Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Water Quality needs Africa's attention

Esther Nakkazi

In Africa maybe we should listen more and utilise our scientists. African scientists under the umbrella of the Pan Africa Chemistry Network (PACN) released a report on water quality, which is even more important than water quantity.

Water quality is important but not much attention is given. Below is the story and the link above of the published story.

Water quality in sub-Saharan Africa is declining, presenting a worrying picture of toxicity, yet it is failing to raise the same profile as water quantity in Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, most water resources are showing unacceptable levels of toxic substances, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and biological contaminants.

These are originating from especially domestic wastewater and local industries but the amounts of the pollutants although high are only estimated due to lacking of water quality monitoring.

“Water quality is deteriorating, adaptation and planning of water resources is difficult, as many African countries don’t have water quality monitoring programmes,” says a report by the Pan Africa Chemistry Network (PACN) released last month.

This makes water pollution statistics hard to come by due to scarce analytical laboratories, while there is substantial under-investment as well as absence of a structured framework for water governance.

However, scientists working within Africa have the knowledge, expertise and potential to help formulate and implement sustainable water strategies to maintain quality.

This can be done through increasing Africa’s capacity in analytical chemistry, to support chemical monitoring and water management activities to collect data through centers of excellence.

The PACN through its report ‘Africa’s Water Quality: A chemical Science perspective’ of March 2010 alerts African governments to implement preventive policies based on scientific evidence and to raise the profile of water quality in policy agenda, so that it is considered alongside water quantity.

The PACN was set up by the Royal Society of Chemistry, with a focus on MDGs aimed at advancing the chemical sciences across Africa. It represents an innovative approach to working with universities, schools, scientists and teachers. It is also engaging with chemical societies throughout Africa and the Federation of African Chemical Societies.

The PACN suggests increased establishment of ‘Centres of Excellence’ in analytical chemistry staffed with African scientists, which will play a role in the evaluation and monitoring of water quality. With the support of Syngenta, regional hubs in Ethiopia and Kenya have been set up.

“The centres should play a role in facilitating networking activities between African and non-African scientists in water research and management and ensuring that water quality data is shared,” notes the report.

“In the light of climate change and massive population expansion, Africa’s scientists must play a vital role in meeting water quality challenges.”

In 2009, Africa’s population exceeded one billion and increases at a rate of 2.4 percent annually. Overall, 341 million people lack access to clean drinking water, and 589 million have no access to adequate sanitation, which means it will be unlikely that the 2015 MDGs will be met.

Public Health experts say access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation, including toilets, wastewater treatment and recycling affects a country’s developmental progress in terms of human health, education and gender equality.

Records show that about a half of all patients occupying African hospital beds suffer from water-borne illnesses due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation, which costs sub-Saharan 5 percent of GDP per year.

Water-borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery are among the major causes of mortality and morbidity in Africa, spread by microbiological pollutants. After all, 75 percent of Africa’s drinking water comes from groundwater and is often used with little or no purification.

“A detailed knowledge of water quality is essential so that drinking water can be adequately treated and the contamination of its sources can be prevented,” says the report.

Chemical contaminants can also cause disease, developmental problems and can adversely affect agricultural yields and industrial processes.

But in comparison to quality, Africa has quantity, abundant water resources although not evenly distributed across the continent, and rainfall patterns are increasingly unpredictable due to climate change.

Africa has an abundance of water; it has 17 rivers, each with catchments over 100,000 km2, more than 160 lakes larger than 27 km2. Rainfall too is plentiful, with Africa’s annual average precipitation level comparable to that of Europe and North America.

But there are disparities in water availability, for instance about 50 percent of Africa’s total water resources are concentrated within the River Congo basin.

DR Congo therefore has the highest available freshwater per capita at 250,000 m3 per capita per year. In contrast, Burundi and Kenya have only around 840 and 950 m3 freshwater per capita per year, respectively.

The report points out that the disparity in water resources across Africa means that a quarter of all people are experiencing water stress, measured between 1000 and 1500 m3 per capita per year. And with populations increasing, water scarcity is emerging as a major development challenge for many African countries.

Projections show the situation will worsen by 2025, that many countries will suffer water scarcity and stress. Furthermore, almost all sub-Saharan African countries will be below the
level at which water supply is enough for all.

The report is from a 2009 Sustainable Water Conference held by the PACN, hosted by the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and sponsored by the RSC and Syngenta.

The findings and recommendations contained within this report represent the views of the 180 scientists and practitioners that attended this conference from 14 different countries in Africa, as well as the UK, Switzerland, Colombia and Uruguay.


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