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The chief of the ADB delegation attending the 2000 Africa Direct Conference, was asked by a member of an AUF Assessment Team whether by changing its mission statement to "Poverty Reduction" the ADB no longer considered African Unification to be the central mission of the bank (as its founders had intended). In a lengthy reply during, the delegate reiterated the commitment of the African Development Bank to the unification of Africa.

Below is a talk given by Omar Kabajj, President of the African Development Bank, on the need for an integrated approach to water management in Africa.

The following are excerpts from the:

Africa Caucus Day
(The Hague, 17-22 MARCH 2000)

Global estimates of the availability of fresh water indicate a steady decline in per capita terms. It now stands at about half the 1970 level. This trend not only indicates the finite nature of this important resource but it could well signal an impending water crisis in the coming decades. Within Africa, the supply of fresh water is highly dependent on rainfall patterns and varies considerably across our vast continent. As the recent tragic floods in Mozambique and the drought in the Horn of Africa make clear, too much or too little rainfall can have devastating consequences for our countries.

While Africa’s supply of fresh water resources is low in comparison to other continents, less than 5 percent is withdrawn each year for water supply and for agricultural and industrial use. Consequently, about two-thirds of the rural population and a quarter of the urban population still lack access to safe water. Similarly, the total irrigated area is less than 25 percent of the existing potential, and hydropower -despite its immense possibilities- accounts for less than 5 percent of the generated electricity.

In spite of the relatively low use of water resources when viewed from a regional perspective, it is evident that some of our countries are beginning to face serious shortfalls. This is due to rapid population growth, large scale rural to urban migration, and environmental degradation. At present, it is estimated that fourteen African counties are experiencing water scarcity and the number is expected to rise to twenty-five by 2025 if this trend were to continue.

African countries will thus need to address urgently this challenge. This is essential if the shortage of water is not to become a major impediment to economic development and to the reduction of poverty. Considering that much of the water resources of the region are shared among countries, it is equally essential that systems that allow for their efficient and equitable management be drawn up and implemented urgently.

In seeking to formulate and implement an effective water development and use program, we believe that our countries will need to consider a set of related policy issues. Permit me to elaborate on a few of these.

There is, in the first instance, a need for the development of national and regional integrated water resources management policies. The formulation and application of such policies requires that economic, social and environmental needs are taken into account within the appropriate institutional and technical framework. Such an integrated approach would entail adopting a holistic management structure at the water basin level, as well as ensuring stakeholder participation in the decision-making process.


As a significant proportion of Africa’s water resources is shared among a number of nations, integrated water resources management calls for a basin-wide approach for planning and implementation. Close cooperation among concerned states on the utilization of resources, harmonization of institutions, and joint implementation of development programs is thus essential. Thus, joint development of shared water resources should be an integral part of regional cooperation and integration efforts.

The development of effective policies would require that there be adequate knowledge on the availability of water resources, and on the demand and use for economic and environmental needs. There is, at present, in many of our countries, a lack of even basic data. It is thus essential that the knowledge base be expanded through the use of technology and other appropriate measures. I wish to note that this is one area where technical assistance from our development partners could indeed be very useful.

Our national and regional institutions will also need to be reformed and strengthened if effective implementation of new policies is to be effected. In many of our countries, past efforts have resulted in the proliferation and fragmentation of agencies responsible for the various aspects of water resource management. Experience has shown the importance and the need to adopt an integrated and long-term approach. In this regard, in addition to strengthening and consolidating institutions, it is also essential to reform human resource policies and civil service systems to ensure the development and retention of the required expert skills.

In all our efforts to develop effective water management, it is essential that environmental considerations be taken fully into account and become an integral part of the system. I wish to stress in this regard that environmental degradation is indeed one of the principal causes for the water management problems faced in a number of countries. Various measures to reverse this trend could be considered. These include allocating sufficient water for meeting environmental needs, instituting proper environmental management, and preventing environmentally harmful practices.


The serious water management challenges facing our countries today are beginning to elicit strong responses. Grave concerns are being expressed by governments, civil society organizations, and private institutions. And public awareness has increased through the activities of grass-root organizations and NGOs. Governments are also beginning to adopt a more integrated approach to the problem. In addition, a better understanding exists today regarding the trans-boundary nature of water resources, and a number of cooperative arrangements have been initiated. There is thus today an increasing realization of the need to mount major initiatives in the sector.


In line with its mandate to promote the economic and social development of its regional member countries, the Bank has recently articulated a Vision to guide its operations. It has set promoting sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction as the principal objectives of its operations. At the sectoral level, the Bank will give priority to agriculture and rural development, human resources development and private sector promotion. At the regional level, it will give priority to regional economic cooperation and integration. Special attention will also be given to environmental management, gender mainstreaming, good governance, and stakeholder participation. Water resource development will play a major role in realizing the Bank’s goals of poverty reduction and socioeconomic development through the provision of safe water supply, improved sanitation, greater food and energy security, and environmental sustainability.

In these efforts, the Bank will build on the considerable experience it has gained in the last three decades. I wish to recall in this connection that the Bank has made considerable resources available for the development of the sector. Between 1967 to 1999, the total approved lending for water resources development amounted to over $4.6 billion. These loans have on average amounted to 13 percent of total Bank commitments. Nearly two-thirds of the loans for the sector have been provided for water supply and sanitation, a quarter for irrigation, and 12 percent for hydropower projects. The key lessons that the Bank has drawn from its past operations are the importance of treating water as an economic as well as social good, need to establish a strong public/private partnership, necessity of promoting environmental sustainability and systematic knowledge and information base.

To guide its intervention in the future, the Bank has developed a new Integrated Water Resources Management Policy (IWRM) which has been circulated for consideration by our Board of Directors. Copies of this policy have been made available here and we invite you to send us your comments, either here or to our office in Abidjan. The central objective of this new policy is to promote an integrated approach in the management of water resources in order to achieve economic development and attain the goals of poverty reduction in the region. It is within this broader framework that the African Development Bank assumed a major role in facilitating and coordinating the process of developing the African Water Vision. The Bank, working together with the World Water Vision Unit, the Global Water Partnership, the African Water Resources Forum and the World Bank, initiated a series of dialogues and exchange of ideas which culminated in the preparation of the Africa Water Vision that will be presented today. I would also like to acknowledge here the active collaboration and contribution of the OAU and ECA in this process.

We stand at the dawn of a century and a new millennium where increasing demand to satisfy the need of an expanding population for water, food, and energy requires the fuller exploitation of water resources. We need however to be keenly aware that there is a clear limit to such exploitation. This boundary is not only set by the availability of resources but also by the need of other natural systems to maintain the required ecological balance. Water is a finite resource subject to competing and conflicting demands. Its wise management will be indispensable to avoid our countries being engulfed by major catastrophes. We have, of necessity, to look to a future in which water management is sustainable in terms of both quality and quantity. We also need to assure a future where there will be equitable access for all to meet this basic need.

While the tasks of improving the management of water resources are daunting, they are not beyond our joint capacities. It is therefore particularly gratifying to acknowledge the support given by the African wide and sub-regional and our development partners towards the formulation of the Africa Water Vision and Framework for Action. Such commitment, will be essential to help our countries build an Africa where water security is indeed guaranteed for all.