance and does not undertake preventive maintenance. VWSS tries to recover 50% of the cost of repair from local residents, in instalments over 3 years if necessary. It seldom achieves this.

The distinction between VWC s and village development committees (VDC s) is breaking down. In the past, VDC s were regarded as the local arm of the ruling political party, and thus separate water committees were introduced in the 1970s to ensure that water development was not derailed by political posturing. This need for separate structures seems to have fallen away now, and there is talk of merging the two bodies.

Mistakes are inevitable in any rapid-development initiative. Lesotho’s most serious mistake seems to be that in VWSS ‘s eagerness to meet water demand and its own goals, it installed new water schemes faster than its ability to service them or train users to maintain and manage them. Its aim has been to achieve full coverage of rural areas by 2005, and it is well ahead of schedule. However, the sustainability of these systems is questionable. Maintenance is a major problem, and it is estimated that only 40% of Lesotho’s boreholes are operational.

Since 1992 VWSS has been trying to reformulate policy, determine strategies, and collect supporting data. The first regional report on coverage, condition of water systems, demographic trends, and local organizational capacity was completed in August 1994. Field inspections are now generating the kind of detailed data VWSS needs to begin to assess current capacity and evaluate strengths and shortcomings.

Urban water supply

The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), a parastatal set up by the Ministry of Natural Resources, relies on surface water for 90% of the water it supplies to urban settlements. The largest urban settlement is Maseru, with a population of 90 000. The next largest town in Lesotho has a population of less than 10 000. Most urban water is taken directly from local rivers and stored in reservoirs. However, the silting of both the rivers and the reservoirs supplying urban areas is a major problem.

Although the coverage of the water supply is adequate, WASA has management problems. It needs to spend more on upgrading its infrastructure to reduce water wastage and losses. Moreover, because of high connection costs for individual households, many people, most of whom could afford to pay regularly for water if the connection fee was lower, are drawing water free from public standpipes.

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project

If fully developed, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) could see the diversion of 2.210 9 of water per year from the headwaters of the Orange River to the Vaal River, making it available under gravity to Gauteng Province, South Africa’s industrial heartland. The scheme is highly capital intensive.

Although Lesotho residents will not be supplied with water from the two dams that will be built as part of the LHWP, there are significant indirect benefits. For example, the development of infrastructure includes rural roads, health centres, schools, and a few village water-supply systems. There are also the royalties from the diversion of the water, self-sufficiency in electricity generation, and revenue from Lesotho’s participation in the Southern African Customs Union Pool, which has received a boost from the importation of construction equipment and materials. The indirect costs of the scheme will be some environmental damage and the loss of some agricultural land through inundation.

Given the acute shortage of arable land in Lesotho, the loss of even a small percentage of agricultural land has serious implications for subsistence agriculture. Elaborate and sometimes controversial schemes have been instituted to compensate farmers for the loss of productive land.

Some doubt has, therefore, been cast on the merits of the LHWP. If it is fully completed, water transfers from the Orange River’s headwaters into the Vaal River could jeopardize the assurance of supply to South African irrigation schemes lower down in the Orange River and in the Fish-Sundays catchment of the Eastern Cape, which receives water transferred from the Orange River. However, the benefits of an assured water supply to Gauteng are believed to exceed the negative impacts.

Major constraints and recommended research

Erosion and silting

PROBLEM - Overgrazing on the fragile soils of Lesotho’s steep slopes is causing serious sedimentation of rivers and water-supply reservoirs, as well as reduced recharge of water-supply aquifers.

RESPONSE - Piecemeal soil conservation techniques are employed by the Department of Agriculture, but these do not address the complex underlying socioeconomic problem of overgrazing and dense settlement on vulnerable soils.

RESEARCH - A multidisciplinary approach to soil conservation, focusing on community-based socioeconomic incentives, needs to be investigated.

Rural water supply

PROBLEM - Of rural households, 43% do not have access to clean water; most of these people live in remote areas. VWSS has overemphasized installation and construction of boreholes at the expense of developing maintenance capacity. Although VWSS has only a limited capacity to repair breakdowns, there are no private-sector borehole-repair teams. In addition, village water minders do not always have the skills they require to do preventive maintenance on handpumps.

RESPONSE - Despite a profound awareness of the problem, VWSS does not have the capacity to remedy the situation.

RESEARCH - Investigations need to be carried out to ascertain the best ways to ensure both the adequate transfer of maintenance skills to local people and the retention and effective use of these skills by the community.

Coordination and planning

PROBLEM - No overall picture of national demand and supply exists, water management objectives are imprecise, and interagency communication is poor.

RESPONSE - Academics at the University of Lesotho have been commissioned to investigate demographic trends and projected urban water demand. This will feed into a Water Resources Action Plan project, which began in December 1994. Lesotho urgently needs a water-management master plan and is currently looking for funds to commission this.


PROBLEM - Lesotho’s Water Act of 1978 has deficiencies and is largely ignored. It does not provide government agencies with the powers they need to resolve water disputes, nor does it provide for effective resource management and pollution control.

RESPONSE - The Water Act is being revised, but no completion date has been set.


PROBLEM - The revenue from water connections and sales in urban areas needs to be increased if infrastructure upgrades are to be self-funding.

RESPONSE - WASA has recruited (with overseas assistance) the necessary skills to review tariff policies. Whether this will lead to a reduction in connection fees to ensure more paying customers is uncertain.


Water supply and demand

Water availability

Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that 83% of all rain evaporates soon after it falls, leaving just 17% available as surface runoff. Of this runoff, 1% recharges groundwater sources, and 14% is lost through evapotranspiration. Only 2% of the total rainfall can be captured by surface-water-storage facilities.

There are no perennial rivers within Namibia, only ephemeral ones. Perennial rivers are found on Namibia’s borders: the Orange in the south; the Cunene in the northwest; and the Okavango, Kwando-Chobe-Linyati, and Zambezi in the northeast. Namibia currently has access to an agreed 18010 6 /year from the Cunene River and at least 500 x 10 6 /year from the Orange River. No formal agreements have yet been reached on abstracting water from the Okavango River. However, the completion of the last stage of the Eastern National Water Carrier, the largest state water project in Namibia, will lead to the importation of 10010 6 /year from the Okavango River to augment supplies to the central, eastern, and western areas of the country.

The flow in the ephemeral rivers in the interior is irregular and unreliable, limiting both the potential for utilizing surface-water sources and the recharge of aquifers from river courses. The estimated safe yield of the surface-water works that could be developed on the ephemeral rivers is at least 20010 6 /year, or 40% of the total surface-water resources available in the interior. Ten large dams have been constructed on these ephemeral rivers, with a combined safe yield of 87.310 6 /year.

Groundwater plays a major role in water supply in Namibia. The safe annual yield from groundwater sources is estimated at 30010 6 /year. However, overabstraction of groundwater is already a serious problem in some areas. In the karst (limestone) areas, excessive pumping from boreholes can result in the deeper lime-rich water being exposed to oxygen and thereby causing the lime to precipitate and block the borehole. The borehole then has to be abandoned or redrilled.

A more serious problem is the depletion of the aquifer itself. There are various examples that illustrate this issue:

· The Kuiseb River alluvial aquifer in the central Namib area has already been overused, and the water table has dropped significantly. The aquifer can no longer meet the needs of the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay or of the Rossing uranium mine, and the lowered water table has seriously undermined the dependence of the local Topnaar people on hand-dug wells for water.

· In the Kuiseb and Omaruru catchments, the combination of bad farming practices and prolonged droughts has reduced the vegetation cover, leading to considerable topsoil removal during intense rainstorms and the subsequent sedimentation of the Kuiseb and Omaruru rivers. This soil often forms a thin layer of fine material on the riverbed, which seals the surface of the sand and prevents groundwater recharge.

· The fossil water from the aquifer under the Koichab River is being mined to support the town of Luderitz and the industry at Elizabeth Bay. The aquifer will probably never be recharged under present climatic conditions.

· In some parts of the Stampriet artesian aquifer, saline water overlies the freshwater and poses a contamination threat to the freshwater. Farmers in this area are now required to use a specially designed borehole that seals off the overlying salty water.

Thus, in many areas, the abstraction of groundwater and the impoundment of surface water have upset the delicate balance sustaining highly vulnerable ecosystems.

Water supply

Namibia’s total population is about 1.5 million. About 1 million people, or 65% of the population, live in the underdeveloped northern regions, mostly in rural settlements. The northern population is further concentrated in the centre of what used to be called Owamboland. Here 400 000 people live in an ephemeral wetland system of pans called the oshanas. Much of the groundwater in this area is too saline for human consumption. In addition, because of the extreme aridity of much of Namibia, most rivers and aquifers within the country may be regarded as under stress. However, extensive investments in pipelines, canals, interbasin transfers, and improved abstraction technology have made relatively dense human settlements viable in areas that previously could not have supported close settlement on this scale.

The oshanas run from north to south, whereas the pipelines, canals, and main roads run from west to east, obstructing the oshanas ‘ normal flow and increasing evaporative loss. This, in turn, reduces groundwater recharge, which then threatens the water supply in those traditional settlements not serviced by the pipelines and canals. One quarter of Namibia’s population live in the oshana area, and this is expected to double in the next 20 years.

Depending on the water region, rural people draw water directly from rivers and natural springs, dig for water in dry riverbeds, or use hand-dug wells.

In the oshana water region, groundwater takes two forms: a deep saline aquifer underlies most of the area; above this are perched aquifers, pockets of freshwater (rainwater) trapped between the surface and the saline water. Rural people dig into the fresh groundwater aquifer by hand, making round wells called omifimas. Water is abstracted with buckets.

Surface water is available during the summer months, when there is sufficient rainfall to make the omifimas flow and fill hand-dug earth dams. Initially, the quality of the fresh surface water is good, but as the water evaporates its salinity increases. Traditionally, rural communities would then move on to other water sources in the dry months. Rapid population growth, dense settlement, and environmental degradation are making this migratory lifestyle more difficult.

The United Nations Development Programme planned to set up pilot schemes in 1995 to investigate combining traditional hand-dug wells with infiltration galleries to provide low-technology filtration systems.

Nonconventional water sources

DESALINATION - A pilot desalination plant using seawater is being established on the west coast of Namibia, but the cost will be high, roughly 6.50 ZAR/m 3 (in 1996, 4.34 Namibian dollars [ZAR] = 1 United States dollar [USD]), including capital costs, if used locally. Pumping desalinated water inland to Windhoek is not economically feasible at present because of prohibitive pumping costs.

Most of the groundwater in the far north is saline. Desalination schemes for groundwater have been tested, but major investment in desalination schemes is unlikely because the groundwater is a limited resource.

Water recycling is practiced in some areas. Windhoek recycles about 12% of its water, and the Rossing uranium mine recycles about 76%. However, it is widely acknowledged that recycling could be greatly improved in other centres.

ASSISTED RECHARGE - To conserve Omaruru River floodwater from being lost to the sea, a dam has been built on the lower Omaruru River, near Walvis Bay, to trap silt-laden water during floods. The silt settles out behind the dam wall, and the clear water is then pumped downstream to sand-filled basins, where it rapidly infiltrates, recharging the aquifer. This water is later pumped out via boreholes. Earth dams are used for assisted recharge in some areas, but high evaporation rates reduce their effectiveness.

DROUGHT MANAGEMENT - Given Namibia’s aridity, drought should not be regarded as exceptional. However, before independence, water tankers were extensively used in rural areas during droughts. This practice was revived during the 1992 Emergency Drought Relief Program, at a cost of about 50/m 3, to augment other relief measures. However, given the logistics and cost of transporting water over long distances, the new government considered this an inappropriate response. Current drought-relief strategies focus on improving borehole reliability.

OTHER OPTIONS - Large-scale rainwater harvesting, weather modifications, and fog-harvesting systems have been investigated by the government but rejected, as they were shown to be uneconomic. Of course, rainwater harvesting at household level can prove feasible and is often practiced in areas where groundwater has a high salt content and where precipitation is sufficient.

