A new fund to provide African governments with grants for water projects is about to be launched at a week-long international conference being held in Ethiopia.
The initiative is to be called the African Water Facility and it will provide more than $600 million for projects throughout the continent. It will be coordinated primarily by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank.
A U.N. spokesman, Yinka Adeyemi, says the initiative is meant to help the continent achieve the so-called African Water Vision 2025.
That strategy emerged from an earlier conference, and calls for reducing by half the more than 300 million Africans who do not have access to clean water. Mr. Adeyemi says the Vision also calls for increasing the size of irrigated areas by 50 percent by 2015.
"The idea will be to give this money as grants - not loans now - to African countries who are pursuing water projects in pursuit of the African Water Vision and similar initiatives," he said.
Mr. Adeyemi says the United Nations also plans to launch the Africa Water Journal, a twice-yearly publication with articles on hydrology, irrigation, water distribution and related topics.
These and other initiatives are set to be announced during the U.N.'s week-long Pan African Implementation and Partnership Conference on Water, being held in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.
The conference, hosted by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, brings together senior officials from more than 40 African countries and about 1,000 delegates from around the world.
Mr. Adeyemi says the conference's aim is to help African countries implement efficient water-management strategies in both wet and dry areas. And he says there is an urgent need to do so.
"Up to 400 million Africans may not have access to clean water," he said. "In many countries in Africa, up to 70 percent of deaths of children under 10 is directly related to [unsafe] water."
Contaminated water can cause such potentially fatal illnesses as diarrhea, and dysentery.
In his opening speech, the head of the Economic Commission for Africa, Kingsley Amoako, called on governments to spend at least five percent of their national budgets on water infrastructure development.
He said Africa needs $20 billion per year to get water to the people who need it and achieve other goals of the African Water Vision, yet the average investment in water from 1990 to 2000 was less than $5 billion per year.