Water Consumption in Africa

WATER HAS always been a rare
commodity in Africa, whose rapidly growing
population is now closing on the 800 million
mark. And people here are not too fussy —
any water, not just safe drinking water, will
do to assuage their thirst.
Even in ancient times, African tribes
used to fight over two things: water and
cattle. History is in danger of repeating itself
as today’s dwindling water resources may yet
become the cause of state wars in the not too
distant future.

Fourteen African countries are already
faced with water scarcity, while another
dozen will join this list in the next 25 years,
according to Klaus Toepfer, head of the
United Nations Environment Program.
Most Africans residing in rural areas
use, on average, only 30 to 40 liters of water
per day for domestic consumption, the United
Nations estimates. In comparison, the average
U.S. consumer uses approximately 700 liters
of water per day.
Speaking at a recent water workshop in
Nairobi, Toepfer said more than 300 million
people in Africa still lack access to safe
water and adequate sanitation.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, only 51 percent
of the population have access to safe water
and 45 percent to sanitation,” he reported.

Toepfer has also warned that the world
is approaching the new millennium with the
very real possibility of conflicts arising over
natural resources, especially water.
This gloomy forecast was echoed in a
recent U.N. Development Program report
estimating that, by the year 2025, almost one
in two Africans will be living in an area of
water scarcity or water stress.
Scientists consider a country faces water
scarcity when fewer than 1,000 cubic meters
of water are available per person per year. If
fewer than 1,500 cubic meters of water are
available per person per year that is defined
as a “water stress” situation.
“Everybody knows that we have an
increase in population, but we do not have a
corresponding increase in drinking water, so
the result ... is conflict,” Toepfer recently
told the journal “Environmental Science and

That’s because Earth has the same
amount of fresh water now as it did 2,000
years ago when the world population was
less than 200 million.
Today, the population in Africa alone is
766 million and that’s expected to rise to
1,300 million by 2025. The continent has the
fastest population growth rate in the world —
2.4 percent — and the average birth rate is
5.5 children per woman.
On top of that, more than 40 percent of
Africa is dry land, while another 27 percent
is already desert.

And at least five African countries —
Kenya, Morocco, Rwanda, Somalia and
South Africa — are expected to face water
scarcity within the next 10 years, according
to a recent report by the U.N. Population
South Africa’s environment and tourism
minister, Valli Moosa, reported to his
country’s parliament earlier this month that
the demand for water in South Africa was
expected to increase by 50 percent in the next
30 years.
“With the projected population growth
and economic development rates,” he
warned, “it is unlikely that the projected
demand on water resources in South Africa
will be sustainable.”
The Population Fund report indicated
that the Middle East and North Africa are the
two regions most affected by water scarcity.
But it also noted that “sub-Saharan Africa
will be increasingly affected over the next
half century as its population doubles or even
“There is already fierce national
competition over water for irrigation and
power generation — most notably in the
Tigris-Euphrates and Nile river basins,” the
report warned.

One hot spot is in the tiny kingdom of
Lesotho, which is surrounded by South
African and which delivers 2.2 billion cubic
meters of water per year to Johannesburg,
Pretoria and other areas in South Africa’s
Gauteng province.
South Africa values the stability there
and a year ago sent soldiers went to Lesotho
to suppress a coup there.
Another hot spot is around Lake Kariba,
on the border between Zimbabwe and
The two countries have experienced
drought in past years, with public skirmishes
between Lusaka and Harare over the use of
Lake Kariba’s water for electricity and
And nearly a dozen countries rely on a
few key rivers — the Kunene and Orange
rivers in southwest Africa, and the Zambezi
and Limpopo rivers in southeast.
Moreover, many borders follow the
course of a main river, which brings into play
another potential cause for war, especially in
the case of water scarcity.

Eight countries — Burundi, Egypt,
Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan
and Uganda — met last September in Uganda
to discuss a possible partnership for the
sustainable development, management and
equitable use of the Nile waters.
The Blue Nile, whose source is in
Ethiopia, and the White Nile, originating in
Uganda, meet at Khartoum, Sudan, to form the
mighty Nile River.
But even here, there’s a history of
tension. Egypt has in the past demanded that
Ethiopia not build dams on the Blue Nile,
while the Sudan and Uganda have a long
history of animosity.
Ghana’s environment minister, Cleetus
Avoka, recently appealed to other West
African countries to adopt a collective
approach to the management of their water
Meeting with regional peers, he made an
emotional appeal to his “colleagues to put
aside all national and sectional interests” in
order to “find a common solution to this
major problem.”