African countries have come under scrutiny for failure to prioritise water in their development agendas.

Speaking to the Inter Press services (IPS), Thomas Chiramba, Head of Freshwater Ecosystems Unit at the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) in Kenya, said that in spite of progress on the third component of the Millennium Development Goals 7 water scarcity still poses a significant threat to sustainable development in Africa.

Attending the United Nations’ International Water Conference being held in Zaragoza, Spain last week, he said that “there is too much focus on household water access indices and not enough on linkages between water and sustainable development.”

While there are now more people in Africa with improved sources of water and sanitation, experts say that this is not enough. The continent is still facing water scarcity, with negative implications for growth and health.

In view of the rapid and unpredictable changes in environmental systems, Chiramba said that unless Africa broadens its national and international water goals the region will find it difficult to remain economically resilient.

“Water is key to the agricultural and energy sectors, both critical to accelerating growth and development in Africa,” he added.

Water and Sustainable Development

The theme of the Zaragoza conference was ‘Water and Sustainable Development: From Vision to Action’ and is at the heart of adaptation to climate, also serving as a key link among climate systems, human society and environment.

This year is also the last year of the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ which began in 2005, and will set the tone for World Water Day to be marked on March 22, which will also focus on ‘water and sustainable development’.

The primary goal of the ‘Water for Life’ Decade has been to promote efforts to fulfil international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2015. The Water Decade has served to forge cooperation at all levels so that the water-related goals of the Millennium Declaration are achieved.

The end of the Decade also marks the beginning of new water campaigns, “this time, with great focus on the impact of water on development,” concluded Chiramba.