Water demand

Groundwater meets 57% of Namibia’s current water demand, and surface water meets the remainder. Settlements in the far north are aggregating along the network of pipelines and canals that connect the major rural villages with the Cunene River and supply water to about 30% of the northern population. Livestock are believed to account for 80% of all water demand in northern Namibia; much of this demanded is being met by the pipeline. Moreover, livestock that previously were moved from one water point to another are now settled in fixed areas, leading to overgrazing and overstocking. Fixed human settlement is also denuding vegetation as trees and bushes are used for fuel and buildings.

Because Namibia relies heavily on major interbasin water-transfer schemes, demand statistics expressed in terms of surface-water catchment are not particularly useful. Furthermore, aquifers are seldom contiguous with catchment boundaries and can even be subject to interregional transfer, as in the case of the Karstveld area around Grootfontein, where groundwater is exported southward to Windhoek. Therefore, sectoral demand is best compared with water availability on the basis of existing abstraction patterns, as shown in Table 2, which shows current demands and demands projected to 2005.

Only 49% of total estimated ephemeral surface- and groundwater sources will be used by 2005, but demand on perennial rivers is expected to increase by 270%. Irrigation demand is unlikely to increase dramatically because of generally poor soil quality. Any additional irrigation demand will probably be met from the perennial border rivers.

Reconciling future supply and demand

Unfortunately, much of the potential water resources available to Namibia are not located close to where they are required. For example, there is abundant water in the Fish River, but it is far from any human settlement. Therefore, as the surface drainage system experiences such high losses, the future utilization of perennial rivers will entail large, capital-intensive engineering projects. However, such schemes may not be affordable or internationally acceptable. Moreover, the diversion of water from internationally shared perennial rivers will require extensive negotiations with Namibia’s neighbours.

Water-management systems

Rural water supply

Despite significant problems, rural domestic water-supply coverage is generally good (around 55%) and well within the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund target for 2000. However, it is estimated that at least half the existing water points in rural areas are faulty.

Responsibility for rural water administration in Namibia has been reassigned three times since independence in 1990. Before independence, rural water supply was the responsibility of the eight ethnic regional administrations, with limited funding and capacity. The result was a massive backlog of communities with inadequate water supplies. Failure to involve and train local users led to a high number of system breakdowns, which was compounded further by the lack of routine-maintenance capacity during the war of liberation.

In early 1993, responsibility for rural water supply was transferred to the Directorate of Rural Water Supply (DRWS) in the Namibian Department of Water Affairs (DWA). With external assistance, a new model of water administration, designed to change the role of DRWS from that of provider to that of facilitator, is being introduced. Because of the lack of capacity within rural communities, the role of DRWS extends well beyond facilitation. Much of the work of DRWS focuses on developing institutional capacity. However, at this stage, only half the posts in DRWS are filled, and few of the existing personnel are appropriately trained. The success of DRWS depends on whether it can recruit and train sufficient staff members and enlist the cooperation of the rural communities with which it works.

Namibia has been divided into 10 water-supply regions, each with a chain of water committees from local water-supply points up to district level. DRWS asks communities to sign a contract giving the communities ownership of their local infrastructure and requiring them to undertake and fund routine maintenance. Each water committee will have a caretaker trained in preventive maintenance. For every 20 or so water-supply points (depending on distances between points or terrain), there will be one rural water extension officer resident in the area. This person will be able to summon help for breakdowns and maintenance from DRWS ‘s regional maintenance section. On paper, the scheme looks impressive, but it has not yet been implemented widely, so it is too soon for a critical evaluation.

With major donor and NGO assistance, DRWS has prepared a range of educational materials to improve understanding of the hydrological cycle and of the importance of appropriate resource and stock management. Booklets have been designed to assist in promoting literacy and to be used in conjunction with radio broadcasts. Caretaker manuals for diesel and handpumps, with logbooks (printed on water-resistant paper!) to chart daily abstractions, are being distributed to water-point committees. DRWS will feed all data gathered into a central database to monitor consumption and abstraction. Booklets are being distributed with guidelines on how to set up and run water committees. Participation by women varies, but they are generally underrepresented in water structures, despite their contribution to the development of schemes.

During South Africa’s war with Angola and, at the time of the liberation movements in Namibia, water was supplied to rural communities at no charge in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of local residents. The provision of free water by the central government entrenched the idea that water is a free and abundant resource provided by government. Attempts to change this perception are now under way. Given low affordability levels in many areas, the government is not aiming at full cost recovery. However, payment may lessen wastage. Water tariffs are being introduced throughout the country, and with modest regular increases, full cost recovery on rudimentary schemes might be achieved by 2007.

Urban water supply

Most centres with populations in excess of 2 000 are supplied from a state water scheme, managed by DWA, which draws water from ground and surface resources. DWA sells bulk water to local authorities, where these exist.

Urban water supplies are likely to be placed under the most stress because of rapidly increasing population densities, higher per capita consumption levels, remoteness of most towns from perennial rivers, and high evaporation rates in urban water-supply dams.

At current rates of annual increase, Windhoek could start to run short of water by 1998. Water tariffs were recently raised by 30%, and water consumption exceeding 60 m 3/month per household or enterprise is billed at 5.30 ZAR/m 3. In response, average consumption has dropped by 25%, although it is unclear whether this reduction is in response to price cuts or moral obligation. Anticipated demand increases are such that, within the next 10-15 years, Windhoek will probably need access to the nearest perennial water source, the Okavango River, 800 km away. The final stage of the Eastern National Water Carrier would then have to be constructed to convey the water.

Construction of the Okavango link could also be postponed if groundwater resources north of Tsumeb prove to be as abundant as are currently anticipated. However, the longer Namibia delays abstraction from the Okavango, the more likely it is there will be competition for this water source from other users, as well as objections from interest groups.

Inadequate maintenance of water mains and distribution schemes is a major problem in Namibia and leads to significant wastage. Again, tariff increases may resolve this to some extent. Infrastructure maintenance is expected to improve after commercialization in late 1995 of the bulk water-supply section of DWA. This will also improve management, cost-effectiveness, and planning flexibility.

As a commercial utility operating a capital-intensive system, DWA will probably seek to maximize the sale of water, even though such sales could undermine long-term strategies to conserve water. By the same token, maximizing revenue by increasing tariffs would curb demand increases, though by how much is not clear.

Role of NGOs

Relations between the NGO sector and government are generally very good. Representatives meet monthly in water and sanitation forums in both Windhoek and Cuvelai to discuss priorities and coordinate development. Because DRWS has extremely few people on the ground, it is imperative that it maintain good relations with the NGO sector, whose role at present is crucial in setting up and maintaining local water schemes.

Major constraints and recommended research

Population and environment

PROBLEM - The two key resource issues facing Namibia are population growth and environmental degradation. Complementing these are a range of subsidiary issues, such as overstocking, denudation, erosion, and desertification. Stock-reduction schemes are a major issue.

RESPONSE - Public education campaigns are being developed by the government.

RESEARCH - Community-based socioeconomic incentive systems that match livestock levels to the carrying capacity of the land need are a priority.

Technical skills

PROBLEM - Government capacity to implement its policies is limited by staff constraints. Namibians with the necessary technical skills are leaving the public sector for the private sector, where salaries are up to 50% higher. Some of these posts have been filled with expatriates on contract, who are supposed to train local personnel, but few local personnel are available in the public sector to be trained. The result is a growing dependence on expatriate technical personnel on short-term contracts and an increasing use of private consultants. Commercialization of the bulk-water sector will exacerbate the technical-skills shortage in the public service.


Local skills

PROBLEM - The rural water-supply sector will require time for training people for the posts currently being created, but relatively few posts call for high technical training.

RESPONSE - A major recruitment and training program is under way.


PROBLEM - Namibia’s urban areas are growing at a rate of 5-11% per year. Water consumption in urban centres is far higher than that in rural areas because of individual household connections. This poses a particular problem because few Namibian towns have sustainable local water sources.

RESPONSE - Raised water tariffs were introduced in 1995, and alternative supply sources are being explored and developed.

RESEARCH - The demand-price elasticity characteristics of urban water consumers need to be better understood so that tariff policies that control demand increases more effectively can be designed.

Cost recovery

PROBLEM - Urban water tariffs do not achieve full cost recovery and barely cover operation and maintenance (O&M) costs. The result is a decaying water infrastructure that leaks and wastes water. Water tariffs need to be trebled to cover the full cost of current delivery.

RESPONSE - The government sanctioned a 30% tariff hike shortly after the first postindependence election, in December 1994.

Bulk infrastructure provision

PROBLEM - Management and development of bulk water supply are underfunded and constrained by bureaucracy.

RESPONSE - Privatization of bulk water supply was scheduled for late 1995.

Complacency over water availability

PROBLEM - The government’s ability to provide high-technology solutions to many of Namibia’s water problems has lulled most residents into believing that the water shortage can be overcome. Urgent public-education campaigns are necessary to promote awareness of the need for water conservation and better resource management.

RESPONSE - Public-education campaigns have been designed and will be launched soon.

RESEARCH - To prioritize user sectors and to improve the targeting of drought restrictions and scarcity-education campaigns, a better understanding is required of the intrinsic value that the various user sectors attach to water.

Rural water-supply infrastructure

PROBLEM - Water-supply equipment in rural areas is too heavy and complex for its primary users (rural women) to maintain. Water committees are unlikely to be able to develop the technical and managerial skills that DRWS requires of them.

RESPONSE - A very ambitious plan to train a corps of local water minders, assisted by local rural water extension officers, is being developed.


PROBLEM - No detailed master plan exists, and there is little coordination among government departments. Furthermore, no government department is taking responsibility for coordinating and implementing policy around sanitation.

RESPONSE - A Water and Sanitation Committee, representing all stakeholders, has been suggested. Its role would be to improve coordination and advise cabinet.


PROBLEM - Namibia’s Water Act is based on South Africa’s Water Act and is clearly inappropriate to Namibia’s needs.

RESPONSE - A draft revision exists but has not been finalized.

South Africa

Water supply and demand

Water availability

The greater part of South Africa is semi-arid and subject to variable rainfall, droughts, floods, and high evaporation. The mean annual rainfall is only 500 mm, which is 60% of the world average. In addition, this rainfall is poorly distributed relative to areas experiencing economic growth. Only a comparatively narrow region along the eastern and southern coastline is moderately well watered, whereas the greater part of the interior is arid or semi-arid. Given that 65% of the country receives less than 500 mm of rainfall annually (the level regarded as the minimum for successful dryland farming) and 21% receives less than 200 mm, South Africa’s existing and future development depends to a large extent on the state’s ability to move water in bulk from the well-watered regions to the centres of settlement and industry in the drier regions.

Water supply

Under the apartheid regime, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) practiced the art of large-scale interbasin transfer, to the acclaim of the international water industry. However, DWAF performed this role exclusively on behalf of white South Africa and those nonwhite population groups that were allowed to reside outside the Bantustans. The supply of water in the so-called independent and self-governing homelands was the responsibility of the individual Bantustan administrations, which undertook the task with varying degrees of success.

Today, an estimated 16 million people in South Africa, 40% of the population, do not have adequate supplies of safe drinking water. This uneven situation is the result of a number of factors:

· the poor performance of Bantustan administrations, especially in maintaining existing infrastructure;

· limited state development capital;

· rapid urban settlement, which is outpacing the development of new water-supply infrastructure;

· inappropriate water allocations to commercial agriculture, often at the expense of primary users; and

· poor control over the abstraction and pollution of water resources.

To meet minimum needs in rural areas, an extra 12010 6 of potable water must be made available each year. Relative to total demand, this is a small amount, but a significant portion of this new demand will have to be supplied in semi-arid areas, where very little surface water is available, infrastructure is poor, and population density is low.

Nonconventional sources of water

South Africa’s relative abundance of first-world technology and skills has led to the investigation and development of several nonconventional ways to augment water supplies. None of these can be said to have been motivated by actual water stress. The achievement of first-world water-supply and treatment standards seems to have been the main driving force. The two most notable areas of research and development were in rainfall stimulation (cloud seeding) and ultrafiltration technology (desalination).

CLOUD SEEDING - Cloud seeding was practiced in the Bethlehem area of the southern Orange Free State, where it was found to benefit the yield of farm dams but not the runoff from the Vaal catchment. The program has since been moved to the escarpment area of the eastern Cape, where some measure of success is being experienced in increasing the rainfall over commercial tree plantations. This has been an expensive project, and there have been recent investigations to determine whether the money could have been better spent on improving water conservation.

