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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 17:50 GMT
Africa's shared water worries
Africa Media Watch
Devastating floods hit Algeria in early November but people in most African countries are suffering from a lack of that most basic commodity, water.

In the aftermath of the Algerian floods, which claimed at least 750 lives, state television held a 30-hour telethon to raise money for the survivors.

However, in spite of the storms, the authorities were still strictly rationing domestic water supplies after weeks of drought.

Couple walking down flood-hit Algiers street
Flood damage in Algiers

In early October, the authorities imposed what is known as the Orsec emergency plan in the capital, allowing water supplies only one day out of three and for 15 hours on that day.

Rationing is still necessary in the northwest and west and the country's 48 dams hold only 1.5bn cubic metres of water, half of what is needed, according to officials.

Algiers residents complain that the authorities have proved incompetent in dealing with both the drought and the storms, and say that much water is wasted because the distribution system is old and in disrepair.

'Seventeen states at risk'

In Nigeria, Water Resources Minister Muktari Shagari gave a stark warning that no fewer than 17 nations faced the risk of severe water shortages by the year 2010, the Daily Trust reported.

The highest price is often paid by the poor majority of people in terms of money to buy small quantities of water

Nigerian Water Resources Minister Muktari Shagari

Speaking at an informal meeting of African water resources ministers, he said that the lack of water in these countries would severely constrain food production, ecosystem protection and economic development.

He noted that although water was abundant in Africa on a regional scale, it was unevenly distributed by nature and that there was not enough available to sustain the growing population.

"Due to recurring droughts and chronic water shortages in many areas, the majority of African countries and people pay an increasingly high price for water," he said.

"The highest price is often paid by the poor majority of people in terms of money to buy small quantities of water, calories expended to fetch water from distant sources, impaired health, diminished livelihoods and even lost lives."

Not enough investment

But in Tanzania, a reader of the East African Standard raised doubts as to whether water ministers were pumping enough money into solving the water problem.

Access to safe and clean impossible because the level of investment doesn't match the incremental demand.

Letter to East African Standard

He questioned figures given by senior water officials there who said 70 per cent of the population of Dar es Salaam had access to clean and safe water.

"There are a lot of families living just a few kilometres from Dar es Salaam city centre who haven't seen a drop of water for three months, leave alone clean and safe water!"

"Now, they [officials] have this vision that by 2020, all Tanzanians will have access to safe and clean water. This is impossible because the level of investment in the water sector doesn't match the incremental demand."

"Official apathy"

In Ethiopia, an editorial in the Addis Tribune firmly pointed the finger at what it said was the lack of response from the state and federal authorities in dealing with the water supply in the ancient eastern city of Harer.

Harer's water problem has to do more with official apathy than anything else

Addis Tribune

It said residents there received their daily ration from tankers and water-borne diseases had become the main cause of illness.

Harer officials, meanwhile, were blaming the problem on the ever-decreasing water level of Lake Alemaya, which supplies the city, and the high cost of building a new supply facility.

But the Tribune pointed out that it was also "public knowledge that the implementation of a major water supply project came to a sudden halt as those charged with overseeing its implementation were kicked out for embezzling the project's funds."

"Harer's water problem has to do more with official apathy than anything else."

"The decreasing water level at Alemaya is not a sudden phenomenon. It is a process that has gone on for decades, but nobody cared to do something about it."

"Those very people who are responsible for bringing water to the residents are now saying that nature is to blame."

Splash out

However, according to a survey by the East African Standard, water is available in Kenya - for those who can afford it.

Supermarkets are charging up to 59 shillings (0.74 dollars) for a litre of water while petrol in Nairobi sells for 55 shillings a litre (0.69 dollars), it said in a front page report.

"Even after the reduction of petrol prices, the price of a litre of bottled mineral water is still higher than that of petrol."

Boy guarding water tubs in Nairobi suburb
A boy guards water in a Nairobi suburb

"This is in spite of the fact that petrol and petrol products are imported at exorbitant prices, treated, transported... and stored at special and costly outlets before being released to consumers."

However, the Kenya Bureau of Standards was forced to announce a major exercise of randomly testing all the brands of water available to ascertain their authenticity, after the quality of some of the bottled water recently came into question.

In an editorial the same day, the paper made a short but direct appeal.

"We would be grateful if the water companies in this country enlightened Kenyans on how they determine the prices of bottled water. Why, pray, is their water more expensive than petrol?"

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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