African Water Management Faulted
Updated 10:52 AM ET December 7, 2000

By GEORGE MWANGI, Associated Press Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Leaks from aging water systems, massive waste and water theft contribute to a shortage of fresh drinking water in Africa's rapidly urbanizing cities, a U.N. official said Thursday.

More than half the fresh water goes unaccounted for in urban areas, said Kalyan Roy, coordinator of the U.N. Water for Africa Cities program, urging cities to adopt a strategy to cope with the looming water crisis.

"The problem we are addressing is how to improve the efficiency of water use in cities by cutting down on wastage, leakage and wasteful use of the water," Ray said, opening a three-day meeting of city managers from seven African countries, the third such meeting in six months.

Africa, the fastest urbanizing region in the world, is growing in population by 5 percent every year, with its urban population anticipated to quadruple from 138 million in 1990 to 500 million in 2020, according to the U.N. Center for Housing and Settlement, also known as Habitat.

Fourteen African countries already face water-stress, defined as 70,620 cubic feet of water or less per person annually; or scarcity, 35,310 cubic feet or less per person a year, Habitat recently reported. Another 11 countries could join them in the next 25 years.

"For a large proportion of our people, the dream of adequate and safe freshwater is still no closer to reality than what it was two decades ago," Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, executive director of Habitat, told delegates.

Most African cities transport their water long distances, a costly venture, Ray said. Johannesburg, South Africa, gets its water from the Vaal river, 250 miles away, he said.

Ray also noted that several cities share most of the major rivers such as the Nile and Limpopo.

"For some cities, their water is the waste water of the city upstream ... there is a lot of potential for conflicts if we do not bring in cooperation among the cities and among the countries," Ray said.

And those using ground water are extracting water from aquifers at a rate much faster than they can be recharged by nature, he added.

Most African cities can improve their water supply by recycling, said Hannes Buckle, director of Rand Water, the company that supplies water to Johannesburg. Namibia, for example, has managed its water supply well by recycling, he noted.