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Renewable water resources

Annual precipitation in Africa is estimated at about 20 360 km3, a continentwide average of 678 mm (Figure 6). Disparities between countries and regions are very important. The driest country is Egypt with 51 mm/year on average, followed closely by the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (56 mm/year) and Algeria (89 mm/year), which suggests that Morocco (346 mm/year) and Tunisia (207 mm/year) are most advantaged countries in the Northern Region (Table 24). This region is the driest region on the continent with an average of 96 mm/year. The countries with precipitation exceeding 2 000 mm/year (Sao Tome and Principe with 3 200 mm/year, Sierra Leone 2 526 mm/year, Seychelles 2 330 mm/year, Liberia 2 390 mm/year, Equatorial Guinea 2 156 mm/year, Mauritius 2 041 mm/year) belong to the Gulf of Guinea, Central and Indian Ocean Islands Regions, which are the rainiest (Table 3). With more than 7 500 km3/year, the Central Region receives 37 percent of all precipitation in Africa in an area that accounts for less than 20 percent of the total. In contrast, the Northern Region, with an area similar to the Central Region, receives less than 3 percent of total precipitation.

Renewable water resources for the whole of Africa amount to about 3 930 km3, or less than 9 percent of global renewable resources (Figure 8 and Table 32). The Central Region is the best endowed, with 48 percent of Africa’s resources for only 18 percent of its area (Figure 2). With 24 percent of Africa’s resources, the Gulf of Guinea Region is also well supplied with water. On the other hand, the Northern Region is the most disadvantaged with less than 1 percent of the renewable water resources for an area equivalent to 19 percent of Africa. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has 900 km3 of internal renewable water resources, 23 percent of the total for African, while the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has only 0.01 percent of these resources.

There has been a decrease in internal renewable water resources per inhabitant since the previous AQUASTAT survey. In 2004, the average was 4 530 m3/inhabitant, ranging from 325 m3/inhabitant in the Northern Region to 19 845 m3/inhabitant in the Central Region. At country level, the values range from 25 m3/inhabitant for Egypt to 121 392 m3/inhabitant for Gabon (Table 24). However, the distribution of total renewable water resources is different because of international and interregional river basins, with values ranging from 106 m3/inhabitant in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to 217 915 m3/inhabitant in Congo. Indeed, because of an agreement with the Sudan, Egypt benefits from very important outside contributions (of the Nile River). Congo also benefits from water resources from the Congo River from countries situated upstream, unlike the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Gabon, which do not have any external resources. Therefore, the dependency ratio, which enables the proportion of total renewable resources originating from outside a country to be quantified and, thereby, a country’s dependence on external water resources, is negligible for these two countries (Table 24).

Table 4 presents total and internal renewable water resources for seven countries where resources per inhabitant are very limited. With respect to internal renewable water resources, seven countries have resources lower than the cutoff point of 500 m3/inhabitant a year, while Algeria and Djibouti exceeded this threshold slightly in 1994. Taking into consideration international rivers shared with countries upstream, Egypt, Mauritania and Niger (thanks to the Nile, Senegal and Niger rivers, respectively) are well above this threshold in terms of total renewable water resources. Only Algeria, Djibouti, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Tunisia remain below this threshold, not benefiting (dependency ratio of zero for Djibouti and Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) or benefiting only slightly (ratio lower than 10 percent for Algeria and Tunisia) from outside contributions. It is necessary to highlight the particular case of Egypt, which, thanks to the Nile River, saw its total resources rise to almost 800 m3/inhabitant in 2004 from 25 m3/inhabitant of internal resources. Therefore, its dependency ratio is very high (97 percent), but a large part of this contribution (55.5 km3 or 98 percent) is secured by a treaty with the Sudan, located upstream on the Nile River.

International waters

The main international river basins are, in decreasing order of area: Congo (Zaire), Nile, Lake Chad, Niger, Zambezi, Orange, Senegal, Limpopo, and Volta. These nine basins cover nearly half of the total area of the continent (Table 5 and Figure 9).

The water in these river basins, shared between several countries, is managed through basin organizations that group together all or some of the countries included in one basin. Of the basins mentioned, only the Congo River Basin does not have this type of organization to coordinate actions related to the water resources of the nine states contained in this basin, although it is the largest African river basin. The organizations managing the other basins are:

