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New $600 Million Fund To Improve African Water Resources

LAGOS, Nov 19 - A special new fund is to be set up to improve desperately scarce water resources in Africa, where two thirds of the population have no access to drinking water, ministers announced Friday, Agence France Presse reports.

An African ministerial council on water said the European Union had promised additional finance to preserve Africa's scarce water resources. The ministers spent two days preparing a pan-African water conference scheduled for Addis Ababa in December. Salif Diallo, the minister from Burkina Faso responsible for water, told AFP the new fund totaling $623 million would be set up with the backing of the African Development Bank. To safeguard resources threatened with drying up due to silting and desertification, the EU has meanwhile decided to help with the management of key rivers including the Volta in Burkina Faso, the Congo and the Niger, Diallo said. Hitherto there had been only isolated efforts that had failed to improve access to drinking water, the minister explained. Speaking on a visit to Niger last week, French President Jacques Chirac announced financial support of EUR10 million euros towards managing the Niger River, which runs through nine countries providing a life-giving artery to 100 million people.

The news comes as the Financial Times reports that international trade negotiators are being urged to look at the impact of their proposals on how water is used by the world's farmers. A consortium of World Bank-backed researchers and non-governmental organizations launched a $120 million initiative-the Challenge Program on Water and Food-at a conference in Nairobi at the weekend. The program's chairman, Frank Rijsberman, said US and EU farm subsidies were the biggest single factor in deciding where food was grown globally and how increasingly scarce water supplies were used. The program is a joint venture between established agricultural researchers from the World Bank-supported Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and NGOs such as the World Resources Institute. The 50 raom developing a new type of rice grown with less water to analyzing India's controversial plans to link 37 Himalayan rivers-are intended to address the increase in water shortage facing world farming. Unless technical and political solutions are found, there may be reduced food production, rocketing food prices, environmental degradation and the collapse of local economies, Rijsberman said. "By 2025 it is possible that we will be facing annual losses equivalent to the entire grain crops of India and the US combined. Water scarcity cannot be ignored and there is no quick-fix solution."

In a separate piece, AFP notes that addressing the gathering [of experts], the World Bank's vice president Ian Johnson said his institution plans to increase funding of agriculture and water projects in Africa. The World Bank was looking for to ways of financing research in new methods of water conservation and food security, said Johnson. "We have dedicated funding to CGIAR, half of the funds received by the organization comes to Africa," Johnson said. "We are doing so because we realize that we are living in a more and more water-stressed environment," he added. "The green revolution passed Africa and benefited only Asia. Now this is Africa's chance to assure itself of enough food," said Johnson. "Parts of northern, central and south-central Africa, Congo, Zimbabwe, and parts of Kenya and Zambia face the risk of food shortage

Source: This Day/All Africa Global Media

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