Central Africa is generally well endowed with freshwater resources for its growing population. In 2003, there were 98 million people and by 2020 this is expected to reach 164 million although there are large differences from country to country.
Of the eight countries of the sub-region, six open up to the Atlantic Ocean and two are landlocked – Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR). The largest transboundary basins are the Congo (Africa’s largest river basin) and Ogooue river basins, and the internally draining Lake Chad basin. Rainfall and freshwater resources are unevenly distributed. The average rainfall in the Congo River basin ranges from 1,200 millimeters (mm) per year in the north and south to more than 2,000 mm in the center.
Endowment and opportunities
There are abundant inland wetland resources and lakes that render many socioeconomic benefits to communities. These include, among others, water supply, irrigation, fish rearing, hydropower and transport.
The Congo basin, which straddles Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, contains a wide diversity of freshwater habitats, including swamps, lakes and floodplains, that support diverse ecosystems, and are thus an important livelihood resource. The Lake Chad basin supports more than 20 million people and is among the most productive freshwater systems in Africa. Approximately 100,000 tonnes of fish are landed there every year. This resource is under threat from a combination of factors, including decreasing rainfall, desertification and increasing agriculture.
Despite the relative abundance of water resources in most countries, rapid population growth and climate variability (with an increasing incidence of droughts over the past 30 years) have increased the pressure on the resources. An appropriate governance of water resources in the long term is needed to ensure its sustainable use. This has become especially urgent for the drought-stricken parts of the sub-region.
Improved regional cooperation is enhancing the opportunities for improved resource management. The Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) is an organization of Central African states, including Cameroon, CAR, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, established to promote economic integration. The Organisation d’Harmonisation du Droit des Affaires en Afrique (OHADA) is also concerned with regional integration and economic growth. Such collaborative initiatives create opportunities for strengthening governance of transboundary water resources.
Information and data remain a challenge. Several network projects, such as the Waza Logone Project of The World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Western and Central Africa Flow Regimes from International Experimental and Network Data (FRIEND) Project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the African Multidisciplinary Monsoon Analysis (AMMA) support data collection and analysis. There is great opportunity for the expansion of irrigated agriculture. The Congo River is the largest river in Africa; its catchment area amounts to 3.7 million km2, and total annual discharge is 1,269 km3. The DRC, CAR, and the Congo fall within it. For the DRC, 98.7 percent of its land area falls within the basin; for Congo this is 72.2 percent; for the CAR 64.8 percent; and in Cameroon only 20.3 percent. In 1997, the irrigation potential was for these four countries was 8,685,000 hectares (ha). This requires about 137.4 km3 of water per year.
There is huge potential for hydroelectric power generation on the Congo River. The Inga Hydroelectric Facility on the Congo River could play an important role in providing power to Central, Northern and Southern Africa, and even to southern Europe.
Challenges faced in realizing opportunities
Central Africa is characterized by an abundance of freshwater resources, except for the northern parts (Chad, northern Cameroon and CAR) where in the past three decades there was a decline in rainfall. The demand for water is rising but it is unlikely that freshwater availability, which is currently well above the water-stress threshold of 1,700 m3 per person per year, will be affected much in the short to medium term.
In parts of Central Africa the quality of water resources is declining due to pollution from industrial effluents and sewage outflows, agricultural run-off and, in coastal areas, from seawater intrusion. Further threats include logging operations (that impair water quality through sedimentation) and mining operations. Drought poses a significant risk to the wetland systems in northern Cameroon and Chad. The impacts include loss of vegetation with conversion to bare soils and eventual erosion and loss of fertility.
Improving freshwater management by evolving strategy planning, developing a legal and policy framework for natural resources, developing and facilitating access to the freshwater, and heightening public awareness of water use are challenges Central African governments face in the next decade.
- . Food and Agriculture Organization
- ECA, 2000. Transboundary River/Lake Basin Water Development in Africa: Prospects, Problems, and Achievements. ECA/RCID/052/00. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa.
- FAO, 1997. Irrigation Potential in Africa: A Basin Approach. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. FAO Land and Water Bulletin 4.
- GSFC, 2001. A Shadow of a Lake: Africa’s Disappearing Lake Chad. Goddard Space Flight Centre. Press Release, 27 February.
- SFLP, 2002. What does fish marketing contribute to the livelihoods of the fisheries communities of the countries around the Lake Chad basin? Sustainable Fisheries Livelihoods Programme. SFLP Liaison Bulletin, 10, 40-1. Department for International Development of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2
- UNEP, 2002. Vital Water Graphics: An Overview of the State of the World’s Fresh and Marine Waters. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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