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Water Security at Extreme Risk in Africa and Asia

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A new report from the risk consultancy Maplecroft addresses the gross global inequalities in water availability and consumption. Many of the world's poorest groups remain without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and vulnerable to water-related diseases and potential water-related conflict. Current water use is often unsustainable and competition for resources is expected to worsen with projected population growth and climate change. The report finds water and sanitation spending offers economic benefits. Yet it is power relations, rather than absolute resource availability, that maintain present water insecurities.

June 25, 2010

Clean, fresh water supply, which is fundamental to life and health -- regardless of nationality, age, gender, profession or status -- is at "extreme risk" in four African countries: Somalia, Mauritania, Sudan and Niger.

The situation in Iraq, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkmenistan and Syria is equally precarious, says a new report emerging from the Water Security Risk Index of 165 countries around the world.

Compiled by the British-based risk consultancy Maplecroft, the report warns that global warming and growing population will stress clean, fresh water supplies in coming decades. This will adversely affect a wide range of activities from agriculture to industry.

"Climate change and increasing demands from population growth will cause a worsening of water stress over the coming decades," says Dr Anna Moss, environmental analyst at Maplecroft. "Conflict is likely to spread and intensify as a result of a lack of water security and for the countries that are heavily reliant upon external supplies the issue of water may become critical."

The report points out that Somalia has the least access to improved drinking water, with only 30 percent of the country having reliable supplies; Mauritania is nearly 97 percent dependant on external water supplies, while only 26 percent of Sudanese have access to improved sanitation.

Fourth in the index, Niger, is 90 percent reliant on external water supplies and is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis partly caused by drought last year, which contributed to the failure of crops. The country also has the worst rating for access to improved sanitation with only 9 percent accessibility for the population.

The report draws attention to the fact that countries in the extreme risk category, including the emerging economies of Pakistan, Egypt and Uzbekistan, are already experiencing internal and cross-border tensions due to limited water resources. Furthermore, as the global climate changes, water stress is predicted to become more acute in these regions and has the potential to threaten stability.

A case in point is Pakistan's long-running dispute over Kashmir with India, which is in part fuelled by competition for critical water resources that are needed to maintain the growth of industry and investment for both countries.

Egypt, which is dependent on water from the Blue Nile, is currently threatening legal action over the construction of the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia, which will further jeopardise its limited supplies.

In Uzbekistan, where an estimated 87 percent of the population has access to good quality drinking water, tensions are rising with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan due to hydro-electric projects on the rivers that flow into the country.

The water security risk index uses seven indicators to measure the four key areas surrounding the issue. These include: access to improved drinking water and sanitation; the availability of renewable water and the reliance on external supplies; the relationship between available water and supply demands; and the water dependency of each country's economy.

The importance of the Maplecroft evaluation is underscored by the fact that of all water on earth, 97 percent is salt water, and of the remaining 3 percent fresh water, some 70 percent is frozen in the polar icecaps. The other 30 percent is mostly present as soil moisture or lies in underground aquifers.

Less than 1 percent of the world's fresh water is readily accessible for direct human uses.

The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) gives a breakup of global water use: agriculture 70 percent, industry 22 percent, and domestic use 8 percent. It adds:

- A child born in the developed world consumes 30 to 50 times as much water as one in the developing world.

- With rapid population growth, water withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years.

- An estimated 90 percent of the 3 billion people who are expected to be added to the population by 2050 will be in developing countries, many in regions already in water stress where the current population does not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

- The 10 largest water users in volume are India, China, the United States, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico and Russia.

- The world's water crisis is not related to the physical availability of water, but to unbalanced power relations, poverty and related inequalities.

Almost two in three people lacking access to safe drinking water survive on less than $2 a day and one in three on less than $1 a day. More than 660 million people without adequate sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.

"This evidence highlights clearly the financing difficulties of improving access through household investment," SIWI notes, adding that:

- Every $1 invested in improved water supply and sanitation yields gains of $4-$12.

- Adequate investments in water management, infrastructure and services can yield a high economic return by avoiding costs related to water pollution, contamination and disasters.

- In aggregate, the total annual economic benefits of meeting the MDG target on water supply and sanitation accrue to $84 billion.

- Adequate investments in water management, infrastructure and services can yield a high economic return by avoiding costs related to water pollution, contamination and disasters.

- Corruption in the water sector can raise the investment costs of achieving the Millennium Development Goals target for water and sanitation by almost $50 billion.

- In some countries corruption increases the cost of connecting a household to a water network by more than 30 percent.

- Poor people living in the slums often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.

- The private sector's proportion in the water and sewerage sectors in developing countries is, on average, only 35 percent, whereas in the developed world it constitutes 80 percent of the market.

The significance of these statistics is underlined by the fact that 884 million people -- about half of whom live in Asia -- still rely on drinking water from unimproved sources such as ponds, streams, irrigation canals and unprotected dug wells.

2.5 billion -- two in five -- lack access to safe sanitation. 3.6 million people die each year from water-related diseases, 43 per cent of which are due to diarrhea. 98 percent of them are from developing countries. Of these, 3 million are children under fourteen. 5000 children under age 5 are killed every day by diarrhea alone, according to UNICEF.


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