A woman pushes a jerrycan on rollers in El Fasher, North Darfur, Sudan. (Photo/ Flickr/ Albert Gonzalez Farran /UNAMID)

Dry Throats In The Next Few Decades; Freshwater Reserves Per Capita In 2050

IN Africa, the availability 
and access to water is more crucial to existence than it is almost anywhere else on Earth.

Africa is the world’s second-driest continent, after Australia, but also the world’s most populous continent after Asia; the continent is home to just 9% of the world’s freshwater resources but 15% of the global population.

Global water demand is projected to grow by 55% by 2050 (including a 400% rise in manufacturing water demand).

In 2014, the US government added water to its list of threats to national security, with its National Intelligence Strategy adding the impact of climate change as having potential to heighten tensions among states.

Hydrologists consider a country “water-scarce” if it has less than 1,000 litres for each citizen in a year. These countries are the most vulnerable to collapse over water shortages.

By 2050, this situation is likely to reach critical limit—if we divide African countries’ freshwater reserves today by their projected population in 2050, most countries in Africa will be struggling –  Libya, Algeria, Djibouti, Burkina Faso and Kenya will be facing the hardest time, with less than 350 litres of water per person per year.

Central Africa, in particular the two Congos, will have the most abundant water resources per capita, and may even start exporting water to drier areas north and south.

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Still, the most important source for water for the majority of Africans isn’t rivers or lakes, but groundwater. Many African countries, especially arid ones, rely on groundwater aquifers to meet their freshwater demand. Groundwater represents just 15% of the continent’s freshwater resources, but it is a source of drinking water for three out of four Africans.

Groundwater is less prone to evaporation than are surface water bodies, so it is a more reliable water source, especially during droughts.

UNEP notes that the cities of Lusaka, Windhoek, Kampala, Addis Ababa and Cairo are highly dependent on groundwater for municipal water, and groundwater contributes to the supply of other cities such as Lagos, Abidjan, Nairobi, Cape Town and Pretoria.

UNEP is now sounding the alarm that it is time for groundwater treaties, as some of Africa’s important aquifers are losing water faster than the rate of recharge, such as those found in large sedimentary basins of Lake Chad, and under the Sahara desert.

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