Central Africa is generally well endowed with freshwater resources for its growing population. In 2003, there were 98 million people and by 2020 this is expected to reach 164 million (AQUASTAT 2003) although there are large differences from country to country.

Of the eight countries of the sub-region, six open up to the Atlantic Ocean and two are landlocked – Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR). The largest transboundary basins are the Congo (Africa’s largest river basin) and Ogooue river basins, and the internally- draining Lake Chad basin. Rainfall and freshwater resources are unevenly distributed. The average rainfall in the Congo River basin ranges from 1 200 mm per annum in the north and south to more than 2 000 mm in the centre (ECA 2000).


There are abundant inland wetland resources and lakes that render many socioeconomic benefits to communities. These include, among others, water supply, irrigation, fish rearing, hydropower and transport.

Figure 5: A chronology of change: natural and anthropogenic factors affecting Lake Chad The Congo basin, which straddles Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, contains a wide diversity of freshwater habitats, including swamps, lakes and floodplains, that support diverse ecosystems, and are thus an important livelihood resource. The Lake Chad basin supports more than 20 million people (ECA 2000) and is among the most productive freshwater systems in Africa. Approximately 100 000 tonnes of fish are landed there every year (SFLP 2002). As Box 6 and Figure 5 show, this resource is under threat from a combination of factors, including decreasing rainfall, desertification and increasing agriculture.

Despite the relative abundance of water resources in most countries, rapid population growth and climate variability (with an increasing incidence of droughts over the past 30 years) have increased the pressure on the resources. An appropriate governance of water resources in the long term is needed to ensure its sustainable use. This has become especially urgent for the drought-stricken parts of the sub-region (see Box 6).

Box 6: Opportunities for strengthening the governance of Lake Chad

Lake Chad, once one of Africa’s largest freshwater bodies, used to be an important source of water and economic activities, including irrigation projects and fisheries, in the four countries sharing the lake: Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. However, the lake has dramatically decreased in size since the early 1960s, from approximately 25 000 km² to around 1 350 km² in 2001.

Fifty per cent of the decrease in the lake’s size is attributed to human water use. The lake has been the source of water for large and unsustainable irrigation projects in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, especially over the period 1983 to 1994, when irrigation water use increased dramatically (four-fold). Another human factor causing the lake to shrink was overgrazing which resulted in the loss of vegetation and deforestation.

The remaining 50 per cent of the decrease in the lake’s size is attributed to shifting climate patterns. Since the 1960s, the region has suffered from a significant decline in rainfall, and IPCC (2001) predicts reduced rainfall and run-off, and increased desertification. This could mean that Lake Chad will continue to shrink.

A holistic and integrated management approach by the lake basin states is becoming increasingly important to stop Lake Chad from drying up and to ensure the sustainable use of the resource. Clearly, this is a major challenge for the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

Source: GSFC 2001, UNEP 2002

Improved regional cooperation is enhancing the opportunities for improved resource management. The Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) is an organization of Central African states, including Cameroon, CAR, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, established to promote economic integration. The Organisation d’Harmonisation du Droit des Affaires en Afrique (OHADA) is also concerned with regional integration and economic growth. Such collaborative initiatives create opportunities for strengthening governance of transboundary water resources.

Information and data remain a challenge. Several network projects, such as the Waza Logone Project of IUCN-The World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Western and Central Africa Flow Regimes from International Experimental and Network Data (FRIEND) Project of UNESCO and the African Multidisciplinary Monsoon Analysis (AMMA) support data collection and analysis.

There is great opportunity for the expansion of irrigated agriculture. The Congo River is the largest river in Africa; its catchment area amounts to 3.7 million km² (ECA 2000), and total annual discharge is 1 269 km³. The DRC, CAR, and the Congo fall within it (FAO 1997). For the DRC, 98.7 per cent of its land area falls within the basin; for Congo this is 72.2 per cent; for the CAR 64.8 per cent; and in Cameroon only 20.3 per cent (FAO 1997). In 1997, the irrigation potential was for these four countries was 8 685 000 ha. This requires about 137.4 km³ of water per year (FAO 1997).

Box 7: The Inga Hydroelectric Facility

The DRC currently has 1 775 megawatts (MW) of electricity generating capacity at its Inga Hydroelectric Facility. Inga, operated by the DRC’s Société Nationale d’Electricité (SNEL), domestically provides power to Kinshasa and other parts of western DRC. Inga also provides power to the neighbouring Congo power grid along a 220 KV connection. The interconnection supplies nearly one-third of the electricity consumed in Congo. Inga also exports power to Southern African countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

An expansion of the existing facility, Grand Inga, is proposed. With 39 000 MW, this would be nearly as large as South Africa’s existing capacity (43 110 MW) and provides the possibility for exporting electricity. Feasibility studies indicated that the Grand Inga project and a connection to Egypt are viable, with a Northern Energy Highway (NEH) passing through Congo, Central African Republic and Sudan. A high voltage DC connection from Inga to Nalubale, Uganda, is also being proposed. It is expected that Grand Inga will be implemented in four phases at a cost of approximately US$4 000 million, while the NEH and related infrastructure would cost approximately US$5 billion.

Source: EIA 2002

There is huge potential for hydroelectric power generation on the Congo River. The Inga Hydroelectric Facility on the Congo River could play an important role in providing power to Central, Northern and Southern Africa, and even to southern Europe (see Box 7).


Central Africa is characterized by an abundance of freshwater resources, except for the northern parts (Chad, northern Cameroon and CAR) where in the past three decades there was a decline in rainfall (shrinkage of Lake Chad; see Box 6 and Figure 5). The demand for water is rising but it is unlikely that freshwater availability, which is currently well above the water- stress threshold of 1 700 m³ per person per year, will be affected much in the short to medium term.

In parts of Central Africa the quality of water resources is declining due to pollution from industrial effluents and sewage outflows, agricultural run-off and, in coastal areas, from seawater intrusion. Further threats include logging operations (that impair water quality through sedimentation) and mining operations. Drought poses a significant risk to the wetland systems in northern Cameroon and Chad. The impacts include loss of vegetation with conversion to bare soils and eventual erosion and loss of fertility.

Improving freshwater management by evolving strategy planning, developing a legal and policy framework for natural resources, developing and facilitating access to the freshwater, and heightening public awareness of water use are challenges Central African governments face in the next decade.