Facing the Water Challenges in Cameroon: A WWDR3 Case Study
Although endowed with abundant freshwater resources, the country faces a lack of comprehensive information, an inadequate legal and institutional framework, weak enforcement capacity, poor coordination among agencies and other obstacles to sound, sustainable water management. Cameroon is lagging on the Millenium Development Goals, in part because its water sector is highly fragmented and underfunded.
water supply and [[sanitation, IWRM
Background and Significance
The Experience: Challenges and Solutions
- The Main Challenges
Poor water services, rural-urban disparities: While Cameroon is not yet on track to meet the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water and sanitation, it has made notable progress since 1990. In 2006, 70% of the population had access to safe drinking water. The coverage in urban centres is 88%, significantly better than the 47% in rural areas (WHO/UNICEF, 2008). Of Cameroon’s 300 urban centres with 5,000 inhabitants or more, however, only 98 have water supply networks. Moreover, rapid urbanization in smaller towns has often rendered existing infrastructure inadequate, with frequent service interruptions. Many periurban dwellers also lack access to safe drinking water. Another problem is the amount of water unaccounted for: the average rate of loss rose from 25% in 1990 to 40% in 2000, clearly indicating an aging network and poor maintenance. Hence, in reality, the supply situation is worse than the figures imply.
Sanitation coverage is also poor. In urban areas only 58% of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, and the rate in rural areas is 42% (WHO/UNICEF, 2008). Studies from different parts of the country indicate that many water resources used for household consumption are polluted to varying degrees because waste disposal infrastructure is insufficient in urban areas, and the capacity to enforce existing laws is very weak. Especially affected are areas where latrines and septic tanks, for example, are located near springs and shallow wells used without treatment for household water supply.
There is little information on the amount of pollution reaching surface and groundwater resources, or on the severity of the problem. Some studies have indicated that most industrial facilities discharge waste into the environment with little or no treatment. A 2002 study of the effluent from a textile plant in the coastal region indicated that some water quality parameters exceeded recommended limits by up to 2,700%. The company knows it is polluting, but because monitoring and enforcement are inadequate, it lacks any incentive to invest in wastewater treatment.
Water-related disease is quite common in Cameroon and particularly affects children. The main causes of death in children under 5 are diarrhoea, malaria and measles. Among children under 4, diarrhoea accounts for about 10% of all deaths. Malaria affects about 46% of the population. Health expenditure in Cameroon for 2001–2002 amounted to around US$110 million, which corresponded to 4.5% of the national budget and about 1% of GDP.
Poverty is another major issue in Cameroon. Although the poorest areas are in the far north, all regions suffer to varying degrees. The first national household survey in 1996 estimated that 51% of the population was living in poverty. The figure had fallen to 40% by the time the second survey was conducted in 2001. However, the decline mainly benefited urban dwellers. Just over 22% of people in urban areas are poor, compared with nearly 50% in rural areas (IFAD, 2008).
- Decreasing Biodiversity and Wetland Degradation
Cameroon has a wide variety of natural resources, including its forests, which occupy about 50% of the country’s surface area. With its climatic and ecological variety, Cameroon is rich in terms of biodiversity. However, an inadequate legal and institutional framework, combined with insufficient political will and commitment to enforcement of regulations, has led to decreased biodiversity. Wetlands are also at risk because of various pressures, including overgrazing and pollution. Other activities that have resulted in degraded wetlands include drainage for agriculture and for construction in urban and periurban areas. In the past, some development projects were carried out without adequate environmental impact assessment (Box 1.1), which affected wetlands and other ecosystems. Today, however, environmental impact assessment is required for all major development projects in Cameroon.
The biggest problem in Cameroon is not the availability of water – it is the poor management and development of the resources, coupled with inadequate political will and commitment for the long term. The patchiness of information available on the quality and quantity of water resources is a major constraint for successful water resources management and a handicap for poverty alleviation efforts. Although progress has been made in water supply and sanitation coverage, much more needs to be done to improve the situation, especially in rural areas. The enabling environment for application of the IWRM approach is weak, as are institutional frameworks. In this situation, Cameroon is lagging in meeting the MDG targets. Improving water information systems, as well as completion and implementation of an IWRM plan, would go a long way towards improving water security in Cameroon, in addition to contributing to poverty alleviation.
Results and Impact
Lessons for Replication
Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions
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