DESALINATION - Ultrafiltration technology was largely developed in South Africa to deal with the wide range of industrial and mining pollutants. By law these have to be returned to the channel of origin, but there is usually insufficient dilution potential there to render the effluent harmless. Although there is great potential for augmenting South Africa’s water supply by desalinating seawater and brackish groundwater, the costs are still prohibitive. As such, this state-of-the-art technology has not yet been applied to domestic water supply, except in exceptional circumstances.

Water demand

Out of 22 main drainage basins in South Africa, six are already experiencing deficits anywhere from 110 6 to 12210 6 /year. depending on the severity of localized drought conditions. Another six have surpluses ranging from more than 110 9 to 410 9 /year. At the projected rate of water-demand increase, several basins will experience deficits of more than 1 000 m 3/year by 2010, but a larger number will still continue to have healthy surpluses of that same volume.

In April 1994, the new Government of National Unity, led by the African National Congress, came to power with a clear set of policy objectives to address the gross distortions of the apartheid era. The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), for example, devotes special attention to rural and urban water supply and outlines a number of specific targets, with clear deadlines. Within the short term, generally understood as being by 1997 (although this now seems unlikely), the new government aims to provide all rural households with a clean, safe water supply of 20-30 L/person per day within 200 m and an adequate sanitation facility for each household. By roughly 2002, it aims to achieve an on-site water supply of at least 50 L/person per day. It is imperative that these objectives are met as soon as possible, yet capacity and logistic and financial constraints suggest that meeting them on schedule will be a major challenge. It should be noted that, within the first 6 months of office, the new government announced plans to construct projects that will improve the supply of water to 1.2 million people, many of whom are rural dwellers. Existing and projected sectoral water demand for South Africa is shown in Table 3.

The bulk of the nation’s available water resources is assigned to commercial irrigation. Although the land-reform debate is starting to acquire substance in South Africa, many rural people are realizing that water is the primary limiting factor governing the allocation of land to emerging small-scale farmers. Because existing rural water supplies are largely fully utilized, water for rural domestic use and new agricultural development will have to be reallocated from large-scale commercial farming operations. This will entail some combination of the expropriation of water rights, which could prove costly and controversial; the development of more storage, which is expensive and not always possible; and some sort of differential water-pricing strategy that will force commercial agriculture to improve efficiency and stop irrigating low-value crops.

WATER-DEMAND MANAGEMENT - The commercial irrigators of South Africa are not the only water users that should be considered for cost-effectiveness or efficiency improvements. Indeed, by international standards, these irrigators are among the more efficient in the world. The trend of the last 12rs toward drip and microirrigation systems, which was prompted by the shortage of water rather than by price, has resulted in leaching fractions of less than 15% in many areas. However, bulk delivery of water to irrigators still incurs losses in excess of 30%.

The other major user sector that needs to consider its consumption levels is the urban domestic one. Recent surveys conducted in South Africa’s middle-class suburbs revealed that the conservation-threshold price of water (that is, the price at which householders would implement conservation measures) could not be determined with any accuracy because it was too much in excess of what was currently being paid for respondents to identify a specific price. This suggests that there may be considerable scope for raising revenue in South Africa by means of levies on urban water sales.

Clearly, there is the potential to curb South Africa’s thirst for more water by introducing demand-management strategies. Furthermore, there is also some urgency to do this, given the new government’s intention to expand the economy at a rate of around 5% per year. Unfortunately, there is little indication that policymakers are thinking along these lines.

Water-management systems

National overview

Responsibility for water supply in South Africa is divided among central, regional, and local authorities and nonprofit bulk-supply authorities (water boards), with the central government’s DWAF managing the overall policy framework. DWAF is responsible for operating many of the country’s major dams, setting policy, issuing forestry permits (based on estimated water use and runoff reduction), and coordinating long-term water-resource development. In the past, DWAF worked closely with provincial and ethnic homeland governments but had no jurisdiction over the four nominally independent homelands.

The former homeland governments are currently being reabsorbed into central and regional administrations. Nine new provincial governments have been established in place of the former provincial and homeland administrations. Despite the detailed wording of the new constitution, there is still uncertainty concerning the division of responsibility between central and regional governments, especially because the new regional governments are keen to assert their independence of central government. Water management is a responsibility of the central government, whereas provincial and local services are the responsibility of regional governments.

The anticipated lack of capacity at the provincial level, coupled with the rigid service-level targets of the RDP, has forced the central government to consider the establishment of water utilities (that is, nonprofit, democratically controlled water boards) to implement water-supply and sanitation works at the subprovincial level. Although these new utilities have still to be formed, it is widely recognized that the needs of rural communities will only be met with a collective and concerted effort from government, parastatals, NGO s, the private sector, and the communities themselves. Moreover, to benefit from the RDP, the communities must demonstrate both consensus and determination regarding these issues. The backlog in water-supply and sanitation services, the rapid urbanization rate, and rural population-growth rates of more than 3% per year present too great a problem for any single agency to assume total responsibility.

Rural water supply

Because of the policy of separate development, rural water supply in white South Africa, as administered by DWAF, focused on water supply for commercial agriculture, whereas water supply for the inhabitants of the ethnic Bantustans was allocated to homeland governments. In general, the latter lacked the resources, capacity, and motivation to introduce and maintain sustainable water-delivery systems, although there were isolated success stories.

More than half of all rural people rely on unimproved water sources: streams, rivers, and unprotected springs. This direct dependence on natural water sources has made many communities highly vulnerable to droughts, to increases in water-abstraction patterns, to upstream land-use changes, and to effluent discharges. Current water conflicts and detailed catchment analyses are starting to indicate that rural water resources may have been overallocated, going beyond the safe yield of catchments and dams. Furthermore, nearly all of South Africa’s surface water is unsuitable for human consumption in an untreated state, largely because of contamination by human, animal, and industrial waste. This water must be treated if any reduction in rural waterborne diseases is to be achieved.

In response to this problem, DWAF is setting up the Directorate of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation to support rural communities. The new directorate will strive to facilitate, rather than implement, water management. NGO s, local authorities, water boards, the private sector, and regional authorities will take primary responsibility for implementation. Local water committees will coordinate the rural water supply. It is anticipated that the current mapping of groundwater potential throughout the country will assist in satisfying rural water demand.

Urban water supply

South Africa’s urban areas were historically segregated into white, Asian, coloured, and black areas. Water supply in white areas is generally excellent. Because African urbanization was forcibly discouraged, black townships outside the homelands were not designed to accommodate large populations. Since the lifting of influx controls in 1986 there has been a dramatic shift away from covert settlement in overcrowded township houses and back yards toward shack settlement on the urban periphery. Existing township infrastructure is proving inadequate to meet the demands now being placed on it. Politically motivated rent and service boycotts have deprived many local authorities of the revenue needed for maintaining and upgrading systems, and maintenance capacity has been deteriorating steadily for some time. Nearly 50% of the water supplied to Soweto is lost through leakage. The new political dispensation does not seem to have defused the crisis in many local authorities as residents grow impatient at the state’s failure to deliver widespread civic improvements. Local government elections held in November 1995 give more legitimacy to the local councils that levy tariffs, but the perception that urban services can be had for free is now deeply entrenched in many black townships.

In the last 5 years, dense, informal settlements have sprung up around the periphery of towns and cities, such as Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Growth is extremely rapid. In the space of a month, shack settlements of several thousand people can develop on vacant land, and local authorities are battling to provide even rudimentary services. Most residents rely on public standpipes in adjacent settlements or on water tankers. Sanitation is often nonexistent, and already there have been several outbreaks of typhoid and other waterborne diseases.

The involvement of the residents of informal settlements in water management or local administration was initially discouraged by the last government for fear of bestowing some form of legitimacy on such settlement practices, as they are perceived to be an illegal activity. The new government has adopted the policy of encouraging dialogue with informal community leaders and encouraging the provincial governments to give priority to their needs.

Cost recovery

The majority of rural users regard water as a free good that the government must provide in abundance. Government makes little attempt to recover the real costs of rural water supply from the beneficiaries, and rural consumers are required to pay a nominal tariff that is seldom consumption related, and then only if the water provided is close by. Very few people actually pay even this nominal tariff, and government agencies lack the capacity to enforce payment. In urban areas, mounting debt from long-standing rent and service boycotts in many areas is being covered by government through interdepartmental cash transfers, which depletes funds for new services and housing.

Payment for sanitation in rural areas has generally entailed the repayment of loans on a small scale for voluntary, owner-built pit latrines. However, disposable income is extremely limited in the impoverished rural areas, and other priority needs, such as water supply, food purchases, health, and education, are often considered more important. Service-payment schemes for RDP sanitation systems have yet to be developed and implemented.

The nonrecovery of even the O&M costs of water-supply and sanitation services has all the ramifications that have been experienced elsewhere in the world, such as

· failure by the community to identify with the scheme so long as it is state owned;

· lack of respect for the scheme, leading to abuse, theft, and vandalism, thereby raising maintenance costs;

· inappropriate system design resulting from lack of effort to reconcile the needs of the community with its levels of affordability and its capacity for managing sophisticated systems;

· increasing national O&M cost burden, which reduces available funds for new schemes and leads to a preoccupation within government with cost cutting; and

· wastage of water.

Homeland governments lacked the legitimacy and political will either to introduce or to enforce better cost recovery. Often, zero-cost-recovery water-supply schemes were seen as a way to foster rural political support, something that took on greater importance in the run-up to the 1994 elections. Today, in some large-scale rural reticulation schemes, the inherited policy of zero cost recovery completely undermines the reliability of the service, as people are not motivated to turn off yard taps and prefer, instead, to run the water continuously on vegetable gardens and lawns. This practice leads to pipeline-pressure reductions, with the result that many villages farther down the line do not receive water and have to rely on tanker deliveries.

The task of achieving a partial cost recovery, sufficient to meet at least O&M costs, now falls on the new government. The policy on this has been advanced in RDP documentation, where it was indicated that service charges would have to be levied on RDP infrastructure projects. However, the implementation of this policy in the existing environment, where service delivery has been highly politicized and welfare expectations run high, has still to take place.

DWAF plans to entrench the principle that all water consumed has a price. A low-level “lifeline” tariff has been suggested for low-income consumers, and higher tariffs on a sliding scale for other consumers could help finance a more equitable and sustainable water supply to all. Higher water tariffs for irrigators are also possible.

On payment, the achievements of a number of independently minded rural communities deserve recognition. Either as a result of objections to incorporation in homeland states or because of disfavour with homeland politicians, a number of rural communities in South Africa were left to fend for themselves during the 1980s and early 1990s. To survive, they established the foundations of an interim local authority, often with strong inputs from women. This authority collected funds within the community and approached NGO s for assistance with basic-service provision. In some instances, this new-found capacity has led to the development of rural industries and enterprises. The interesting feature of the many water schemes originated by the community is the reportedly high level of assurance of supply. This assurance is due essentially to an absence of government intervention in the development of the schemes. In such cases, it is not uncommon to find the local vehicle mechanic maintaining the village water pump.

Catchment management

Historically, natural-resource management has tended to focus on “separatist conservation,” rather than viewing humans as an integral part of the natural environment. Hence, no catchment-management plans that can be implemented exist beyond statements of general intent. For example, dense settlements, overgrazing, and overburning have led to severe erosion, particularly in the former homeland areas. Diminished infiltration is affecting local groundwater supplies, flooding is increasing in frequency and severity, and the silting of rivers and estuaries is widespread. The impact of this degradation not only affects people in the immediate vicinity (the rural areas), but also will, in a short space of time, affect water supplies to the main metropolitan areas.

Broad policy statements are difficult to implement on the ground, and neither the Department of Agriculture nor DWAF has the power or resources to ensure better resource management in the important water-supply catchments. In the former homelands, environmental management was largely ignored. Instead, the focus tended to be on tourism-related conservation, rather than on veld rehabilitation and community education. Effective public-awareness campaigns are an urgent priority. However, in the absence of feasible management policies and the necessary development to alleviate rural poverty, progress is likely to be limited.

