World Water Day, 22 March: Clean Water for a Healthy World

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The international observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.

The United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March of each year as the World Day for Water by adopting a resolution. This world day for water was to be observed starting in 1993, in conformity with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development contained in chapter 18 (Fresh Water Resources) of Agenda 21.

States were invited to devote the Day to implement the UN recommendations and set up concrete activities as deemed appropriate in the national context.

Key Facts about Water in Africa

  • Access to water supply and sanitation in Africa was estimated in 2006 to be 64% and 38% respectively which compares unfavorably with corresponding world averages of 87% and 62%.
  • Only 20% of the irrigation potential and about 6% of the hydropower potential has been developed.  Water storage capacity is less than 50 m3/person compared to about 3,500 m3/person in Europe, and 6,000 m3/person  in the USA.
  • Less than 5% of agricultural land is irrigated.
  • Africa has very little water storage capacity: only 200 cubic meters per capita compared with over 1,000 in most developing countries.
  • 60 of Africa’s major rivers cross national borders; making international cooperation on water essential.
  • Existing spending on water supply and sanitation is not enough to meet the Millennium Development Goals: the funding gap is over USD 9 billion per year.

Role of the AfDB

The African Development Bank recognizes that one of the critical factors for promoting sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa is the provision of access to affordable infrastructure services to all. This is it has identified infrastructure as a key focus area in the Bank. Infrastructure for water security ranks high among its priorities, and a Department of Water and Sanitation was created to concentrate actions in the sector.

Since 2003, the Bank adopted a strategy of significantly increasing its interventions in rural water supply and sanitation while continuing to support urban and peri-urban water supply and sanitation and promoting integrated management of water resources.

This has been achieved through the development and promotion of four complementary regional water initiatives developed with support of our partners many of whom are present here today.

These are the: Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative (RWSSI), African Water Facility (AWF), Multi-Donor Water Partnership Programme and the NEPAD Water and Sanitation Programme. These initiatives complement AfDB’s activities in urban water supply and sanitation.

The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative has grown to be the largest water initiative of the Bank, with a focus in the rural areas. The initiative was conceived to address the problem of low access to water supply and sanitation in rural Africa where the majority of the population live.

The overall objective of this initiative is to accelerate access to water supply and sanitation services in rural Africa with a view to attaining 80% coverage by 2015, from 47% and 44% for water and sanitation respectively in year 2000. So far 17 RWSSI programmes have been approved since 2003 with total financing at USD 1.8 billion of which the Bank has contributed USD 750 million and leveraged USD 1.05 billion from other donors and regional member countries. These programmes are expected to extend water supply and sanitation services to some 30 million and 28 million rural people respectively by 2010.

The Bank financing in the water supply and sanitation has increased five fold, from an average of less than USD 70 million per annum up to 2002, to over USD 330 million per annum since 2003. The total AfDB Group financing for urban and rural water supply and sanitation projects and programmes since 2003 is about USD 1.6 billion for projects and programmes amounting to USD 2.3 billion. These projects are expected to extend water and sanitation services to some 40 million people by 2010.

In line with the vision elaborated in 1999 and the Bank’s agriculture and rural development sector policy approved in 2000, the Bank Group has financed numerous agriculture water development projects and programs. To date, the active Agricultural Water Development portfolio of the Bank comprises 53 projects and programs in 23 Regional Member Countries amounting to over USD 1.37 billion and equivalent to 29 percent of the total financing for agriculture.

In all, Bank Group financing for water sector activities (water supply and sanitation, irrigation, and hydropower) reached USD 7 billion at the end of 2007 and is equivalent to 10.7% of total Bank Group financing of USD 65.7 billion since it commenced operations in 1967.

Examples of success stories from AfDB’s engagements in the water sector:


The Bank is the lead donor in Uganda water and sanitation sector. It has supported the Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation Project that will provide water supply and sanitation services to a population of 350,000 spread in seven secondary towns. In addition to water supply and sanitation, the project includes improvements of drainage, solid waste management and sanitation. It addresses all these issues in an integrated manner. The project also promotes indigenous private operators to run the water supply and public sanitation systems on commercial principles in order to enhance sustainability.


Since 1978, the Bank has financed 10 operations in the water and sanitation sector, including 9 investment projects and one Sector Adjustment Programme, helping to increase access for rural water supply from 14% in 1990 to about 85% currently and sanitation access from 50% access rate in 1990 to over 65% currently. The Sector Adjustment Programme has contributed to improving the institutional and regulatory framework for integrated water resources management aimed at addressing the water security challenges of the country.

Bank involvement in the Congo Basin

Being aware of the critical role of the forest in preserving the environment and mitigating the climate change impacts, the Bank hosted an International Conference on “Funding Mechanisms for Sustainable Management of the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystems” in partnership with Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC) and DFID in February 2008. One of the major outcomes of the Conference was to establish a Special Fund for the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystems, the Congo Basin Forest Fund. The fund is hosted by the Bank in Tunis.

Irrigation in Support of food production in Mozambique

Through the Bank funded project on Small Scale Irrigation, 196 farmers, out of which 91 are women, have been able to run a sustainable business, take credit, successfully produce sugar cane, sell it to the sugar factory, pay back their credit and make average revenue for each farmer of 50,000 Meticais (approximately 1,900 USD). In addition to the extra cash, farmers were also allocated a small parcel of land to grow their own food.

Public – Private Partnerships in provision of infrastructure

The 250 Megawatt Bujagali hydropower project in Uganda financed by many development partners including the Bank, is a model of the kind of innovative funding solutions and partnerships that will help resolve Africa’s water security crisis.