At least 38% of the population in Africa do not have access to clean reliable water supplies (WHO/UNICEF 2000). Many of those without access live in the rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where the consequent poverty and ill health disproportionately affect women and children. The international community has now set new development targets which commit the UN membership to reduce by half the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or afford, safe drinking water by the year 2015. Poverty reduction and sustainable development are now given highest priority.
In order to meet these new targets, strategies are being devised which draw on the lessons learned from past experience. Increasingly, the social and economic aspects of water projects are given priority to ensure that water supply solutions are easily and sustainably managed by local communities (e.g. DFID 2001). Whilst this approach is welcome, an unwanted outcome is that the focus on social and economic aspects of water supply is often at the expense of technical and hydrogeological considerations. It is within this framework that hydrogeologists now need to operate within Africa. Increasingly, emphasis on technical aspects of water supply, particularly if they involve new research, is seen as regressive and moving away from community development and demand responsive approaches. It is incumbent on the hydrogeological community to demonstrate that its skills are necessary to help meet the international development targets; indeed, without these skills, the ambitious goals will never be achieved.
This paper discusses the groundwater resources in sub-Saharan Africa in the context of the International Development Targets. An extended reference list is given to help follow up technical aspects of the hydrogeology of Africa, which are not discussed in detail here.