Most of Africa’s water sources are polluted with toxic matter

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 02 May 2010

Water quality in sub-Saharan Africa is on the decline. Most water resources have unacceptable levels of toxic substances — heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants and biological contaminants, according to a recent report by the Pan Africa Chemistry Network (PACN).

About 50% of Africa’s total water resources are concentrated within the Congo basin

These originate mainly from domestic waste water and local industries.
However, PACN notes that managing water resources in Africa is difficult as many countries do not have quality monitoring programmes.

“There is widespread scarcity of analytical laboratories, substantial under-investment and the absence of a structured framework for water governance,” notes the PACN report. “This makes water pollution statistics hard to come by.”

The report, “Africa’s Water Quality: A chemical Science perspective” of March 2010, however notes that scientists working in Africa have the knowledge, expertise and potential to help formulate and implement sustainable water strategies to maintain quality.

The report is the outcome of a 2009 Sustainable Water Conference hosted by the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and world leading agribusiness, Syngenta.

The findings and recommendations represent the views of 180 scientists and practitioners from 14 countries in Africa who attended the conference, as well as the UK, Switzerland, Colombia and Uruguay.

The report advocates the establishment of centres of excellence that will increase Africa’s capacity in analytical chemistry, support chemical monitoring and water management activities as well as data collection.

The PACN further suggests that the centres of excellence need to be staffed with African scientists. Already, regional hubs have been set up in Ethiopia and Kenya with the support of Syngenta.

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

PACN further notes that in the light of climate change and massive population expansion, African scientists must play a vital role in meeting water quality challenges.

Last year, Africa’s population exceeded one billion and is increasing at a rate of 2.4 per cent annually. Over 341 million people lack access to clean drinking water and 589 million have no access to adequate sanitation. This makes it difficult for the continent to meet its 2015 MDGs.

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

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

On the flip side, Africa has abundant water resources but they are unevenly distributed. Rainfall patterns on the other hand are increasingly becoming unpredictable due to climate change.

The continent has 17 rivers, each with catchments over 100,000 square kilometres, more than 160 lakes larger than 27 square kilometres. Rainfall too is in plenty, with an annual average precipitation level comparable to that in Europe and North America.

However, about 50 per cent 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 cubic metres per capita per year.

In contrast, Burundi and Kenya have only 840 and 950 cubic metres freshwater per capita per year, respectively.

The disparities in water resources mean that a quarter of all people across Africa are experiencing water stress, measured between 1000 cubic metres and 1500 cubic metres per capita per year.

Source: The East African

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