Water for Africa's thirsty cities

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Water for Africa's thirsty cities Source: Africa News Service Publication date: 2000-07-16

Nairobi - Water is life. Yet very few of us have access to clean water and sanitation. Early this week, the Nairobi City Council announced a water rationing schedule. The situation is expected to worsen. By 2025, a greater part of the earth's population is expected to live in conditions characterised by low water availability and Africa will be the worst hit.

To address the threat of water scarcity, the Ministry of Local Authorities and the international community, in conjunction with the United Nations, have come up with a project that will address the water crisis in the city.

The Nairobi water project is part of a regional programme to address the growing water crisis in African cities. Already, seven cities are being used as demonstration centres. They are Nairobi, Abidjan (Cote d'Ivoire), Accra (Ghana), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Dakar (Senegal), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Lusaka (Zambia).

The programme, which is an initiative of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), United Nations Environment Programme and the governments, is a follow-up of the Cape Town Declaration of 1997. The declaration was adopted by African ministers to address the urgent need to properly manage water.

The programme is within the framework of the United Nations Systemswide Special Initiative on Africa and it is funded by the UN foundation for International Partnerships, popularly known as the Turner Foundation.

According to the programme co-ordinator, Mr. Kalyan Ray, who is also in charge of Habitat's Infrastructure section, the Nairobi project will look at the water demand management and will target low- income settlements, major industrial users of water and catchment areas.

The reason why Nairobi is experiencing an acute water shortage is that 50 per cent of the treated water is lost in the distribution network, either due to leakages or illegal connections. If these were to be checked, the city would have enough water for domestic and industrial use.

"Every drop of water that is saved is an additional supply. Our project will look at how this wastage can be reduced. We will work with the Nairobi City Council and some of the major industrial water consumers in the city," says Mr. Ray.

Water-saving devices will be set up to reduce shortages in the city once the project kicks off and, according to Mr. Ray, after 18 months, water leakages will have been reduced considerably.

One of the important areas the project is targeting is public awareness. Plans are underway to incorporate the Ministry of Education into the programme. The ministry will introduce water education as a unit in the primary school curriculum to teach children how to conserve water.

The children are expected to teach their parents and other people in their households water conservation methods and by the time they became adults, the practice willhave been imparted in them and millions of gallons of water will be saved.

Some practices, for example, living the tap running while brushing your teeth or letting the shower run for a few minutes while waiting for warm water to come, can lead to loss of thousands of gallons of water.

The project's Information Officer, Mr. Yima Sen, calls upon the media, both local and international, to facilitate a broad discourse on water especially as it affects African cities due to the rapid urbanisation of the continent, the fastest in the world.

"There is a lot of water in Africa in terms of rivers and fresh water lakes, but the distribution is uneven. Besides, more water is wasted through leakages, improper billing and bad maintenance," says Mr. Sen. According to a study by the World Commission of Water for the 21st century, more than half of the African population lacks access to safe water. Nearly two-thirds lack adequate sanitation.

Moreover, clean drinking water supply in African cities is the poorest among all the regions of the world. At present, 76 per cent of the world's population does not have adequate water supply while 35 per cent have extremely low supply

It is under this condition of growing deficit and rising use that water management requires a great reconstruction. Africa needs a drastic increase in capital investments into water management, to economise on the resource, utilise non-traditional sources of supply and environmental protection.

In industrialised countries, the level of specific water availability reduction is comparatively low and independent of climatic conditions. For developing countries, the rates of decreasing water availability are on the increase. Thus a very great natural awareness in water availability on earth will be ever on the increase.

Three components are included in the Nairobi water programme: One, demonstration in seven participating cities in establishing effective strategies for water demand management. Secondly, control of pollution of natural water bodies by city wastes.

Thirdly, a regional information and awareness campaign is being organised to extend the programme to other African countries simultaneously. This aims at building capacity for urban water management in four regional resource centres in competitions such as African Water Prize. A designation of Water Ambassador has also been suggested.

The demonstrations in the seven African cities focus on improving the efficiency of water use through introduction of a range of demand management measures and also mitigating the impact of urban activities on freshwater resources.

The demo activities are expected to be completed in two-and-a- half years and are being largely financed by the cities themselves as well as other external agencies.

In Nairobi, the project is focusing on a demonstration of water demand management in Eastlands and one large industrial user. The project is also focusing on quantification of discharges into Nairobi Dam and a clean-up of the dam by controlling point and non-point discharges. The project will also include hyacinth harvesting.

Also to be looked at is the development of "best practices" and a public awareness campaign. Many of the environmental interventions will focus on community techniques to enhance local environmental management.

The objective of the programme is to promote an integrated approach to managing urban water resources by designing an action plan for water demand management and by establishing a dedicated unit in the city water department.

A pilot project will also be initiated to demonstrate the use of water saving technologies. The rehabilitation of the Nairobi Dam, which suffers from pollution from leaking sewer pipes and urban run- off, is also planned. It will also involve hyacinth harvesting and setting up community-based campaign to reduce pollution.

Water availability in the world today is getting lower and lower due to population explosion, economic activities, and a changing natural landscape.

When Africa's ministers met in Capetown, South Africa, in 1992, they expressed concern over the then looming water crisis, now the crisis is with us and it is everybody's responsibility to conserve what we have.

(Copyright 2000 The Nation.)

Distributed via Africa News Online by Africa News Service


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 18, 2000

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