Water is precious. Although water covers three quarters of the earth, only a small fraction is accessible to human beings as fresh water. Water is critical to nourishing and fostering life. Water is vital to our existence and to our social and economic development.

Water plays an essential role in helping to eradicate poverty, especially in the Least Developed Countries. To build a world without hunger, we must and we can harness water to feed the world by developing policies and ensuring programmes that will encourage sustainable use of water. By the early 1990s, nine African countries had per capita renewable water supplies of less than 1 000 m3/year and were considered water scarce. The nine were Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Rwanda, and Tunisia.

However, most other countries in Africa have large regions that suffer acute water shortages, either periodically or on a permanent basis. Consequently, in most of the continent, effective water-resource management is of critical importance.

At the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, the international community agreed to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water in both urban and rural areas. But we should remember that in sub-Saharan Africa only 58 per cent of the population has access to improved water resources.

In the most vulnerable Least Developed Countries, improvement in the proportion of people with access to water has remained marginal. In order to reach the Millennium Development Goals, the world must move from commitments to concrete projects from promises to tangible action. We must improve water productivity, particularly in agriculture by assisting with improved agricultural techniques and better water efficiency.

In order to stop the unsustainable exploitation of water as a resource, water management strategies at the regional and sub-regional levels should be developed and promoted. Providing safe water services and sanitation to all, especially the most vulnerable countries, should be the goal not just of governments but also of people who use water.

To eradicate hunger and poverty and reach the Millennium Development Goals, governments and people will need to work together to ensure access and make best use of the water resources of our planet. If the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability is to be achieved and the suffering of the world’s poor alleviated, the world community must focus on water, our most precious resource.

Although the African continent is still the least-irrigated and least-industrialized region of the world, sustained efforts continue to be made to provide safe and reliable water sources in rural and urban areas throughout the region, both for domestic consumption and for agricultural purposes.

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