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December 8, 2003
Addis Ababa


A report at the African Union Water Summit on Monday, 8 December 2003, warned that Africa is facing an enormous water crisis afflicting 300 million Africans and claiming 6,000 lives a year. The warning came at a high level five-day summit in Addis Ababa attended by African government ministers representing more than 40 constituent republics of the AU, and some 1,000 delegates.

Water scarcity is also rapidly increasing the dangers of "social and political conflict" among booming city populations. Although water is in abundant supply in Africa, it is poorly managed and is fuelling a catastrophic crisis, officials were told.

African ministers need to raise US $16 billion a year in order to properly address the Africa's mammoth water woes.

Egyptian Water Minister Dr Mahmoud Abu-Zeid said without enormous financial backing and political commitment from African leaders, impoverished nations "will never escape the vicious cycle of poverty". Dr Abu-Zeid also called upon African states to ensure peace and security by working together to avoid the threat of disputes sparked by water shortages.

Kingsley Amoako, head of the UN's Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) estimated that US $20 billion a year was needed to help get water to 300 million Africans. But as yet just US $4 billion is spent per year on water supply and sanitation. As a result, millions live in appalling conditions and needlessly die, Amoako told the conference.

He also asked African Union state governments to commit five percent of their national budgets to funding water projects. At present some constituent states of the AU are spending as little as one percent of their budgets on water supply - relying on foreign aid to make up the difference.

Amoako told delegates that desertification of the continent, as well as years of poor management and widespread environmental degradation, must be reversed. "We owe it to our children and grandchildren to address all these concerns with haste," he said. "If we fail to do so, history will not judge us kindly."

Under plans being drawn up, the African Union is looking to work together to harness the power of rivers on the continent to avoid the threat of so-called "water wars".

More than two thirds of Africa's 62 major river basins are shared by more than one state - further fuelling potential clashes over how they should be used.

Key ideas emanating from the conference are fresh water supply to local populations, hydropower generation, tourism and agriculture.

The key summit is the third of its kind in bringing together political leaders and experts from across the African Union to establish an action plan aimed at the proper use of water.

Anna Tibaijuka, head of UN Habitat, said failing to utilise water effectively would undermine important economic and political strides made on the continent. "This economic recovery could be in peril if Africa fails to manage its water resources efficiently and equitably," she warned.

She also said impoverished Africans living in slums on the continent were being forced to pay five times as much as people living in rich nations for a litre of clean water. "Water scarcity is fast becoming a potential source of social and political conflict," she noted. "Poor service provision is extremely detrimental to the health and economy of the African continent."