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Water resources are underutilized in Africa across the board, yet conflicts between water uses are common

Underdevelopment of water resources leads to underutilization of economic potential.The continent has the lowest water withdrawal per capita in the world (about 170 cubic meters)—owing to hydrological variability, underdeveloped water infrastructure, and inefficient water resources management. East Asia and the Pacific use about three times the water per person; North America, Europe, and even the water-scarce Middle East withdraw more than four times as much (see table).


Low usage is the rule in all the major water-using sectors. Africa’s agriculture remains almost entirely rain fed, with less than 10 percent of cultivated land equipped for irrigation. Despite chronic shortages and the high costs of power across Africa, less than 10 percent of the region’s low-cost hydropower potential has been exploited. Notwithstanding the Millennium Development Goals, less than 60 percent of Africa’s population has access to drinking water.

Even though water is underutilized, conflicts between water uses are a problem. This is particularly true where different water uses demand alternative management regimes, such as hydropower versus irrigation, or irrigation versus environmental uses.

Water availability and withdrawal across regions

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