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Water in the Regions

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» Activities of the Regional Office for Africa (ROA)

Background of the water situation in Africa

ROAP The distribution of freshwater resources in the African continent is uneven and concentrated around the 5 major river basins of the continent the Nile, Lake Chad, Niger, Zambezi River and Orange River. Overall water availability in Africa is abundant but uneven geographical distribution of the sources of freshwater, population growth, the extreme variability of rainfall, climate change and environmental degradation have amplified the number of countries having to cope with increasing levels of water stress .

Fourteen countries in Northern, Western and Southern Africa are already experiencing water stress; another 11 countries are expected to join them by 2025 at which time nearly 50 per cent of Africa’s predicted population of 1.45 billion people will face water stress or scarcity.

In view of the increasing critical situation in many parts of Africa several regional initiatives have been taken to insure a coordinated effort to protect and use the freshwater resources of the continent in a sustainable manner. Of these initiatives one of the most significant in terms of water protection is the African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW). AMCOW was established in 2002, and mobilizes political and technical support to address issues, such as access to safe water and sanitation, protection of groundwater and integrated water resources management.

More than 80 of Africa’s river and lake basins are shared by two or more countries and many countries depend on water flowing from outside their national boundaries. An extensive number of river basin commissions formed by riparian countries to Africa’s major rivers and deltas are the most important tools being used to jointly manage transboundary waters resources.

Water related activities in the African Region

UNEP’s Water Policy and Strategy for Africa

Some of the major gaps in the water sector that has been identified in Africa include technical capacity for managing industrial waste water; use of non-conventional water resources, in particular rainwater harvesting; harmonizing legal and regulatory frameworks which apply to water resources; and data collection and management. Information communication technology (ICT) was the most fundamental technological need identified in the country assessments.  In order to address these shortcomings, the implementation of the Water Policy and Strategy of UNEP emphasizes development of strategic partnerships, particularly with the governments, relevant organisations, United Nations agencies (in the context of UN reform), development partners, civil society, and private sector.

 As part of the implementation of the UNEP’s Water Policy and Strategy the Regional Office for Africa (ROA) is carrying out the following activities:

  • Providing technical support and guidance for the mainstreaming of the Rivers and Lakes Basin Organisations and development of a collaborative framework into the AMCOW process as an integral part of its Work Programme.
  • Participating in the UN inter-agency collaboration in the water sector (UN-Water/Africa) in the context of the Implementation of AMCOW Work Programme;
  • Participating in international, cross-boarder and trans-boundary debates/joint meetings [e.g. Inter-Basin Water Transfer under the aegis of Economic Commission for Africa;
  • Overseeing , in the interim, the implementation and monitoring of the AMCOW Work Programme under the overall supervision of AMCOW President Office;
  • Collaboration with UNEP Collaborating Centre on Water and Environment (UCC) to support the development of  IWRM roadmaps in selected African countries

Support to the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW)

African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW)
was formed to primarily promote cooperation, security, social and economic development and poverty eradication of member states through the management of water resources and provision of water supply services.  It was inspired by African Union’s economic goals and political integration aimed at providing strategic oversight of the management of water on the continent.  The Mission of AMCOW is to provide political leadership, policy direction and advocacy in the provision, use and management of water resources for sustainable social and economic development and maintenance of African ecosystems within an equitable regional representation on all its bodies.

The main challenge for the water sector in Africa is four-fold: meeting the basic needs in terms of domestic water supply and sanitation; supporting secure food supply, protecting ecosystems and managing risks; promoting water governance through sharing water resources; ensuring knowledge base and valuing and allocating water.

ROA is assisting the Council and its work through the following activities:

  • ROA provides technical support to AMCOW as a regional institution on water issues. 
  • UNEP hosts and manages the AMCOW Trust Fund, which it launched with a contribution of US $ 100,000 in February 2005. The European Union provided US $ 3.3 Million (EURO 2.6 Million) to support implementation of AMCOW’s Triennial Work Programme, 2007 - 2009.  African government members of AMCOW have committed to contribute, collectively, at least USD 530,000 annually to the Trust Fund to facilitate the implementation of the Work Programme.

Nairobi River Basin Programme (NRBP)

The NRBP initiative was launched by UNEP in 1999 as a three-phased programme to address the increasing pollution of Nairobi River. Nairobi River Basin Programme (NRBP) is a multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together the Government of Kenya, UNEP, UN-Habitat, UNDP, the private sector and civil society.

The vision of Nairobi River Basin Programme (NRBP) is a restored riverine eco-system with clean water for the capital city and a healthier environment for the people of Nairobi. The objective of the NRBP is to rehabilitate, restore and manage the Nairobi River ecosystem in order to provide improved livelihoods, especially for the poor, enhanced biodiversity, and a sustainable supply of water for domestic and industrial, recreational and emergency uses.  The first two phases established benchmarks, identified interventions and mobilized the participation of Nairobi residents.

Nairobi River Basin Programme has defined four main objectives:

(i) to demonstrate how industrial and socio-economic factors contribute to pollution of Nairobi rivers;

(ii) to increase access to information and awareness in order to address the above factors;

(iii) to strengthen capacity development amongst stakeholders to tackle environmental challenges;

(iv) to improve water and environmental quality of the river basin.

ROA is currently carrying out the III phase of the project (January 2005 to December 2008) recognizing the benchmarks laid down by NRBP phases I and II as pillars to achieve its long-term vision of a restored, rehabilitated, and managed water quality and the riverine eco-system with clean water for the capital city and a healthier urban environment for the people of Nairobi. The activities of the III phase include capacity building and increased access to vital and relevant information and methodologies through community involvement and empowerment of youth and civil society organizations, the private sector, other non-governmental organizations, and relevant government agencies.