World Water Day Report: African Cities Outgrow Their Water
Environment News Service
March 22, 2011
CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Africa's cities are growing at a
faster rate than anywhere else in the world, stressing
drinking water supplies and sanitation services, says a new
UN report released to mark World Water Day 2011.
The Rapid Response Assessment by the United Nations
Environment Programme and UN-Habitat, "Green Hills, Blue
Cities," finds that 40 percent of Africa's one billion people
live in urban areas where water supplies and sanitation are
The theme of this year's World Water Day, which falls on
March 22 every year, is "Water for cities: responding to the
urban water challenge." The main event is a three-day
exhibition and fair hosted by the government of South Africa
at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
While Africa is currently the least urbanized region in the
world, that is changing fast, the assessment concludes.
Africa's urban dwellers without access to safe drinking water
jumped from about 30 million in 1990 to over 55 million in
Over the same period, the number of people without reasonable
sanitation services doubled to around 175 million, says the
"Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent on the planet and
the demand for water and sanitation is outstripping supply in
cities, said Dr. Joan Clos, executive director of the UN's
Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT.
"As cities expand," he said, "we must improve our urban
planning and management in order to provide universal access
to water and basic services while ensuring our cities become
more resilient to the increasing effects of climate change."
In South Africa, Grahamstown is a small city but a case in
point. Located in a part of the country with frequent
droughts, the city's population has doubled from 76,000 in
Rainwater harvesting and inspiring water initiatives, such as
the Blue Drop regulatory tool used by South Africa's
Department of Water Affairs to monitor the quality of
drinking water, have helped the city to provide adequate
water services to its growing population. But Grahamstown is
facing future crises as climate change brings more droughts
and water shortages.
To the north, Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa has grown from
100,000 to 3.5 million people over the past 50 years. Today
it is one of the largest cities in Africa and has trouble
providing residents with enough fresh water and sanitation
According to the UN report, only five percent of the solid
waste collected in Addis Ababa is recycled and the rest is
often piled on open ground, banks of streams and near bridges
where it is washed into the rivers.
Moreover, fears of food poisoning are worsened by the fact
the 60 percent of Addis Ababa's food is supplied by urban
farmers who irrigate their crops using wastewater.
In UNEP's home city of Nairobi, Kenya, the population
increased from 119,000 in 1948 to 3.1 million today. Many
people live in some 200 slum settlements spread across the
city and have limited access to safe water and sanitation.
The largest slum, Kibera, receives about 20,000 cubic meters
of water a day, but 40 percent of it is lost through leakage
or dilapidated infrastructure.
"These are the stark realities and the sobering facts which
need to be addressed as nations prepare for the landmark UN
Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012," said UNEP
Executive Director Achim Steiner.
The conference is known as Rio+20 because it is taking place
20 years after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit that set the
environment agenda for the world.
Rio+20 is focusing on a green economy in the context of
sustainable development and poverty eradication as one of its
"There is growing evidence from work on the green economy
that a different path in terms of water and sanitation can
begin to be realized," said Steiner.
"Public policies that re-direct over a tenth of a percent of
global GDP per year can assist in not only addressing the
sanitation challenge but conserve fresh water by reducing
water demand," said Steiner.
The UN's Rapid Response Assessment report suggests that fresh
water and sanitation can be improved by doing two things that
may appear contradictory - supporting the role of the private
sector in delivering water and sanitation services especially
to the poor urban areas - and recognizing that the high
poverty levels in Africa mean market-based approaches are not
always the best options to supplying water to urban areas in
a sustainable way.
The assessment also recommends demonstrating that it pays to
protect watersheds and forests, instead of building expensive
water purification systems.
"Cities must protect and restore ecosystems that are
important as key water sources. This will provide cheaper,
more efficient and flood resilient water supply systems for
the fast urbanising region of Africa," the assessment report
advises. "Cities must reduce water consumption and recycle
wastewater inside cities, restore adjacent watersheds and
improve engineering solutions to supply water from well-
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011
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