Major constraints and recommended research

Top-down development practices

PROBLEM - The historical approach by government agencies has been top down and paternalistic, with the emphasis on technical rather than institutional development. Community participation tended to mean “consulting the chief or headman about the siting of a borehole.” Communication was generally one way and addressed exclusively to men.

RESPONSE - The new minister of DWAF has committed the department to the principle of bottom-up development, involving consultation with all stakeholders, particularly women. Extensive staff recruitment and management reeducation programs will be necessary to achieve this, as DWAF has tended to be white, male, and technocratic. Policies are being put in place to address this.

Poorly developed capacity in rural areas

PROBLEM - The existing rural water-supply system has fostered dependence and stifled initiative, without being able to meet community expectations. Organizational capacity at the local level is generally poorly developed, and if local committees are to play the role outlined for them by the new government, considerable training will be required in organizational development, basic administration, bookkeeping, and rudimentary maintenance skills.

RESPONSE - In conjunction with NGO s, the government is formulating strategies to address training and organizational development. Also, in response to the realization that well-developed technical skills often exist in rural communities and merely require reorientation toward water-system O&M, there are moves to help establish small-scale water and sanitation entrepreneurs in rural areas.

Pollution of water-supply aquifers

PROBLEM - Contamination of water sources and aquifers has become a very serious problem, in part because of the rapid growth of dense settlements with poor sanitation infrastructure. Considerable contamination of groundwater has already occurred in many places, and it will be some time before government and community agencies have the resources to introduce better sanitation techniques and alternative water supplies.

RESPONSE - Improved sanitation is one of the RDP ‘s priorities, and DWAF has assumed some measure of responsibility for ensuring improvements do occur.

Overstocking of grazing veld

PROBLEM - In the past, tribal chiefs were responsible for ensuring that lands under their jurisdiction were well managed. However, the erosion of their legitimacy in some parts of the country, coupled with incentives that encourage chiefs to maximize the number of households (with livestock) in the communities, has greatly reduced their enthusiasm to introduce new patterns of stock management. Government attempts to reduce stock numbers in tribal areas and forcibly introduce different stock-management regimes have often been politicized and have generally failed, although there have been documented successes in controlling the stocking rates of white farmers.

RESPONSE - Politicians have shied away from tackling this problem, both because of the cultural importance of cattle to many African people and because it tends to raise questions about land distribution in South Africa. It is one of the most pressing problems facing sustainable water management.

RESEARCH - There is a need to develop community-based socioeconomic-incentive systems that will match livestock levels to the carrying capacity of the land. This may entail developing closer links between livestock farmers in tribal areas and the meat-products processing and marketing industry.

Water for the environment

PROBLEM - As a result of weak enforcement of environmental-conservation policies and a poorly coordinated environmental lobby, when water stress does occur, the natural environment invariably suffers. The water needs of wetlands, riverine habitats, and even conservation areas, such as Kruger National Park, have generally been overlooked.

RESPONSE - The Water Research Commission, in conjunction with the Foundation for Research Development, embarked on a program to determine the water needs of the natural environment in the mid-1980s. It remains to be seen whether the state will adopt the recommendations of this research, in view of the stiff competition for water from rural communities, although it is likely that the state will accept the concept of the aquatic environment being the resource from which water can be drawn, up to a certain point. In other words, the natural environment would no longer be viewed as a user but as the source of water and thus would be entitled to a reserve beyond which further abstractions would not be allowed.

RESEARCH - The contribution of freshwater systems to the economic performance of various sectors, such as agriculture and tourism, needs to be better quantified.


PROBLEM - Responsibility for implementing the Water Act is dispersed amongst a myriad of authorities operating at various levels of government within South Africa and the independent and self-governing states. Moreover, South African water law is derived from European law and presupposes an abundant supply of water. Thus, the emphasis is on allocation, rather than on integrated scarce-resource management.

RESPONSE - Under the new government, DWAF is drafting legislation to consolidate and rationalize water legislation into one uniform body of law. From there, the nation’s water law itself will be revised to meet current conditions.

Drought management

PROBLEM - Droughts are still seen as exceptional, rather than inevitable and predictable. Drought-relief schemes during the 1992-93 period raised awareness among government officials that, in most places, the major problem was not that assured water was absent but that existing infrastructure had broken down, which forced communities to revert to traditional sources, which were soon exhausted.

RESPONSE - Better awareness of the need for ongoing maintenance programs involving local users exists, but few initiatives are under way.

Coordinating the activities of NGOs

PROBLEM - NGO s have played a pivotal role in installing improved water supplies in areas inadequately addressed by government. However, the rapid proliferation of NGO s in the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in poor coordination and communication between organizations.

RESPONSE - A new NGO, the Mvula Trust, has been established to fund rural water and sanitation schemes and to coordinate their funding and implementation.


Water supply and demand

Water availability

The water resources of Swaziland may be described in terms of the four main geographical areas, each stretching from north to south. From west to east, they may be described as follows:

· Highveld has rainfall of 1 000 - 1 200 mm/year and abundant surface and groundwater.

· Middleveld has rainfall of 600-800 mm/year and good groundwater, but its surface water is unreliable.

· Lowveld has rainfall of less than 600 mm/year, little surface water, and few successful boreholes.

· Lebombo Plateau is relatively wet in the northeast, which has rainfall of 650year. Most rivers in the northeast have small irrigation dams for sugar, citrus, and other crops. The southeast is in a rain shadow and receives rainfall of only 400-500 mm/year. Domestic supply relies on boreholes and a little surface water.

Water supply

The traditional sources of water are springs and rivers, which are shared with livestock. The three main river systems affecting Swaziland are the Komati River, the Usutu River, and the Ngwempisi River, all of which flow east from South Africa through Swaziland toward Mozambique.

The Komati River hosts a number of impoundments on the upstream South African side. These are used for supply of cooling water for coal-fired power stations and water for irrigation. Commercial timber plantations in both South Africa and Swaziland further reduce the runoff from this catchment. Historical agreements with South Africa have allocated a portion of the Komati River flow to Swaziland. This allocation has generally been more than could be used by Swaziland. However, the droughts of the 1980s and 1990s, coupled with increased irrigation abstractions upstream of Swaziland, have greatly reduced the flow in the Komati River as it returns to South Africa. This has partly been the motivating force behind the construction of the Driekoppies Dam on the Lomati River (a main tributary of the Komati River), on Swaziland’s eastern border.

A second dam in the Komati catchment, at Maguga, has been proposed. If it goes ahead, it is to be funded 40% by Swaziland and 60% by South Africa. However, Swaziland has been slow to initiate the processes necessary to keep project negotiations on schedule. Maguga will have virtually no impact on domestic water consumption, as its primary purpose will be hydroelectric-power generation and irrigation, especially of sugar, citrus, and other crops.

Water demand

Swaziland’s current and projected water demands are shown in Table 4. Official estimates are set at 1.210 9 /year for irrigation, based on the register of permits allocated for irrigation. However, actual use is estimated to be far less, at around 0.410 9 /year; no precise figures exist.

Table 4. Current and projected demand in Swaziland by sector.


(x 106 m³)




Urban domestic



Rural domestic (estimated)













Official estimates are set at 1.2 x 109 m³/year for irrigation, based on the register of permits allocated for irrigation. However, no precise figures exist for actual utilization, which is estimated to be far less, at around 400106 m³/year.

Nearly 30% of the population of Swaziland lives in urban areas, and this proportion is increasing rapidly as people leave the rural areas in search of work. Political change in South Africa has led to a measure of disinvestment from Swaziland in preference to its more developed neighbour. This is expected to place greater pressure on the commercial agricultural sector to generate jobs and wealth, which in turn will probably increase the demand for irrigation water.

Water-management systems

National overview

Swaziland is a constitutional monarchy, and the royal palace strongly influences decision-making. There is no single institution outside the monarchy with the power to coordinate water policy in Swaziland. Authority is dispersed among several government departments, each of which seems eager to cede responsibility. Despite much discussion and an agreement in principle taken 6 years ago, the proposed National Water Authority, with the powers to gather information, formulate policy, plan development, and oversee implementation, has still not been set up. Development planning falls primarily under the Ministry of Economic Planning, whose priorities do not necessarily address resource management and sustainable water delivery.

There is no comprehensive national water-development strategy or master plan in Swaziland, and rhetorical commitments to water-resource development have not been matched by the necessary financial and human-resource commitments. For example, until mid-1995, the Rural Water Supply Board depended entirely on external donors for its existence. The Government of Swaziland has now made a formal commitment to partially fund the Rural Water Supply Board (now renamed the Rural Water Supply Branch [RWSB]). Although this limited government funding will lessen uncertainty about the future of RWSB, there are no guarantees about the size of the annual budgetary allocation from government from year to year. Consequently, RWSB will remain dependent on the donor community for much of its activities.

Part of the reason for this complacency is that Swaziland is well provided with surface water. However, much of this water is unsafe for human consumption, largely because of human and animal fecal contamination, and the failure to invest in sustainable rural water infrastructure is reflected in high infant-mortality rates, widespread diarrhea, and a range of other waterborne illnesses.

Estimates of safe water-supply coverage vary widely. Between 20 and 40% of the urban and peri-urban population and between 45 and 55% of the rural population do not have access to potable water. Given that 70% of people live in rural areas, this imbalance in water access reflects a bias toward higher quality service provision in urban centres.

Swaziland has three main water institutions, described as follows:

· The Water Department, within the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, has few powers and resources. Its main activity is managing water for irrigation.

· RWSB falls under the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment but relies heavily on external funding. It was set up with donor funding and NGO support during the United Nations Decade of Water and Sanitation.

· The Water Services Corporation was privatized in August 1994 to facilitate better planning, budgeting, and overall management of urban water supplies. It remains answerable to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

The Rural Water Supply Board (now Branch)

For many years the Government of Swaziland regarded RWSB as a temporary parastatal institution. Short-term and uncertain funding severely undermined its effectiveness. Most of its staff were in temporary positions and received little training, and training in community development was largely neglected. In mid-1995, the Rural Water Supply Board was formally reconstituted as a department of government and renamed as a branch (as mentioned earlier). It is too soon to tell what impact this change will have on the internal workings of the branch.

RWSB emphasizes low-cost, community-initiated water projects. People wanting an improved water supply are required to form a water committee and to collect contributions for O&M. When RWSB is satisfied the committee has shown sufficient commitment, it applies for donor funding. Funding, however, can take several years to secure. RWSB technicians install gravity-fed systems from reliable springs, wherever feasible, and sink boreholes where necessary. Where the depth is too great for handpumps, RWSB installs electric pumps wherever possible. Diesel pumps are rarely installed now because of theft of the pump and fuel. The use of electricity has raised the cost, and affordability is a major problem for many households.

A major factor complicating rural water provision is the entrenched cultural preference for scattered homesteads, rather than close rural settlements and villages. Among other factors, this raises the cost and difficulty of rural water supply. Once a water scheme is installed, many water committees lapse. Of those that remain, only half maintain an ongoing water fund. People in rural areas are supposed to contribute a monthly flat rate, usually 6 or 7 ZAR, for O&M to the local water committee, but payment and collection rates vary. In theory, nonpayers are not allowed to take water, but in practice such water theft is hard to police. Vandalism by those excluded and the health costs of reverting to traditional water sources are far more expensive. Maintenance capacity is, therefore, limited. Although 45% of rural villages are serviced by improved water schemes, not all of these schemes are in working order, because of problems with communication, transport, and the shortage of technical staff. Many rural water-supply schemes are also too complex to allow for greater community involvement. Moreover, as water minders are unpaid and usually untrained, very few settlements have a permanent water minder.

The Urban Water Services Corporation

The Urban Water Services Corporation (WSC) is understaffed and depends on expatriate technical advisors. Recent internal restructuring has distracted WSC from the need to make urgent decisions about infrastructure upgrading and expansion. At current levels of consumption and urban growth, Mbabane will start running out of water in 1998. WSC has not decided yet been how to address this problem.

