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According to the Rapid Response Assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN-Habitat, urban centers in Africa are growing at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world. [1]

Today 40 percent of Africa's one billion people live in urban areas - 60 percent in slums - where water supplies and sanitation are severely inadequate.

Africa's urban population without access to safe drinking water jumped from close to 30 million in 1990 to well over 55 million in 2008.

Over the same period, the number of people without reasonable sanitation services doubled to around 175 million says the report launched on World Water Day 2011.

The report, which underlines the growing cooperation between UN-HABITAT and UNEP on such issues, provides case studies of cities in several parts of the Continent where high urbanization rates are not matched with adequate water and sanitation infrastructure.

These include:

Addis Ababa Edit

For the past 50 years Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and one of the largest cities in Africa, has grown from 100,000 to 3.5 million people and is today facing severe challenges to provide its residents with enough freshwater and sanitation services. According to the report, only five percent of the solid waste collected in Addis Ababa is recycled and the rest is often piled on open ground, banks of streams and near bridges where it is washed into the rivers. Moreover, fears of food poisoning are worsened by the fact the 60 percent of the city's food consumption is supplied by urban farmers who irrigate their crops using wastewater.

Grahamstown Edit

Grahamstown in South Africa is another case study highlighted in the report. Located in a dry part of the country with frequent droughts, the city has seen its population more than double from 76,000 in 2004. Inspiring water initiatives, such as the Blue Drop System which is a regulatory tool used by South Africa's Department of Water Affairs to monitor the quality of drinking water, and rainwater harvesting has helped the city to provide adequate water services to its growing population. However, the city predicts future crises as climate change brings more droughts and water shortages.

Nairobi Edit

Nairobi, Kenya's largest city, has seen its population increase from 119,000 in 1948 to 3.1 million today, many in the more than 200 slum settlements spread across the city and have limited access to safe water and sanitation. The largest slum, Kibera, receives about 20,000 m3 of H2O per day, 40 percent of which is unaccounted for as it is lost through leakage or dilapidated infrastructure.

With half of Kenya's population expected to be living in urban settlements by 2015, the country is looking for solutions and in 2002 introduced the Water Act to improve the legislative framework for effective management and control of water resources.

In line with the Water Act, Nairobi has also established the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) which now works in informal settlements like Kibera in an attempt to improve access for the urban poor to water and sanitation.

Solutions and policy interventions Edit

But while there are solutions, much more needs to be done, notes the report, to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation for urban areas. Moreover, it is essential that the long-term solutions make a connection between urbanization, water and ecosystems and recognize that urban areas in Africa will continue to grow and will the demand for water and sanitation services.

According to the report, solutions and policy interventions should consider some of the following options:

  • Mainstream the environment into urban water management;
  • Acknowledge and support the role of the private sector in complementing government and municipal authorities in delivering water and sanitation services especially to the poor urban areas;
  • Take into account the generally high levels of income poverty in Africa by acknowledging that market-based approaches are not always the best option to supplying water in urban areas in a sustainable way;
  • Inform residents about how the links between forests, protected areas and water supply;
  • Demonstrate that it pays to protect watersheds, instead of building expensive water purification systems;
  • Raise awareness on the impact of poor water quality on health, economy and the environment;
  • Mainstream the environment into urban water management through approaches such as Payments for Ecosystems Services, Integrated Water Resources Management, and Water Demand Management.

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  1., 21 March 2011

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