Water reuse in Africa: challenges and opportunities

Population and urban growth is one of the major challenges facing Africa. Rapid urbanization poses major infrastructure, economic, environmental and social problems. Total water supply and sanitation coverage is extremely low particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and cities are becoming to a large extent informal. Untreated urban wastewater is polluting water sources throughout SSA changing freshwater irrigation into wastewater irrigation in and around most cities. Because of its contribution to urban food supply and poverty alleviation, this informal irrigation sector has positive effects but constitutes at the same time a public health and environmental threat. Different population groups are exposed to serious health risks such as diarrheal diseases. These can be significantly decreased through water and sanitation investments adequately targeted to achieve impact. Traditionally designed sanitation systems have failed because they were inappropriate, ill-planned, - implemented or -managed and did not take into account the whole urban water system including options for reuse and impacts on the receiving environment. The way forward requires a paradigm shift in a) national curricula and the donor community towards appropriate African solutions for wastewater collection, treatment and reuse, b) the decentralization and potential transfer of at least some “treatment” functions to the places of reuse where health risk reduction can be more easily realized according to the particular reuse, and c) the adoption of an approach combining different health protection measures. Designing a range of cost-effective solutions that addresses the technical, institutional, social, behavioural and cultural obstacles for the adoption of such an approach has to be supported. This requires a long-term strategy taking action step-by-step and the creation of new local values and business models. The involvement of practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and local communities in multi-stakeholder platforms may facilitate dialogue, participatory technology development, innovation uptake and social learning and create the effective mechanisms for an integrated urban-rural water management strategy.

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Paper presented at the First African Water Week, “Accelerating Water Security for Socio-Economic Development of Africa”, Tunis, Tunisia, 26-28 March 2008

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2020-10-28

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