No one can live without water; it is a basic need. In Africa, water is the most critical resource issue and the most limiting input to food security and economic and social development. Despite the common impression of Africa as a jungle, 54% of the continent is arid to semi-arid, and only 14% is humid to very humid. The remaining 31% has good rainfall.

The most water that is being used in Africa is for agriculture. Most African countries depend heavily on agriculture as a source of income for rural populations, and many have also developed substantial export markets for crops that need water supplies, such as tea, coffee, sugar, cocoa, tobacco, and flowers.

Africa has the highest percentage water use by agriculture of any major region and, conversely, the lowest percentage of domestic or industrial uses (Xieet al1993).

Climate change will impact water quality by:

  • Increasing extreme precipitation and flooding, which will increase erosion rates and washing soil based pollutants and toxins into waterways.
  • Contaminating coastal surface and groundwater resources due to sea level rise, resulting in saltwater intrusion into rivers, deltas, and aquifers.
  • Increasing water temperatures, leading to more algal and bacterial blooms that further contaminate water supplies.
  • Contributing to environmental health risks associated with water. For instance, changes in precipitation patterns are likely to increase flooding, and as a result mobilise more pathogens and contaminants (Pacific Institute and United Nation Global Impact, 2009).

Rafik Aini’s study shows that land degradation is a major problem affecting land and water resources:

  • It affects about 66% of the productive land area in Africa.
  • Over the last decade, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has experienced the worst land degradation globally, accounting for 22% of the total global annual cost of land degradation amounting to 300 billion US dollars.
  • The most severe degradation has been encountered on Africa’s grasslands where 40% have been degraded, followed by 26% of the forestlands and 12% of croplands. Water erosion is the most significant soil degradation process across Africa, followed by wind erosion.
  • Loss of soil nutrients is a primary form of soil degradation, affecting over 45 million hectares.
  • Estimates show that improving land and water management on just 25% of SSA’s 300 million hectares of prime cropland would result in an additional 22 million tonnes of food.

Other examples of efficient irrigation based either on technological improvements or on better management and operational control can be found in Africa. Xie et al (1993) summarised the essential factors inefficient management:

  • Ensuring a reliable water supply to the end-use point – get the best pivots and equipment
  • Assessing soil characteristics and plant requirements – do not apply more water than necessary
  • Improving management skills
  • Improving maintenance – prevent water leaks
  • Using surface and ground water conjunctively
  • Disseminating information on efficient technologies and techniques
  • Implementing demand management through legislative and administrative intervention.

Grainger (1990), who has studied the effect of improved water management on the desertification process, adds this:

  • Improving project design to ensure that drainage is provided for and farmer needs are being met by the design supply
  • Expanding farmer involvement in the design and implementation phases
  • Promoting more attention to rehabilitation over new construction
  • Increasing use of small-scale approaches that are within the competency and scale of small farmers and that are effectively decentralised in development and management.

What are the benefits of water management?

  • Reduced water and sewer costs: Low flow water conservation devices reduce water usage and costs as well as sewer costs.
  • Weather-based irrigation controls: This type of control system saves water usage and cost, especially during the hot summer months.
  • Reduced energy usage: Low flow water devices reduce the amount of hot water used which, in turn, reduces the amount of energy used to heat the water.
  • Reduction of unbilled water: Replacing old, inaccurate water meters and distribution piping can result in increased revenues for the water district.
  • Wastewater treatment energy usage: Wastewater treatment plants are one of the largest users of energy within a city. Plant upgrades and aeration optimisation can dramatically reduce energy usage and save money.


Edited by Eglal Racked, Eva Rathgeber, and David B. Brooks. 1996. Water Management in Africa and the Middle East. Published by the International Development Research Centre Performance services:

Aini,R. 2021. Sustainable Land and Water Management (SLWM) including Integrated Watershed Management Stratégies to ensure Food Security in Africa.

Molobela, IP and Sinha, P. 2011. Management of water resources in South Africa: A review. file:///D:/ajol-file-journals_389_articles_74212_submis-sion_proof_74212-4633-166837-1-10-20120227.pd