Figure 16: Per capita renewable water resources in Northern Africa The scenarios for this sub-region focus on the future trends of freshwater resources, as the challenges associated with the availability of freshwater are likely to increase in the future. The current and estimated 2025 levels of renewable water resources in the countries of the sub-region are as illustrated in Figure 16.

Figure 17: Water use per capita 2000 Water stress and scarcity is a growing problem. The available annual water resources per inhabitant vary substantially between different countries, as shown in Figure 17. In terms of internal water resources, it is the poorest sub-region in Africa, accounting for only 1.2 per cent of the region’s total internal water resources, but it is also the sub-region with the highest access to external water resources (63 per cent) due to the Nile (FAO 2003). Agriculture is the main water consumer, accounting for more than 88.2 per cent of water uses (FAO 2003). Chapter 4: Freshwater examines the current state and trends of these resources, and the key pressures placed on them.

Figure 18: Impact on selected water indicators in Africa as per AEO-1 scenario model The AEO-1 report presented the impacts in key water resource indicators: water use, domestic share, agricultural and industrial share, and water use-to-resource ratio (Figure 18).

Market Forces scenario

In the context of globalization and the opportunities international trade brings, Northern Africa seeks to export more goods to Europe and to the rest of Africa. Agricultural products are among the goods identified for increased exports, but they must meet the standards of the target markets. The private sector takes the lead in opening up new foreign markets. New product standards require regulation of the quality of irrigation water as well as fertilizers and other chemicals used in agriculture. This has positive impacts on the quality of soil, shallow groundwater and drainage water.

The private sector, with larger landholdings, bigger investments and stronger influence on local government, competes with poor small farmers for the limited water resources.

Competition for water resources between the production of food for local consumption and export increases. The private sector, with larger landholdings, bigger investments and stronger influence on local government, competes with poor small farmers for the limited water resources. The private sector is encouraged to adopt IWRM focusing on conjunctive use of surface and groundwater resources. However, there is overharvesting of groundwater resources, leading to accelerated decline in the groundwater table and salinization of underground water.

Similar competition exists between the other main water users, namely industry and municipalities. The industrial sector increasingly focuses on exports, as greater profits can be made through these markets than in the local market. The large volumes of untreated industrial wastewater pose high risks to the environment, and in particular heavy metals and noxious chemicals are the main lethal pollutants. Increasing levels of water and air pollution create new levels of environmental and social stress, especially because many are dependent on the reuse of water. The vulnerability of poor people and urban dwellers increases.

As part of their economic reform, the Northern African governments privatize some of the public services, including water supply and sanitation. The private companies who run the services cannot offer these at the same low tariffs as were offered when the facilities were under public operation, as these had been highly subsidized. The tariffs for water supply and sanitation increase and many low-income people can no longer afford these. This reform, that was intended to increase the availability of safe water, has the opposite effect. The qualities of the services have not improved significantly as a result of privatization, due to low investment and the absence of effective regulation through monitoring and enforcement. Despite these problems the pressure on some Northern African governments to treat water as an economic good is increasing. The agricultural sector is under continuous threat to have some of its “free” water allocated to other sectors that pay for water. The governments continue to oppose water pricing to protect small and poor farmers, but this policy is more rewarding to the private estate farms that enjoy the use of the free vital resource while selling their agricultural products at high market prices.

There are at least three ongoing problems as a result of this policy approach:

  • Pollution of water from poorly treated industrial effluents, untreated sewage, run-off of agricultural chemicals, and mining wastes constitute a growing problem.
  • Unsafe drinking water, combined with poor household and community sanitary conditions, is a major contributor to disease and malnutrition, particularly among children.
  • Contaminated wastewater is often used for irrigation, creating significant risks for human health and well-being.