  • The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), created in 1999 on the initiative of the Council of Ministers of water resources of the countries of the Nile Basin (Nile COM), furthers a first agreement in 1959 between Egypt and Sudan on the water of the river, and also of the Committee of Technical Cooperation for the Promotion of the Development and the Environmental Protection of the Nile Basin (TECCONILE) in 1993. Among the ten countries included in the Nile Basin (Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania), only Eritrea is not a member of the NBI, but it is a "prospective member". It participates in the Nile COM dialogue as an observer. The initiative tries to realize sustainable socio-economic development through the use of water resources in the Nile Basin and equitable benefit sharing. Therefore, the main objectives are: (i) to develop the Nile River water resources in an equitable and sustainable manner in order to ensure prosperity, security and peace for the inhabitants; (ii) to guarantee effective water management and optimal resource use; (iii) to promote cooperation and combined action between member countries; and (iv) to combat poverty and promote economic integration.
  • The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) was created in May 1964 by the leaders of the states that share Lake Chad (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria). The Central African Republic became the fifth member in 1994. Algeria and Sudan, also included in the lake basin, are not part of the "conventional basin". The main objectives of the LCBC are: (i) to conserve the limited water resources; (ii) to restore the water level in Lake Chad, which is one of the largest wet zones in Africa; (iii) to combat desertification through dune fixation; (iv) to combat erosion and to lead programmes of plant regeneration; and (v) to collect data on the resources for an effective management of the river basin.
  • The Niger Basin Authority (NBA), created in 1980, is the successor to the Niger River Commission, created in 1964. Of the ten countries included in the basin (Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria), only Algeria is not part of the NBA. The objective of the NBA is: "to promote cooperation between member countries and to ensure an integrated development of the resources of the river basin, notably in energy, water, agriculture, livestock, fishing, aquaculture, forestry, wood, transport and communication, and industry". To achieve this, it is necessary to accomplish the following three objectives: (i) harmonize and coordinate the national policies on the development of the resources in the basin; (ii) plan river basin development by developing and implementing an "integrated river basin development plan"; and (iii) conceive, develop, undertake and maintain common works and projects.
  • The Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) was created in 2004 by the eight countries of the Zambezi Basin: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Negotiations for the creation of this basin organization started in the 1980s, but were interrupted at the beginning of the 1990s to allow discussions on the Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), signed in 1995. The objective of ZAMCOM is to promote the fair and reasonable use of the Zambezi water resources, as well as their effective management and sustainable development. The governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe work together in the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) to co-manage the river, concentrating in particular on managing the Kariba Dam, located on the Zambezi River and forming the border between the two countries.
  • The International Commission for the Orange Senqu River (ORASECOM) was created in 2000 by the four states that share the basin: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa. It is responsible for studying the potential of the basin’s resources. At the same time, it is necessary to strengthen human and institutional capacities in order to facilitate the integrated and effective management of the water resources, thereby enabling the sustainable development of all of the basin countries.
  • The Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (OMVS), created in 1972, comprises Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. Although Guinea shares the basin’s waters, it is not a member of the OMVS, having withdrawn from the previous organization (Organisation des États riverains du Sénégal in 1968). The OMVS has taken over from previous organizations, namely: Mission d’études et d’aménagement du fleuve Sénégal, created in 1934; Mission d’aménagement du fleuve Sénégal, created in 1938 and which became a common body of water resources development for the three autonomous states in 1959; Inter-State Committee, created in 1963 and which also included Guinea; and Organisation des États riverains du Sénégal, created in 1968. The mission of the OMVS is: (i) to achieve food self-sufficiency for the population of the basin and of the subregion; (ii) to secure and improve incomes for population in the river valley; (iii) to preserve the balance of the ecosystems in the subregion and in particular in the basin; (iv) to reduce the vulnerability of the economies of the member states to climate hazards and negative external factors; and (v) to accelerate the economic development of the member states.
  • In 2002, the four countries located in the Limpopo River Basin (Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe) set up the Limpopo Basin Permanent Technical Committee (LBPTC), which replaced the Permanent Technical Committee of the Limpopo Basin.
  • An agency does not yet exist for the Volta River Basin, but its creation seems imminent. Among the six countries of the basin (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Togo), Ghana and Burkina Faso have already strengthened their dialogue for the management of their shared water resources related to the Project for Improving Water Governance in the Volta River Basin, launched in July 2004. The Volta Basin Technical Committee (VBTC) brings together experts from ministries in charge of water for the six countries that share the Volta River Basin. It held its first session in March 2005, enabling the adoption of internal regulations and the election of the VBTC officials whose mission is to work on the establishment of a Volta River Basin agency.


The total dam capacity in Africa is 798 km3, of which 726 km3 relates to the capacity of 53 large dams built in 22 river basins (Table 25). On the nine international river basins indicated in Table 5, 31 large dams have been built with a total capacity of 643 km3. The Southern Region contains more than one-third of the total dam capacity on the continent (39 percent), followed by the Gulf of Guinea Region (29 percent) and the Northern Region (24 percent), while the Central Region and the Indian Ocean Islands Region, the most humid on the continent, have a small dam capacity (Table 6). Five main dams (situated in the three regions with the highest capacity on the continent) total 565 km3 of capacity, or 71 percent of the total capacity in Africa (Table 7). The dam with the largest capacity is the Kariba Dam (188 km3). More than half of the dams are in the Southern Region. This probably reflects the fact that the inventory of dams in South Africa is very exact because it includes even small-capacity dams.

Non-conventional sources of water

Data on non-conventional sources of water are only available for 15 countries. These countries are in particular those whose renewable resources are limited and who already use a very considerable portion of their water. Table 8 shows that they belong mainly to the Northern Region and, at a much lower level of use, to the Southern Region. The reuse of treated wastewater and water desalination take place mainly in dry countries seeking to increase their limited resources. The main countries practising desalination are: Egypt, South Africa, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Cape Verde, Seychelles, Sudan and Djibouti, in decreasing order of production. Some countries have also introduced irrigation projects that use treated wastewater, mainly in urban and peri-urban agriculture.

The absence of data on the quantity of wastewater produced and/or treated in the Gulf of Guinea, Central and Eastern Regions reflects a lack of sanitation and wastewater treatment systems or their inefficiency in many countries in these regions.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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