Access to water and improved water use efficiency are essential to reduce the vulnerability of rural communities to climate shocks in West Africa

Water scarcity is one of the major challenges of the 21st century and drylands are the most affected, including West Africa.

By News Ghana – Nov 4, 2019
Dirty Water

West Africa and the Sahel region is among the most vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity in Sub Saharan Africa. In West Africa, the number of undernourished people reached 51.6 million in 2018, while the prevalence of severe food insecurity in the total population reached 17.6% (SOFI 2019)

The region is characterized by harsh climatic conditions with strong climatic variations and irregular rainfalls, which are a serious obstacle to food security and poverty reduction in the region. The high variable rainfall patterns (with an average of 100 to 600 mm a year) is one among the many complex and interconnected challenges that face the region.

The majority of farmers rely on unreliable and erratic rainfall and rain fed agriculture for their survival. Over the past five decades, persistent droughts have contributed to famine episodes, with around 1.4 million children threatened with severe malnutrition and water borne diseases and epidemics due to lack of safe water. The frequency and severity of droughts and floods has increased over time, exacerbated by the climate change patterns.

The lack of water is a development issue, especially when 98% of the water used for agriculture comes from rainfall. With frequent climatic shocks and persistence of drought conditions, vulnerable households are less able to cope with crises and struggle to recover in time, especially when the livelihoods of the entire region depends heavily on rain fed agriculture for its survival. Because of drought and desertification, 12 million ha are lost each year, which can produce at least 20 million tons of grain annually.

The lack of water is a migration issue. By 2030, water scarcity could displace about 700 million people in arid and semi-arid regions. People move to find water where it is available, in order to live. Young women and girls travel long distances to fetch water; the same for herders. The lack of water, combined with recurrent security and unemployment issues push people, especially the youngest to migrate. In some regions, this lack of access to water has been exacerbated by conflict and insecurity.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.