Current urban-development strategies stress full cost recovery but do not achieve this, as tariffs only cover O&M costs and do not provide for expansion and development. Formal settlement areas, on the other hand, have individual, metered connections, and revenue collection is well administered. These high-level, metered reticulation networks in formal settlements coexist uneasily with a dearth of infrastructure in the informal settlements. An estimated 140 000 people in urban and peri-urban informal settlements are without running water, and settlements in the greater Manzini area are growing at a rate of 5% per year. Urban community structures, however, are not involved in water management.

A few public standpipes were installed by WSC in informal settlements in the 1980s, after a cholera outbreak, but no attempt was made at cost recovery. Several pilot projects are now under way to get standpipe users to pay for water, despite the lack of precedent for this in Swaziland. One expedient is lockable standpipes, with keys for those who pay a flat rate. However, there are problems with vandalism by those locked out. Water kiosks seem to be more successful.

The NGO sector

Coordination between the government and some elements of the NGO sector is poor, leading to inefficiencies and duplication. RWSB is highly critical of some NGO s, which, it argues, often install inadequate water schemes fitted with nonstandard equipment that RWSB is then obliged to maintain.

International institutions

As a result of the construction of the Driekoppies Dam, an international water-management institution has been established through an agreement between Swaziland and South Africa. The Komati Basin Water Authority will have the task of monitoring land use and runoff within the Komati catchment, which includes parts of Swaziland.

Major constraints and recommended research

Drought relief

PROBLEM - As Swaziland has only one major storage dam, Mnjeli, used mainly for irrigation, and has inadequate water-supply coverage in rural areas, the country is extremely vulnerable to drought. An elaborate scheme to erect water tanks in stressed areas and have them filled by government tankers failed conspicuously when it was realized that no funds had been voted for the O&M of the tankers. Moreover, the logistics of supply in the rural areas proved prohibitive. Local residents expressed their frustration in some areas by vandalizing the empty tanks.

RESPONSE - A borehole-drilling program provided by RWSB on behalf of the Disaster Relief Task Force is under way to improve rural water supply, particularly in vulnerable areas.

Natural-resource management

PROBLEM - Poor resource management in communal lands, controlled by the chiefs on behalf of the King, is compounding erosion and aggravating the sedimentation of rivers and reservoirs in the southwest. The main water-supply catchment for the greater Manzini area (the industrial hub of the country, with rapidly growing informal settlements) lies in badly degraded communal lands. The combination of steep slopes, erodible granitic soils, overgrazing, and high-intensity rainfall has led to major sedimentation. The silting of dams and reservoirs is, therefore, a serious problem, particularly in the Matsapha-Manzini area.

RESPONSE - Major dredging operations have been necessary for the past year to improve the storage capacity of the Matsapha Dam, but the soil-conservation measures of the Department of Agriculture have proven ineffectual.

RESEARCH - Community-based socioeconomic-incentive systems that encourage the matching of livestock levels to the carrying capacity of the land need to be developed.

Institutional coordination

PROBLEM - There is little overall coordination among agencies implementing water and sanitation programs. Communication between the various agencies happens largely at a personal level, rather than an institutional level. There is no monitoring system at the national level.

RESPONSE - There has been no apparent action.

International water sharing

PROBLEM - South Africa abstracts heavily from two of the three main rivers entering Swaziland, with six dams on these rivers. Swaziland wants this water for irrigation, but government officials maintain that flows through Swaziland are declining because of South Africa’s dams. Bilateral negotiating mechanisms were introduced in 1979, after five of the South African dams were completed.

RESPONSE - Because of Swaziland’s size and location, government officials in Swaziland feel relatively impotent in asserting the nation’s right to a more equitable share of river flows. Response has been correspondingly limited.

Water conservation measures

PROBLEM - In urban areas, the estimated volume of water lost between the water supplied and water billed is 60%.

RESPONSE - Private consultants were commissioned to investigate loss-reduction schemes, such as replacing valves, upgrading shutoff devices, and redesigning mains. However, government is stalling on the implementation of the recommendations, and there is no evidence of water-conservation measures being applied in the other user sectors.


This regional overview highlights the different ways water is supplied and managed in southern Africa, but it is not an evaluation of those water-management systems currently in place. The focus is on water stress and how governments, institutions, and local communities perceive such stress and respond to it. However, as water stress is often the product of institutional or management failure, this report tends to overlook the successes and achievements of the countries reviewed. Such achievements have been considerable, and the necessary planning to meet future needs is often well developed. Unfortunately, the resources (skills and finance) to sustain these successes and implement new schemes seldom exist. In the highly stressed areas, this has led to water management based on survivalism, sometimes at the expense of the environment and economic development. Thus, there is a need for a dualistic approach to water supply in the region: (1) to consolidate existing systems and ensure their effectiveness and sustainability; and (2) to meet future demands for both domestic use and economic development.

Despite shared characteristics and somewhat similar geography, each country reviewed has a distinctive approach to policy and has specific strengths and deficiencies. A number of problems concerning water supply are common to all four countries:

· a looming water shortage;

· little popular awareness that regional water resources are finite, coupled with a widespread perception that government has the ability to provide abundant water;

· inappropriate tariff structures, poor cost recovery, and problems in getting users to pay for the water supplied;

· an emphasis on installation of water-supply systems, rather than on their maintenance;

· inadequate water-management education, training, and support for rural users;

· serious environmental-degradation problems, particularly relating to rural land management;

· poor coordination among water-management agencies; and

· inadequate attention to sanitation.

More positively, there is a wealth of water-management experience in the subregion. Now that South Africa has moved beyond apartheid, targeted regional-cooperation initiatives may become possible, with benefits to the subcontinent as a whole. Lesotho, for example, has many years of experience in developing low-cost, low-technology, community-driven rural water schemes. Swaziland has experience in using Afridev pumps, which many regard as the most accessible and manageable borehole technology for rural women. South Africa has excellent technical expertise and an impressive record in the development of bulk water-supply infrastructure, and the model Namibia has recently developed for managing rural water supply has widespread application. However, there are some problems in the area of water management:

· lack of demand-management strategies;

· absence of any sustainable grazing-management systems in key water-supply catchments;

· poor record of skills and technology transfer, especially at local levels; and

· lack of government realization, policies, or actions regarding the need for water-supply education and training focused on rural women, even though women’s community ties are strongest and their benefits from improved water-supply schemes would be the most significant.

Despite critical water shortages, either current ones or those expected in the not too distant future, policymakers pay little attention to curbing the demand for water or creating incentives for water conservation. The people of southern Africa believe that their respective governments can supply unlimited quantities of water indefinitely, and the governments themselves seem to be labouring under the same misconception. The attention being given to new and elaborate water-supply engineering projects by recently democratically elected governments suggests a fixation with supply-based solutions. Whether this is the preference of the politicians or of the engineers advising them is not clear. However, there does seem to be a reluctance of governments to control consumption or practices that threaten the sustainability of water supplies. Indeed, it has been suggested that some water-supply agencies are unsupportive of non-drought-related water-conservation initiatives because of the prospect of reduced revenue. Increased international encouragement for governments to consider and adopt one of the many types of demand-management strategies may well be justified. The development and tailoring of such strategies to the individual countries and situations could be a primary area of research.

Southern Africa is reasonably well off in terms of water-supply skills. However, these continue to be vested in a centralized minority, many of whom are expatriate. Apart from the recent training efforts of Namibia, which have still to bear fruit, there are few, if any, programs to transfer water-supply and management skills to individual rural communities. Furthermore, there is no evidence of governments’ acknowledging the indigenous skills that have historically enabled rural communities to secure reliable water supplies before reductions in river flows resulting from upstream development and population increase. The belief that rural communities are simply incapable of looking after their own water-supply systems still prevails in many government departments, although it is seldom openly admitted. One result of this is that no attempt is made to educate communities about the reality of the water situation in the region and thereby provide a foundation for future water conservation.

Finally, broad consensus can be found in the development agencies of all four nations that there is considerable merit in focusing water-supply education and training on rural women. Their community ties are strongest, and they benefit most from improved water-supply schemes. However, this realization is not, as yet, reflected in either the policies or the actions of governments.

Strain, Water Demand, and Supply Directions in the Most Stressed Water Systems of Southern Africa except South Africa and Namibia

Luke Onyekakeyah

Environmental Scientist and Consultant, Nairobi, Kenya


A stressed water system is one in which degradation is taking place or where there is a threat to its capacity to continue providing adequate water supply, in quantity and quality, to households, communities, and nations.

This study of stressed water systems in the southern Africa subregion used three methods:

· Questionnaires were administered to identified expert contacts in all eight countries. Thirty-two questionnaires were administered, and 16 (50%) were returned.

· A 1-week visit to the two countries serving as study samples, Zambia and Zimbabwe, was made to obtain detailed data.

· Pertinent information in published materials was reviewed and analyzed to supplement the field data.

Respondents were requested to identify stressed local water systems. Although this system of identifying stressed water points had obvious shortcomings, it provided an acceptable source of preliminary data. Further scientific data could be obtained through appropriate research. Respondents noted that most of the regional water courses were under stress (Table 1).

Actual data on groundwater were generally lacking. According to Moyo et al. (1993), well-digging to extract groundwater began in the 19th century and penetrated to deeper and more effective sources with the availability of the diesel pump in the 20th century. There were no available statistics on the number of boreholes or well points, but it was estimated that over the last two decades the the number has increased tremendously, from 500 to 10 000. These are suspected to be depleting the groundwater reserves, the total quantity of which is yet unknown.

Against this background, I designed the survey to obtain factual information on the water-stress issue so that I could determine the most appropriate research agenda to address the region’s strained water resources.

Sources of stress and alleviation strategies

A stress factor is any element or situation that obstructs the accessibility or quality of the water supply. Moreover, any factor or situation that puts too much demand on the available water supply, thereby making it unable to satisfy the projected demand, is regarded as a stress factor.

The incidence of stress also has a space-time dimension and can be classified as either temporal or permanent. Human activities, such as the discharge of industrial waste into the Kafue River in Zambia, limit the accessibility and quality of water, reducing its availability for different uses. As long as this situation persists, the population depending on the water source may be forced to explore alternative sources of water supply. However, this situation can change if the polluting industries adopt cleaner methods of production. The source of stress under these conditions has the possibility of changing over time.

On the other hand, stress can be permanent if its impact on the water-supply source cannot be reversed. For example, the construction of several hydropower stations on the River Zambezi inevitably reduces the quantity of water available to the population living downstream. This situation may be irreversible, and the stress on the water system is permanent.

Stress elements that limit the quality of water for different uses can be

· purposive utilization, such as for domestic uses, agriculture, mining, and industry;

· unattended utilization, such as wastage and pollution; and

· purposive pollution, such as convenient dumping of waste before treatment.


Most of southern Africa lies in a drought-prone region, which experiences natural drought conditions caused by the prolonged absence of rainfall in both time and space. This problem affects many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Within southern Africa, drought is considered a critical issue of development planning because it underlies many problems encountered in water-resources utilization. According to available records, drought conditions have occurred in roughly 20-year cycles: in the 1960s, in the 1980s, and again in 1991-92 (Moyo et al. 1993).

The occurrence of drought has serious consequences on water availability for domestic and agricultural use, reducing the water supply both in quantity and in quality. Reduced access to water particularly affects herding communities and forces the people and their livestock to concentrate and compete for water around water holes and other sources (Moyo et al. 1993). Drought, therefore, makes traditional farming and grazing lifestyles inadequate and unsustainable (Keating 1993) and results in poverty and starvation. An estimated 3 million people died in the mid-1980s because of drought in sub-Saharan Africa (Keating 1993).

Attempts have been made to deal with drought situations by increasing water supply. In Zimbabwe, for example, a major interbasin water transfer currently is being undertaken. The Zambezi Water Project is intended to pipe some of the water that thunders over the Victoria Falls through the arid landscape of western Zimbabwe, to help redress the effects of recurrent drought in that area (ZERO1993) and provide enough water for domestic and agricultural purposes. Similarly, in Zambia, the Community Management and Monitoring Unit (CMMU) of the Department of Water Affairs (DWA), under its Water, Sanitation, and Health Education (WASHE), is initiating a number of community-based field programs to educate the people in water conservation and to make water points easily accessible (Carty 1994). In addition, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are working with communities to increase the water supply by constructing more boreholes (Connolly 1991). Similarly, the Zimbabwe Environment Research Organization has drawn up a regional research project to identify long-term strategies to cope with the recurrent drought in southern Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe (ZERO1993). The project will cover three countries, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and has the following objectives:

· to document droughts within the three countries since 1900;

· to identify areas where drought impacts were most severe;

· to assess the region’s current early-warning systems and analyze their strengths and weaknesses; and

· to investigate the impact of drought on vulnerable groups, especially women, children, the elderly, and the unemployed.

