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Water Security in Africa: A Preliminary Assessment

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Grace Oluwasanya, Duminda Perera, Manzoor Qadir and Vladimir Smakhtin


This report summarizes the results of a preliminary assessment of water security in 54 countries in Africa using a common methodology. Ten complementary and interdependent components of national water security are considered:

i) access to drinking water,

ii) access to sanitation,

iii) hygiene and health,

iv) water availability v) efficiency of water use,

vi) water infrastructure,

vii) water quality, viii) water governance,

ix) water disaster risks and

x) physiography.

Each component is measured by one or two indicators. All indicators are quantified using publicly available online databases. Each indicator has a maximum score of 10, and the total score for national water security is calculated as the sum of individual indicator scores, with a maximum possible score of 100.

The assessment reveals that the state of water-related data on just about any water issue in Africa remains ‘very poor’ despite all efforts undertaken to date. The lack of water data in Africa manifests itself so strongly that some critical components of water security simply cannot be assessed without introducing second-best surrogates. With such poor data availability, progress is difficult to assess accurately. For example, what percentage of African population will have access to safely managed drinking water services or safely managed sanitation by 2030 is a big unknown, although both need to reach 100% as required by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Action needs to be undertaken immediately by national governments to radically improve data collection for Africa, with support from international agents. Without this data, progress in water security in most African countries and progress towards SDG 6 (water) targets can only be ‘guesstimated’. It may be argued that water data availability itself should be seen as an indicator in future water security assessments.

Data limitations, however, do not change the main outcome of this assessment, which is strong and clear: levels of water security in Africa overall are unacceptably low. Not a single country or subregion has yet achieved the highest level of ‘model’ or even the reasonably high ‘effective’ stages of national water security. Except for Egypt, all country scores are lower than 70. Only 13 of 54 countries reached ‘modest’ levels of water security in recent years and over a third have the lowest levels of water security under even a reasonably generous lowest threshold score of 45 adopted in this assessment. Egypt, Botswana, Gabon, Mauritius and Tunisia make the top five most water-secure countries in Africa at present, yet with only modest absolute levels of water security achieved. Somalia, Chad and Niger appear to be the least water secure.

There has been little progress in water security in most African states over the past three to five years. The number of countries that made some progress (29) is close to the number of those that made none (25).
This assessment aimed to create a quantitative starting point and a platform for subsequent discussions with national, regional and international agents rather than a guide or a prescription. It is anticipated that as this quantitative tool develops and by testing its continuously improving methodology in selected countries, it can generate targeted policy recommendations and inform decision-making and public-private investments toward achieving higher water security in Africa.