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The UN’s First Assessment of Water Security in Africa

When it comes to water security – a reliable, good supply of safe water – just 29 African countries have made some progress over the past three to five years. Twenty-five have made none. Published by the UN University’s Canada-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, the assessment used 10 indicators to quantify water security in Africa’s 54 countries. Such an assessment had been done before in the Asia-Pacific region, but never for Africa. The UN’s concept of water security encompasses various needs and conditions. These include: water for drinking, economic activity, ecosystems, governance, financing, and political stability. Water security, therefore, is not just about how much natural water a country has but also how well the resource is managed. The assessment is limited by very poor data on some issues – such as access to drinking water or sanitation. It nevertheless offers some preliminary, but obvious, conclusions. Overall levels of water security in Africa are low. Not a single country, let alone a sub-region, is at the highest “model” stage of water security. The top five countries – Egypt, Botswana, Mauritius, Gabon, and Tunisia — are at best at a “modest” (just above average) stage of water security. Without water security, people are exposed to environmental and health risks, increased susceptibility to water-related disasters and lack water for economic and social use.