With the actions being undertaken at all levels, it is hoped that appropriate solutions will be found to deal with future drought situations in the subregion.

Soil erosion and sedimentation

Land degradation is a serious problem in catchments with large population concentrations and in high-rainfall areas. Misuse of land and vegetation by overgrazing and adoption of inappropriate agricultural practices has inevitably exposed large watersheds and made them susceptible to severe erosion. Arntzen and Veenendal (1986) showed that erosion is a serious problem in the region, exacerbated by periods of drought and intense rainfall. Several types of erosion occur. For example, sheetwash, rill erosion, and gullying have been identified in the hardveld of Botswana (Moyo et al. 1983). In Lesotho, a detailed study of soil erosion and reservoir sedimentation in two catchments of Roma Valley and the Maliele area revealed very disturbing levels of erosion and siltation (Chakela 1981). The rates of net erosion varied from about 100 to 2000 t/km per year.

The incidence of soil erosion has severe impacts on water resources. Based on figures recorded at Little Caledon, Lesotho (Moyo et al. 1993), it has been found that soil erosion leads to the following:

· sediments in the floodplains of major streams and in reservoirs;

· rapid siltation of several reservoirs constructed since the late 1950s;

· high sediment loads in the major streams; and

· development of river terraces.

Such sedimentation may explain the current low water-holding capacity of many dams and reservoirs in Zimbabwe. For example, it has been found that out of the more than 8 000 dams with a total storage capacity of 4.9 x 109 m³ of water, those in some of the drier parts of the country were holding only 15-25% of their capacity, even toward the end of the rainy season (Holmberg and Timberlake 1991; Moyo et al. 1991, 1993). This is due to soil erosion and sedimentation, even though there are no data to explain the exact impact. Under such circumstances, the water supply is greatly reduced and could lead to demand competition.

Despite its importance, the soil-erosion issue seems to have received limited attention in the environmental agendas of the countries in the subregion. Within the division of portfolios among the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, Lesotho has responsibility for soil erosion.This is in response to the country’s extensive environmental problems (Moyo et al. 1993). As early as 1936, technical attempts to combat soil erosion in Lesotho were initiated in the form of contours along undulating lowlands and tree planting. These early efforts had limited success because of the forceful methods used by the colonial government.

In terms of research, there is a shortage of information on soil-erosion studies, making data-compilation difficult (Stocking 1987). There seem to have been only limited proposals on this issue at both the national and the regional levels, so numerous opportunities exist. Based on the current situation, future research efforts should focus on

· determining the relationship between drought and soil erosion;

· determining the rate of sedimentation and impact on dams; and

· assessing the role of human activities in generating soil erosion.

Rapid population growth

The dynamics of population in the region and the pressure on available water resources are a primary issue to be considered in discussing the sources of stress on water resources. During the past decade, southern African countries have experienced rapid population growth. The population of many countries has almost doubled in this same period, with no additional increase in water supply, meaning that available water resources have to be shared among competing demands. Current estimates put Zimbabwe’s population growth rate at 3%, which, if sustained, would produce a population of 15 million by 2006 and 20 million by 2016 (Moyo et al. 1993).

The effects of population on water resources are manifested in the water-demand side of the issue, for there is a serious demand to satisfy needs, as well as sectoral demands for agriculture and industry. In Zimbabwe, current water-consumption levels for the various sectors show that the bulk of water is consumed in urban areas (representing 23% of the population) and in commercial farming and mining areas (together representing 20% of the population). Communal areas (representing 57% of the population) account for a smaller portion of water consumption, as drinking water for people and livestock is supplied mostly through groundwater at point sources (Holmberg et al. 1991; Moyo et al. 1991, 1993). These figures do not indicate whether the demand of all water-user sectors is met adequately, nor do they show the level of the demand.

There is no indication that governments are attempting to evolve any policy to control population growth in Zambia or Zimbabwe, or indeed anywhere in southern Africa. No country has a clear government policy on population.

To address issues bordering on population demand for water, the DWA in Zambia, under the CMMU-WASHE program, is carrying out field studies to determine per capita water demand (Carty 1994). This is being done to determine existing water demand in relation to supply; however, more actions are needed.

A research agenda could be based on the United Nations (UN) global position on the population and resource relationship and address issues such as

· the need for countries to know their national population-carrying capacity (the capacity of the resource base to support and provide for the needs of human population);

· the need to pay special attention to critical resources such as water; and

· the need to deal with migrations that result from and lead to stress on water resources, that is, to environmental degradation.

Industrial pollution

The SADC region is not highly industrialized in comparison with Western industrial nations. However, it has great potential for industrial development, especially after passing through the long transition period from colonial domination to self-governance and economic determination. Owing to the low level of industrial activity, the impact of this sector on the environment in general and on water resources in particular has been localized.

The industrial pollution of the Kafue River, an important freshwater source in Zambia, is a good case in point (Macfoy 1994). The river passes through Zambia’s copperbelt industrial complex, an area where major mining, agricultural, and hydropower schemes are located. Some of the major industries in this complex include Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, Rokana Corporation Limited, Kafue Textiles of Zambia, Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia, Bata Tannery, and National Breweries. Industrialization has brought with it extensive drainage and pollution problems. Because of the lack of water-disposal systems, the practice of the industries has been to discharge industrial waste directly into the Kafue River, making it perhaps the most polluted river in the subregion. The consequences of pollution on the Kafue include

· high concentration of chemicals in the water;

· reduction in the quantity of freshwater consumed by humans and animals as the quality of drinking water is increasingly affected;

· increased turbidity;
· proliferation of aquatic weeds (eutrophication);
· disappearance of aquatic animals; and
· silting of the nearby dams.

Consequently, as less water has been available, people have been forced to explore alternative sources of water, both for human consumption and for livestock.

The Zambian government has taken some action to deal with the pollution of the Kafue River. In 1985 the government adopted the National Conservation Strategy, and in 1990 Parliament passed the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act (EPPCA), providing the legal framework for the smooth implementation of the strategy. Under EPPCA, it is a serious offense to discharge effluent with levels of pollutants higher than the minimum acceptable level or to abstract water without a licence. The government also established the Environmental Council of Zambia to enforce EPPCA. In 1993, the Pollution Control Regulation was reinforced by the Waste Management Regulation, which mandates the council to restrict the handling, storage, transport, and treatment of waste. A task force was also set up to manually remove aquatic weeds in the river, but this proved unsuccessful.

Despite measures such as these taken by the authorities to control pollution, it is evident that not much has been achieved: there are still flagrant violations of the Pollution Control Regulation, and enforcement of the legislation has been ineffective. There is, therefore, a need to reexamine the enforcement strategy to make the legislation more effective.

Research initiatives on pollution need to investigate the effects of pollution on humans and animals, as well as the effect of soil acidity on plants. In addition, a systematic program for monitoring water quality, in line with the Hydrological Cycle Observing System for SADC (HYCOS-SADC), is needed to improve the collection and management of hydrological data.

Commercial agriculture

Commercial agriculture involves cash-crop and livestock production for trade and income generation. It may involve an intensive system, with high application of inputs to increase yield per hectare, or an extensive system, entailing cultivation of large expanses of land. There are also two types of commercial agriculture: large-scale commercial farms and small-scale commercial farms. Both use large quantities of water for irrigation and livestock to increase production.

Commercial agriculture is widely practiced throughout the region. In Zimbabwe, the total irrigated land under commercial agriculture is 14.1 x 106 ha, with 12.7 x 106 and 1.4 x 106 ha for large- and small-scale commercial farms, respectively (Whitlow 1988), about 36.2% of the total arable land. Most of the water used in the country comes from surface water impounded by dams, and almost 90% of the estimated 4.9 x 109 m³ of water stored is used for agriculture (Holmberg et al. 1991; Moyo et al. 1991, 1993), leaving only 10% for other uses.

According to Moyo et al. (1993), the problems and constraints of agricultural production stem from the rapidly growing population and the finite boundaries of the communal areas. Demand for household arable plots leads to encroachment into grazing areas, but cattle numbers continue to rise. Overstocking is most frequently cited as an indicator of imbalance between resources and people. In Botswana the cattle population is 2.5 million, and cattle continue to be dominant in Swaziland’s livestock sector.

Commercial agriculture usually involves excessive use of water, which puts strain on the available water supply. Moreover, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides intensively applied to farmlands can be washed into watercourses by surface runoff and cause contamination. Concentrations of nutrients have apparently created eutrophication and blooming of aquatic weeds, such as Salvinia molestica in the Okavango River and Eichorrnia crassipes (water hyacinth) in the Kafue River, Harare’s Lake Chibero Reservoir, and the Upper Umgusa Dam near Bulawayo (Moyo et al. 1993). Water hyacinth is already a problem in Lake Victoria and upstream in the Kagera River.

Agriculture remains a major economic activity and source of income to most countries in southern Africa. Consequently, solutions to address the environmental problems associated with commercial agriculture appear to have received little attention. In Zimbabwe, for example, the Natural Resources Act 1941, which was amended in 1975 and 1981, provides for the establishment of Intensive Conservation Areas, in which commercial farmers are required to undertake soil-conservation measures. However, the issues of water consumption, open-channel irrigation with its associated problems (such as mosquito infestation), and contamination of water courses from farm drainage have not been addressed. Furthermore, the problem of overstocking seems to have been left to ecological balance or the ability of the ecosystem to support the livestock. Therefore, the Natural Resources Act is of limited value as an instrument of natural resource management, particularly in areas where degradation is most acute and where there is no other law or policy to ensure enforcement.

The foregoing analysis suggests certain research questions. For example, the relationship between eutrophication and farm-water drainage needs to be determined. Furthermore, it is important to compare water loss by evapotranspiration through open-channel irrigation with water loss through other irrigation methods, such as the drip system. Finally, it is important to explore groundwater-recharge potentials under irrigation conditions.

Hydropower development

One aspect of water use and management in the region involves the production of hydropower. Apart from generating electricity, water impounded in dams is used for irrigation, flood control, drinking-water supplies, stock watering, and fish farming. Such integrated water management is currently perceived as key to sustainable development in several sectors of the economy, and there are possibilities for such development to continue into the future. A coordinated program for hydropower development is being implemented jointly between Zambia and Zimbabwe under the framework of the Zambezi River Authority. Some projects have been completed under the program. Several other hydropower schemes have been proposed to supply electricity to essentially all the countries sharing the river system.

In Mozambique, five schemes are in operation: Cobra Bassa (2 075 MW), Chicamba (38 MW), Mavuzi (5 MW), Lichinga, and Cuamba. At present, approximately one fifth of the potential hydroelectric power has been developed in the Cobra Bassa scheme, stage 1 of which has been completed (Moyo et al. 1993). Similarly, in Lesotho, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is developing an estimated 1 300 GW (Moyo et al. 1993). It is evident, therefore, that the combined demand for hydropower in the region is enormous.

There seems to have been no consideration of the impact of dams on the water systems, although dams and river diversions have been known to affect both water quality and water quantity, leading to local and temporary water shortages (Keating 1993). For example, the major rivers of Zimbabwe, such as the Save and Limpopo, become rivers of sand with muddy pools joined by a trickle of brown water by the end of the dry season (Moyo et al. 1993). Lake Kyle is also reported to be suffering from dangerously high evaporation rates. These problems are further compounded by the rapid siltation of reservoirs. The impact of dams is certainly felt from the supply angle, as much strain is put on available water supplies. Resettlement schemes also cause the migration of people, who might be forced to move into marginal areas where further pressure is put on the available water supply. It is in recognition of the adverse effects of large dams on the environment in general and on water supply in particular that some pressure groups, such as the International Commission on Large Dams, were formed to monitor the construction of dams worldwide.

