Past, present and future perspectives

Access to freshwater in Northern Africa

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Figure 2e.6: Water use by sector in Northern Africa 1900-2025

Source: Shiklomanov 1999

The water supply coverage in the sub-region is generally high (ranging from 72 per cent in Libya to 95 per cent in Egypt), although urban areas are better supplied than rural areas. In rural areas, water supply coverage varies (from 58 per cent in Morocco to 94 per cent in Egypt) (WHO/UNICEF 2000). Access to sanitation is also generally good but, again, urban areas are better supplied than rural areas (WHO/UNICEF 2000). This is because of the high levels of water resources development, which have been implemented by the governments of northern African countries. However, the demand for water from all sectors is rapidly increasing, thus placing enormous pressure on the ecosystems which supply and regulate water availability and quality (see Figure 2e.6).

Agriculture, particularly the production of cash crops, is heavily dependent on irrigation, and consumes more than 80 per cent of withdrawals, while industry and the domestic sector consume 5.6 per cent and 10 per cent of withdrawals respectively (UNDP and others 2000). Irrigated areas represent 100 per cent of cultivated areas in Egypt, 26 per cent in Sudan and 9 per cent in Tunisia (FAOSTAT 1997). In response to the rising demand for water and increasing water scarcity, some countries supplement their water resources through desalination and the reuse of treated municipal wastewater. Tunisia, for example, supplements surface and groundwater extraction with 8.3 million m3/yr of desalinated seawater, and 20 million m3/yr of treated wastewater (FAOSTAT 1997). In Egypt, 8 per cent of the total water used comes from the reuse of agricultural or municipal wastewater, and less than 1 per cent comes from the desalinisation of seawater, although the flourishing tourism industry is pushing for the severalfold increase of the current desalination capacity by 2010 (FAOSTAT 1997).

Improving freshwater availability and access in Northern Africa

The interdisciplinary nature of water problems requires new methods to integrate the technical, hydrological, economic, environmental, social and legal aspects into a coherent framework of IWRM (McKinney and others 1999). Since the 1990s, most northern African countries have realized that the business-as-usual scenario of dealing with water management and water security issues is no longer suitable to cope with future challenges, and they are starting to implement IWRM strategies. Countries have created enabling environments for IWRM by developing legal and institutional frameworks for effective operation. For example Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have developed national policies and master plans for water management, based on IWRM principles, and the Algerian government has created five Basin Authorities for IWRM. In Tunisia and Egypt, groundwater recharging schemes have been adopted, together with equitable models of water use between user groups. Water use associations have also been formally established in Morocco and Tunisia. Also under the banner of IWRM, a national drought management plan has been put in place in Morocco, and a national programme for the abatement of wastewater discharge into the Nile River has been successfully instituted in Egypt. However, continued support for IWRM is required in terms of: ongoing capacity building; institutional coordination; improved information exchange and processing; and sustainable funding and political commitment.

The Nile Basin Initiative represents an excellent example of cooperation within the framework of IWRM between the ten Nile riparian countries (see Box 2e.3). The Joint Authority for the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer is another example of cooperation between Sudan, Libya, Egypt and Chad, in order to formulate and to monitor strategies for the rational utilization of the NSA.

Box 2e.3 Overcoming conflicts associated with transboundary water resources

Egypt's annual water consumption demands are met by the Blue Nile River (86 per cent), which flows from Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and by the White Nile River (14 per cent), which flows from Lake Victoria in Uganda. Egypt presently uses the majority of the River Nile's flows, and could potentially suffer crippling water reductions if other countries, such as Ethiopia, begin to utilize their share of the Nile's waters for hydroelectric power.Water rights to the Nile have thus become an important issue for the ten Nile riparian countries (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.).

The Nile Basin Initiative, launched in 1999, is joint programme of action between the ten Nile riparian countries, with the objectives of ensuring: sustainable resource development; security; cooperation; and economic integration. The first meeting of the International Consortium for Cooperation on the Nile (ICCON) took place in June 2001 in Geneva, where the Nile Council of Ministers put forward their Strategic Action Plan to the donor community. So far US$140 million has been pledged in support of the region's commitment to peace and sustainable resource development.

Source: EIA 2000, ICCON 2001