prepared by Dr. Abdoulaye Fall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The West Africa region (Fig. 1) is a vast aggregate of more than 6 million km2 and more than 258 million inhabitants. The vast majority of this land is low lying, being less than 300 meters above sea level, though isolated high points exist in numerous countries along the southern shore of the region.The region includes: the coastal countries in the North of the Gulf of Guinea to Senegal, as well as the countries of the Sahelian backcountry. With regard to the climatic aspects, the country members can be divided into 2 sub-regions: the Sudano-sahelian and the Gulf of Guinea (Table 1).
Despite the wide variety of cultures in West Africa, from Nigeria through to Senegal, there are apparent similarities in dress, cuisine, musical genres and religions. West African countries form indeed a homogeneous unit, first by their geology and geography, then by their socio-economic conditions, culture, history, and finally by their common cause with regional integration within the CEDEAO (Communauté Économique des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest) area.
* Source: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrique_de_l'ouest
** Source: JMP report 2006
Islam is the predominant religion of the West African interior and the far west coast of the continent; Christianity is the predominant religion in coastal regions of Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire; and elements of indigenous religions (e.g. Voodoo) are practiced throughout.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), founded by the 1975 Treaty of Lagos, is an organization of West African states which aims to promote the region's economy. The West African Monetary Union (or UEMOA from its name in French, Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine) is limited to the eight, mostly francophone countries that employ the CFA franc as their common currency.
West Africa’s rural areas are characterized by small and relatively isolated villages, where the main economic activity is agriculture. In these zones, population densities are low and access to facilities (school, health, water and sanitation, etc.) are poor. Rural populations are homogeneous in terms of cultural practices and behaviour and benefit from sufficient land, but their activities remain strongly dependent on rainfall variability and soil properties. Additionally, the tools for agriculture are often traditional in nature. The use of motorised engines is very limited, so that farmers practice livestock breeding using horses and cows (1 to 3), which are used as driving forces during their agricultural activities. Livestock breeding also comprises sheep.
With regard to the situation in West Africa, the majority of the population live in rural areas under extreme conditions of poverty. This leads to a rapid urbanisation rate (ranging between 34 % and 42 %) , which is strongly linked to the substantive rural exodus observed during recent decades. As consequence, peri-urban settlements in West African countries show high population densities, particularly in established or in developing slums. Peri-urban settlements in West Africa are characterized by heterogeneous populations (indigenous and immigrant habitants) with high population densities. Due to their spatial and temporal dynamic, these settlements exhibit strong urban influences. In comparison to rural areas, there is a better access to products and services (transport, bank, school and health infrastructures). However, the population in peri-urban zones still suffers from lack of appropriate facilities, corresponding with their increasing needs. This led to a situation, where prevalence of HIV, increase of diseases, water shortages, increased pollution and waste disposal are the main problems. Additionally, there is limited security of tenure (leading to more slums). Official HIV prevalence rates in the region tend to be grossly under-estimated, and governments continue to downplay the situation. According the WHO, HIV prevalence still remains high in West Africa. Côte d’Ivoire presents the highest rate (10%), while Senegal made real progress in stabilising the number of persons affected by the HIV. The increase of HIV prevalence is particularly observed in the peri-urban areas of big cities, where poverty and poor access to health centres and schools are determinant factors of the disease dissemination. The most important dissemination vector is the prostitution (in Guinea, 47% of the persons affected by HIV are prostitutes).
As with the rest of the continent, West African countries are facing severe water problems. These problems have multiple causes, hinging in particular on difficult environmental conditions (climate, limited rainfall, variable distribution of rain and drought) and on limited socio-economic conditions (poverty, social and cultural constraints, demography, low technical capabilities). Everywhere, the growth in demand for water is higher than economic growth. The increase in demand for water, related to population growth and economic development, generates an increasingly strong pressure on the resource, in particular in the poorest countries of the region where water plays an essential role in food production, the development of agriculture and industry and public health.
In addition to the large lakes and vast wetlands, the African continent has many significant rivers. Among them three are located in West Africa (the Senegal, Niger and Gambia rivers). The Senegal river has 4 riparian countries, whereas the Niger has 7. As the corresponding basins are international effective water resources management (and energy production) requires partnerships and cooperation, at the sub-regional level between the countries members sharing them.
From a climatic point of view, there are mainly two seasons: a wet one (generally from June-July to October-September) and a dry one, generally much longer. Climate variability is so extreme that the season periods often changes, becoming shorter or longer. On a continental basis, rainfall in Africa is about 670 mm per year . Concerning West Africa, the highest rainfall occurs in the Gulf of Guinea (1,407 mm), while precipitation rates vary between 300 and 750 mm in the Sudano-sahelian part , where the wet season lasts only three or four months. At a continental level, renewable water resources constitute only about 20 percent of total rainfall. In the Sudano-sahelian and Gulf of Guinea sub regions, the figures are 5.9% and 32.1% respectively (Table 2). This may reflect high losses of rainwater. These losses may occur, in part, through evaporation of surface waters or through plants. The low values of the internal renewable resources also show that there is room for improvement in conservation of rainwater. More importantly, they account, in part, for the endemic drought in parts of the region.
This has a direct impact on the groundwater quality and quantity. In the region, groundwater is extremely important, because it constitutes the main source of drinking water, in particular in peri-urban and rural areas, where more than 60% of the population still live. Significant groundwater resources are generally located along the major rivers and in the coastal deltas. However, groundwater resources are limited and represent a small fraction of the total renewable water resource (less than 10%). Thus, one of the significant features of Africa’s water resources is the extreme spatial and temporal variability of climate and rainfall . This is especially so since climate variability affects water resources by way of floods and droughts , of which the population in peri-urban areas in West Africa suffer particularly. In West Africa, 70 percent of the total population lives in the moist sub-humid and humid zones. Despite the relatively low rainfall abundance, the levels of water withdrawals for agriculture (85% of the total amount of water withdrawn), community water supply (9%) and industry (6%) still remain low. In Africa, water withdrawals for these purposes are estimated to be less than 4% of the total annual renewable water resources . The corresponding levels are about 14.1% in the Sudano-sahelian sub-region and 0.6% in the Gulf of Guinea. This may reflect a low level of development and use of water resource on the region.
West Africa is therefore particularly affected by the problems of water resources. Water is a constant concern for people, their governments and the professionals in the sector, who face several types of water resources problems, which are reinforced mutually to result in adverse situations for social development: water shortages, water borne diseases, floods, etc. Repeated and prolonged droughts are likely to cause: (i) crop failure; (ii) high and rising cereal prices; (iii) low and falling livestock prices; (iv) distress sale of animals; (v) de-capitalisation, impoverishment, hunger, and eventually (vi) famine .