Actions to address the problems caused by dams have met with limited success. The National Master Plan for Water and Sanitation in Zimbabwe, for example, commissioned a special study for which a sedimentation survey of 30 dams was undertaken (Moyo et al. 1993). Furthermore, the Department of Natural Resources put forward a standing requirement that a report outlining the state of the catchment area would have to be produced by the Natural Resources Board before construction of major dams. Unfortunately, none of these bodies have the appropriate methodology, human resources, or equipment to execute such studies. Consequently, most dams are still being constructed without adequate information.

Some pertinent issues related to dams need further research. These include siltation surveys, assessments of impacts on water quantity and quality, and assessments of socioeconomic impacts on the less privileged, especially women, the elderly, and children.

Mining activities

Southern Africa is rich in mineral resources, including gold, copper, coal, iron, and bauxite, and their exploitation plays a dominant role in the economic development of the subregion. In some areas, the history of mining dates back more than 50 years (Moyo et al. 1993). Two methods of mining are commonly employed: opencast and strip.

In Zimbabwe, more than 1 000 small mines have been worked within the last century. The rate of exploitation is high, and some experts have predicted that known gold and copper ore deposits, estimated at 0.6 x 106 t, would be exhausted, at present rates, within 10 years. About 3 x 106 t of coal per year is mined at Hurange, and the estimated reserves are enormous, ranging from 4 x 109 to more than 20 x 109 t. Similarly, in Zambia, decades of intensive copper exploitation in the copperbelt have created a barren and unproductive landscape. Mining is carried out both by small mining cooperatives and by transnational companies like Rio Tinto Zinc, Lonrho, Anglo-American Corporation, and Union Carbide.

Mining activities have adverse consequences on water supply and the environment because the mining process involves the use of large quantities of water in jets to remove the overburden and wash the mineral ore. In the copperbelt, for example, the mined ore is crushed and milled with water to a very fine particle size. Chemicals are added to the pulp, which is then agitated with air in tanks (Moyo et al. 1993). Wastewater is discharged into nearby watercourses, thereby posing a serious danger of water pollution. Thus, the mining industry has the potential to cause destruction of the watershed, subsidence of land, and disruption of the hydrological balance. Studies undertaken in Zambia have shown that polluted water was responsible for the deaths of livestock in the copperbelt and that the copper content in the affected rivers was on average about 80 times higher than the acceptable level.

Although the mining industry certainly affects the supply and demand for water and puts strain on the available water resources, action to reduce the impacts of mining have been limited. Several acts on the statute book in Zimbabwe attempt to control the environmental damage caused by mining. These include the Hazardous Substances and Particles Act and the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act. The Mines and Minerals Act, however, overrides most other acts, and very few restrictions are attached to the exploitation of mining rights after a mining permit has been obtained. This makes enforcement difficult and leaves the way open for negative impacts. Consequently, there has been little or no action by mining companies in the region to rehabilitate degraded landscapes.

Future action, particularly from the point of view of research, should focus on quality monitoring to establish the possible human health effects of using contaminated water. There is also a need to investigate the impacts of mining on underground water.

Water supply and demand

Against the background of declining supply and rising demand, water availability in southern Africa is a critical issue. In examining the supply and demand situation, I shall highlight the total amount of water required by the agriculture, domestic, industry and mining, and tourism sectors.

Per capita availability of freshwater

Zimbabwe’s Financial Gazette of 16 December 1993 contained the following item on the current global water-supply situation:

While the amount of water in our rivers and streams catered for the population a decade ago, the time is rapidly approaching when we simply have too little of it for everyone to utilize. Water is money. Until people think of water in the same terms as money, we are headed for disaster. In the end, unless we change our way of thinking, water will be a far more emotive issue than land.

This statement aptly describes the prevailing situation in southern Africa. Available data already indicate that the annual per capita availability of freshwater declined significantly from about 2 x 10 4 m 3 in 1950 to about 1 x 10 4 m 3 in 1980 (IDRC 1994). In theory, sufficient water is available to meet demand, but it is unevenly distributed in time and space (Moyo et al. 1993). In Zimbabwe, the current water-consumption levels for the various sectors show that most water is consumed in urban areas and on commercial farms; the communal areas account for a smaller proportion.

Some attempts have been made to quantify the water demand. The CMMU of the DWA in Zambia has carried out field studies to determine per capita water demand (Carty 1994). Based on observations made by various project personnel, CMMU has established a per capita requirement of 20 L/d in rural areas. This is considered “adequate” in the context of current practices, but this is not to say that the amount will not increase in future. Rather, 20 L/d is considered the minimum adequate amount when the actual availability of rural supply is taken into account, given current practices and traditions. The requirement in urban areas is double that of rural areas. Using the UN -established per capita requirement of 40 L/d for urban residents, I calculated a 30 L/d average requirement. Based on this figure, it should be possible to estimate the daily water requirement in the population. It should also be possible to project future water requirements in any given year.

According to Grizic (1980), the annual surface-water flow available for use in Zimbabwe is 80 x 10 9 m³. If this quantity is fully utilized, it would suffice for a population two to three times greater than that of 1990, even allowing for a doubling in per capita consumption. Thus, total hypothetical availability should not become a serious constraint for at least 30 years, by which time improved pumping technology, repurification of urban water, and more economic irrigation methods should have become more widely used.

This estimate essentially suggests that the available water in absolute terms has the capacity to satisfy requirements at the current level and even the potential to meet future rise in demand. Nevertheless, issues such as management problems, pollution, and degradation of water resources do not appear to have been considered. Certainly, these factors seem to account for the inability of water authorities to meet current demand.

In some countries of the subregion, the responsibility for providing water is shared by several institutions and government departments. In Zambia, seven ministries, departments, and local authorities share responsibility for water. Some of them are concerned with policy formulation, and others deal with actual delivery of services to consumers (Chiwala 1994).

A similar institutional arrangement exists in Zimbabwe, where two authorities are responsible for the provision of water: the Department of Water Development (DWD); and the District Development Fund (DDF) in the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development. DWD is in charge of hydrogeological surveys, including construction of large dams, whereas DDF is in charge of the construction of small- and medium-scale dams and deep wells. Shallow wells are under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare. Both DWD and DDF undertake the siting and sinking of boreholes in designated areas; however, maintenance is done by DDF.


Sectorally, agriculture is the biggest water consumer. Commercial agriculture is largely responsible because it uses large-scale irrigation systems. Because southern Africa lies in a region that receives inadequate rainfall to support large-scale rainfed crop production, irrigation provides the only alternative method of sustaining the agricultural system. As noted, almost 90% of the total water impounded in dams is used for agricultural purposes. This represents a gross overallocation of a critical resource and calls for a review of the water-allocation strategy employed in the region to ensure that the other sectors get a fair share of available water supplies.


Water demand for domestic uses has grown steadily in proportion to population growth. Access to clean water for domestic purposes, such as drinking, cooking, washing, personal and environmental cleansing, and sanitation, is constrained by management problems. Consequently, demand does not match the supply.

Industry and mining

The industrial and mining sectors together share about 5% of the available water supply. Although the region’s industrial sector is not yet well developed, the mining industry is a major force in the economic development of the countries. The types of industries, together with the production process, determine the extent to which water is used. Generally, most of the industries are agriculturally based and include food processing, canneries, textiles, and breweries. More than 80% of the water used in these industries is used for cleansing, rather than for the actual manufacturing process. In the case of mining, water is used in opencast mining and in washing the mineral ore before it is processed.


Tourism, a growing industry in the region, also involves on-site use of water. Kariba Dam (the largest engineered water reservoir in Africa), Livingstone Falls, Lake Victoria, and the Okavango River are important tourist centres. The extent of tourist activity in these areas depends especially on the preservation of the natural environment.

Management actions

Many water-resource programs and projects have been proposed in the region to cope with water stress and water demand and at the same time to protect and improve the quality of the environment. Some of these have already been completed or are ongoing.

Community level

Two case studies, one from Zambia and the other from Zimbabwe, illustrate community action in water-resource management.

The Kanyama water project (Zambia)

The Kanyama community is a squatter settlement within Lusaka. Before the Kanyama water project was initiated in 1988, residents depended on water wells and they felt that the city council should provide them with piped water. Subsequently, the council was approached with the proposal, but it had no funds. At this juncture, Human Settlements of Zambia (HUZA), an NGO, took up the challenge because Kanyama was an area that needed upgrading (Chitondo 1991). WaterAid- UK provided funds to HUZA, and the project started in 1987 and was completed in 1989. Project planning was done jointly by the community leaders of Kanyama, HUZA personnel, and the staff of Lusaka Urban District Council. Implementation was undertaken entirely by the residents themselves, with HUZA playing only a coordinating role. On a self-help basis, the community also moulded concrete blocks for building a wall around the borehole site, with staff from the NGO providing technical advice. HUZA provided the community with instructions for guarding and maintaining the project. Other actors in this project were the Zambia Electricity Corporation, which installed the transformer, and the Lusaka Water and Sewage Company, which took over the maintenance. It was expected that the project would provide a permanent solution to the problem of water supply in the community. Indeed, this expectation has been realized, and the community now has a regular water supply.

The Chisvoteso water project (Zimbabwe)

The Chisvoteso water project dates to 1984, when the community of Seke decided to embark on a water project as part of a large vegetable-growing project. The objective was to provide enough water for domestic consumption and for watering gardens and fruit trees that were intended to generate income (Mashongamhende 1991).

The project was initiated by the Association of Women Clubs (AWC). In 1987, further assistance came from Africare and Environment Liaison Centre International, through AWC, which enabled the women to sink a well and install a handpump. Implementation of the project was accomplished primarily by the women themselves, with assistance from AWC staff in technical areas.

The project was successfully completed in 1987. The well has made it possible for project members to grow vegetables intensively the year round and raise their family incomes and living standards. Now other provinces in Zimbabwe are benefiting from this experience and embarking on similar projects.

National level

Most governments in the region have made little progress in developing concrete programs to address critical problems in water-resource management. Water-resource management is undertaken by various ministries and departments, often in an uncoordinated manner, leading to duplication of effort and total neglect of some aspects of the environment. Nevertheless, some national programs in this sector are being initiated, as is illustrated by Zambia and Malawi.

Government effort to improve sector performance (Zambia)

Recognizing the need to achieve long-term improvements in the performance of the water-supply and sanitation sector and improve its attractiveness for foreign investments, the Zambian government set up an interministerial committee, the Programme Coordination Unit (PCU), in 1993. The PCU comprises all institutions involved in the provision of water-supply and sanitation services (Chiwala 1994).

PCU is a policy-making body that targets the entire water sector. Its main objective is to advise government on the reorganization of the water-supply and sanitation sector. Its tasks include

· recommending policy reforms for the water-supply and sanitation sector;

· defining the responsibilities of ministries and organizations in the water-supply and sanitation sector;

· determining and recommending necessary reforms and reorganization of the sector;

· proposing the creation of a framework for planning, development, operation, and maintenance of the infrastructure in the water-supply and sanitation sector, to encourage and optimize donor support; and

· proposing reforms to strengthen various institutions with responsibilities in the water-supply and sanitation sector.

PCU, through its executive arm, the Water Sector Development Group, produced a policy document on water-sector reorganization, which went before Parliament for approval. Future proposals for the water sector are

· transformation of PCU into the National Water and Sanitation Council; and

· creation of council-owned regional companies to assist councils in the delivery of water to peri-urban and rural areas, in collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government and Housing.

The Zambian initiative represents a step in the right direction. It has the potential to improve the water supply and address other issues in the water sector. However, the approach lacks public participation, and PCU failed to link grass-roots concerns to technical expertise in its development of a national plan.

Institutional arrangement for water management (Malawi)

Development action programs in Malawi are arranged in line with the Malawi Congress Party’s political structure. Development area committees oversee and supervise the planning and implementation of various development projects, including water. They are organized according to the political administrative division of the country, as outlined by Moyo et al. (1993):

· The National Development Committee, chaired by the President or a representative, reviews national development programs.

· The three regional development committees (one in each region), chaired by regional administrators, prepare and review development programs that have a regional impact.

· The 24 district development committees (one in each district), each chaired by a district commissioner and with representatives drawn from economic sectors in that district, discuss development issues affecting their district.

· The 192 area action groups represent traditional authorities, who chair the meetings and supervise any projects arising from them.

· Village action groups are found in each village. Village headmen chair the meetings and supervise any development activity arising from them.

The Malawi structure is a policy arrangement designed to enhance water supply and manage demand from the village level. The broad-based approach is desirable for grass-roots contribution to water development and has the potential to improve water supply if bureaucratic bottlenecks are removed. There is also a need to create water subcommittees at the various levels to give closer attention to critical water-resource issues in the country.

Regional level

There are several water-resource projects in the southern African subregion. These projects include

· Zambezi River System Action Plan (ZACPLAN);

· Regional Hydrological Assessment Project;


· Regional Hydroelectric Hydrological Program (SADC Project);

· Water Resources Planning for SADC (SADC Project);

· SARP region water-sector assessment;

· Southern Africa FRIEND Project; and

· Rationale for Water Sector Capacity Assistance.

Two of these projects are reviewed in the following sections.

Zambezi River System Action Plan

In 1992, the treaty establishing SADC came into force. Before this, a major political challenge facing the countries was managing the international watercourses in an integrated manner to avoid conflicting interests. Integrated management comprises all the tasks required to provide water of acceptable quantity and quality to satisfy the needs of all users in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner. This approach is deemed to ensure optimal use of water resources for economic and social development. Against this background the various regional water-resource action programs were mapped out under the framework of SADC.

The overall target of ZACPLAN is to ensure that the shared resources of the Zambezi River are used in a manner that guarantees maximum long-term advantages to all participating states. The plan, adopted by SADC in 1987, consists of 19 projects (ZACPROS). Category 1 projects are selected for immediate implementation as a matter of priority. Eight such projects were elaborated and presented for funding in 1989. The specific objectives and targets of ZACPROS are to

· create an inventory of existing and potential development projects, evaluate the environmental impact of major projects, and initiate a basin-wide information exchange;

· develop regional legislation necessary for the management of the Zambezi and minimum national legislation required by riparian states for enforcement;

· develop a basin-wide unified monitoring system related to water quality and quantity;

· develop an integrated water-resource-management plan for the Zambezi River basin, create a relevant water-quality and water-quantity database, and review all sectors that benefit from or affect water-resource development projects in the basin; and

· develop and adopt a management simulation model, simulate the various development scenarios in the basin, and present an integrated water-resource-management plan.

The SADC Environment and Land Management Sector (ELMS) was entrusted with executing and coordinating the program, assisted by a committee representing all member states. This later became the ELMS Water Resources Subcommittee, responsible for advising ELMS on regional water resources issues.

The ZACPLAN constitutes a pragmatic action plan that could address critical transboundary water-resource issues for the Zambezi River basin. It must be pointed out, however, that to succeed the scheme must seek and join the concerns of riparian communities in the plan and safeguard against political interest.

It is too early to evaluate the success of ZACPROS because the time from adoption to funding and implementation has been short. Moreover, more than half of the projects have not been elaborated or funded. Nevertheless, with the spate of reorganization and coordinated action taking place between the countries in the region, there is indication that the mandate of ZACPROS could be fulfilled.

SARP region water sector assessment

The SARP region water sector assessment was initiated by SADC and funded by USAID. It covers the SADC countries, including South Africa and Zaire. Like ZACPROS, the SARP project was adopted in 1987. However, no definite time frame was set for its implementation.

The objective of the scheme is to determine the organizational structures that exist within the southern African region and to consider how water resources can be effectively coordinated on a regional, as opposed to national, basis. Phase I will gather information on all existing major water-resource schemes in the countries and identify all ministries, agencies, authorities, and donors involved, with emphasis on regional institutions. Phase II will evaluate the information and recommend interventions in infrastructure and institutional development that would foster regional water-resource sharing and development. It will also identify possible infrastructure development projects that might be considered by the regional water entities.

Current institutional reorganization in the water sector in many countries in the region conforms with the intended actions of this project. A similar institutional setup is also desirable at the community level. A well-coordinated institutional framework could enhance the further development of water-supply infrastructure in the region.


Based on the information gathered and the analysis in this paper, it is certain that the major freshwater sources in the region are under stress from a number of factors. These include drought, rising population, pollution from industries, and mismanagement leading to wastage. The current and projected water demand is on the increase, and there are calls for action from all concerned. Several actions are being proposed, others are ongoing, and some have been completed at community, national, and regional levels to cope with the stress and meet rising demand.

However, improving the quality and quantity of the water supply to meet rising demand is still a major problem facing the region and is likely to remain so in the future. Holmberg et al. (1991) and Moyo et al. (1991, 1993) proposed three basic options:

· reallocate available water to meet new emerging demands;

· increase supplies by tapping additional groundwater, building dams, or transferring water from surplus to deficit areas; or

· stretch supplies through conservation, recycling, more efficient use and pricing policies.

The first option is the subject of review under the new water-sector master plans being developed by the various governments and, at the regional level, under the water-resources agenda of SADC.

The second option provides an obvious alternative. It would involve an inventory of water resources, not previously fully undertaken in the countries, particularly for groundwater. Adequate management of water resources might only be possible if data are obtained on available water stocks. In the case of building dams, a number of constraints, such as the adverse effects of dams on the environment and the low status of most user populations should be considered. Interbasin water transfer is often a cost-effective venture and is currently being done in western Zimbabwe.

The third option, although widely advocated, would present problems, notably to large-scale commercial irrigators. This approach would, however, be beneficial to communal farmers, as they are known to face problems of soil degradation and erosion, which cause loss of topsoil and blockage of streams through siltation.

Based on the analysis, additional options are as follows:

· The development of efficient rainwater-harvesting systems and storage of runoff floodwater could easily be adopted at the family and community levels. These projects would involve construction of medium- to large-scale water reservoirs, including earth dams to store floodwater within a catchment area during rainstorms. This option is desirable because an estimated 20 x 10 9 m 3 out of 2279 of storm runoff generated in the region reaches the rivers (Holmberg et al. 1991). If harnessed, this runoff could provide short-term relief to several communities.

· Desalinization of seawater, although expensive, might be a last resort. It would provide a lasting solution, because use would be made of the oceans surrounding the region.

Research opportunities

Proposed research programs in the water sector are based on the identified sources of stress. The main research questions that should be addressed are presented here:

1.dertake a comprehensive field survey of boreholes and determine the stock of surface water and groundwater to develop a basis for future planning and allocation of water for different uses.

2.cument drought incidents, trends, and impact and identify long-term strategies, including early-warning systems, to cope with the phenomenon of drought.

3.termine the relationship between drought and soil erosion, the rate of sedimentation and siltation and the impact on dams, and the role of human activities in generating soil erosion.

4.aluate the population-carrying capacities of the water systems and the effects of migration, paying special attention to water as a critical resource.

5.sess the impact of pollution on humans and livestock and of soil acidity on plants. A systematic program to monitor water quality and quantity is required to improve the collection and management of hydrological data.

6.sess the relationship between farm-water drainage and eutrophication.

7.mpare the extent of water loss through open-channel irrigation with that through other methods, such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. Furthermore, the groundwater-recharge potentials in areas under irrigation should be explored.

8.rry out siltation surveys, assessments of the impacts of dams on water quantity and quality, and assessments of the socioeconomic impacts on the vulnerable groups, especially women, children, and the elderly.

9.nitor the impact of mine-water drainage on public health and the environment. Investigate the impacts of mining on groundwater reserves after the application of strip-mining methods.


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Holmberg et al. 1991. Defending the future: a guide to sustainable development. Earthscan Publications, London, UK.

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Mashongamhende, R.Y. 1991. The Association of Women Clubs and water supply in Zimbabwe. In Community participation and water supply. AWN, Nairobi, Kenya. pp. 92-95.

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Stocking, M. 1987. A methodology for erosion hazard mapping in the SADC region. SADC soil and water conservation program. Maseru, Lesotho, No. 9.

Whitlow, J.R. 1988. Land degradation in Zimbabwe: a geographical study. Department of Geography, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Improving Water Supply Systems in Rural West and Central Africa

Bassirou Diagana

Hydrogeologist, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso


The International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade (1980-90) had the objectives of providing water and sanitation to rural and urban communities in Africa and involving communities in the management of their water resources. However, some of these objectives have not been met. Barely 45% of the per capita requirements for water are met by the 10-20 L/d available. New approaches to improving access to water have included the following:

· equipping villages and urban centres with water points;

· improving the supply of equipment for existing water projects; and

· creating user awareness of efficient water-resource management.

Sources of water supply

Surface water

Lakes, rivers, and streams are the main sources of surface water. Because of its accessibility, surface water is more widely exploited than groundwater, especially in the wettest parts of Africa. Except in periods of severe drought, the big rivers of West and Central Africa - the Senegal, the Niger, and their great tributaries, the Chari, the Logone, and the Bandama-discharge millions of cubic metres of water each year. However, this water is not fully exploited by riparian countries.


Groundwater is subsurface water. Aquifers are permeable formations, either consolidated (for example, sandstone) or unconsolidated (for example, sand), that store and transmit groundwater in sufficient quantities to supply wells. Aquifer layers can be continuous, discontinuous, or mixed. Table 1 lists the formations associated with each type of aquifer layer.

Continuous aquifer layers are the most important in many respects: potential, extension, renewal, and discharge rate. These aquifer layers, found in unconsolidated formations, are largely sought to supply water to big urban centres, agriculture, and industry.

The discontinuous aquifer layers are localized and linked to fracturation systems in both arid and semi-arid zones, as well as in humid tropical zones. These aquifer layers are found in crystalline and crystallophyllian formations.

Table 2 shows that Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe, which have a small land area, have only one type of aquifer layer. Most of the other countries have the three types. The area of each aquifer type as a proportion of total land area suggests the methodology to be applied for digging water holes and the typology of works to be adopted.

Type of aquifer layer Formation Continuous Sand yey sand dy-clayey clay y and marl y clay Mixed Clayey sandstone dstone y sandstone estone ly sandstone omite Discontinuous or local Schist rtzite glomerate canic rock erite stallophyllian rock nite

From 1976 to 1982, the Inter-African Committee on Water Studies (Comitnterafricain d’des hydrauliques) published a series of hydrogeological maps at scales from 1: 1 000 000 to 1: 1 500 000. These maps have greatly contributed to knowledge of water resources, especially those in crystalline bedrock. The maps have made it possible to know with precision geological contours, exploitable reserves, conditions of exploitability, and groundwater quality.

Computer-assisted cartography has made it possible to create topical maps at more useful scales. At a scale of 1: 500 000, such maps can present groundwater data meeting three essential specifications: accessibility, or works cost; security, or exploitation cost; and productivity, or exploitation duration.

Legal and institutional framework

When surface water, such as a river, is shared by more than one country, conflicts can arise when one of the partner states decides to exploit the common water source by diverting it or erecting a dam. Obviously, a consensus is needed. The Manatali and Diamana dams provide examples of this.

Groundwater, especially the aquifer layers of the big sedimentary basins, always crosses national boundaries. In North Africa, these layers are intensely exploited for agro-industrial purposes. In sub-Saharan Africa, the volumes of water drawn from the great basins are insignificant compared with the existing reserves and replenishment volumes. That is why the exploitation of these groundwaters is less constrained than the exploitation of the big watercourses that often feed these underground reserves.

A common resource must be regulated by legal provisions to facilitate the cohabitation of beneficiaries and ensure its efficient use and its lasting exploitation for the benefit of future generations. These provisions are of two kinds: those regulating national affairs and those regulating interstate affairs. The application of national regulations is a matter of sovereignty and also takes into account national policy objectives. The application of interstate regulations usually requires talks between the partner states and may require these countries to give up a part of their sovereignty. This often makes it difficult to apply interstate regulations.


Studies have indicated the need for rational exploitation and management of water. Whether water is provided free of charge or distributed according to a policy of participation, the potable water supply in urban and rural areas has been inadequate. The economical character of water is no longer in question. It is up to the governing authorities to reverse the trend that gives water supply only a social value and to adopt for rural areas the water-management strategies that work in urban centres. The full responsibility for managing water points should then be entrusted to communities and local operators.