Cameroon is blessed with abundant water resources, thanks to high annual precipitation and vast surface water and groundwater resources. Though the country has significant water resources, they are unevenly distributed between the north and the south of the country, due to varying topographies and precipitation patterns . According to figures from the Cameroonian Ministry of Water and Energy (MINEE), by 2025, the populations of the far south will have twice as much water availability as the populations of the far north . Further, climate change is expected to limit water availability in Cameroon, particularly in the north of the country . At the same time, water use in Cameroon is set to increase markedly over the next few decades due to rapid population growth , as well as unplanned urbanisation and agricultural and industrial intensification .
Access to water is a key challenge in Cameroon, both in terms of quantity and quality . Already, there is a large portion of the population without access to drinking water, many of whom are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable . According to the country’s National Development Strategy SND 30, the proportion of the population with access to safe drinking was 61% in 2014. However, access to safe drinking water was worse in rural areas, where less than half of households had access in comparison to urban areas, where more than 80% of households had access . Household access to drinking water has improved in Cameroon to 79.4% in 2020, as outlined in the country’s Voluntary National Review. But marked disparities remain .
The country’s sanitation situation is worrying in both urban and rural areas. Between 2001 and 2014, sanitation conditions deteriorated in the country. The proportion of the population with access to improved sanitation facilities declined from 44.7% in 2001 to 40.4% in 2014. The proportion was also higher in urban areas (58%) than rural areas (29%) . Furthermore, in 2017, only 28.8% of households were washing their hands with soap and water, with only one rural household out of twenty (5.5%) having a place to wash their hands with water, soap, or another cleaning product . This situation of poor and unequal access to WASH services is accentuated by the humanitarian crises that affect the country: i) the spill-over from the conflict in Central African Republic (CAR) and the Boko Haram insurgency that have resulted in both an increased internal displacement of people and an influx of refugees from Nigeria and CAR, ii) the nutritional crisis, iii) climate change and its associated impacts, and iv) the high prevalence of water-related diseases .
The health situation in the country has naturally been affected by the poor access to WASH services . For instance, Cameroon has been experiencing its worst cholera outbreak in decades . Between 29 October 2021 and 30 April 2022, a total of 6652 suspected cases including 134 deaths (case fatality ratio 2%) were reported. Several risk factors can be attributed to the ongoing cholera outbreaks in Cameroon, including wide circulation of Vibrio cholerae in the country, limited access to safe drinking water in some areas, a seasonal pattern of cholera occurrence and inadequate WASH conditions .
Various socio-economic developments, including rapid population growth, unplanned urbanisation as well as agricultural and industrial intensification, have led to the unsustainable management of the country’s water resources. Per capita water availability is expected to decline by 2080, mostly due to population growth. Additionally, climate change is expected to limit water availability, particularly in northern Cameroon .
Furthermore, poor water governance limits the sustainable management of the country’s water resources and thus the availability of safe drinking water for the general population, in particular in rural areas . Though the proportion of the population with access to safe drinking water has improved, it still remains below Cameroon’s target of 75%, which can be attributed first to the inadequate production capacity and dilapidated distribution network which only allows about 60% of treated water to reach the populations. With regards to sanitation, the sector faces several constraints of an institutional, organizational, technical, and financial nature .
Key policies and governance approach
To reduce inequalities and guarantee full access to water and sanitation , the Cameroonian government has adopted several policy and strategy instruments, such as the National Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Policy in rural areas, the National Sanitation Strategy, and the National Community Led Total Sanitation Strategy , . These policy and strategy documents are based on the Government's Vision 2035 .
Additionally, the country’s National Development Plan 2020-2030 (SND 30) aims to significantly improve the population's access to drinking water and achieve a sanitation rate of 60% of the population by 2035. In the field of water supply, this will entail: (i) initiating the process of decentralization of public drinking water supply; (ii) creating a favourable framework for the installation of private drinking water production and distribution companies in localities not covered by the public network; and (iii) putting in place an investment programme to improve access to drinking water in rural areas. With regard to sanitation, measures to be carried out will be directed towards the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure and modernization of systems for the treatment, decontamination and drainage of wastewater and rainwater in urban areas .
The main legal instrument governing water resources in Cameroon is the Water Law, Law No.98/005 of 14 April 1998 , which establishes the legal framework of the water regime and covers protection against water pollution, preservation of water resources, the provision of quality water for drinking and penalties due for non-compliance . This law is currently being revised to include the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach . Other relevant laws include Law 64/LF/23 of 13 November 1964, concerning the protection of Public Health ; and Law No. 2019/024 of December 24, 2019, bearing the General Code of Decentralized Territorial Collectivities. Article 157 of this text transfers to the Municipalities the competences of: protection of the resources of the underground and surface water resources, the supply of drinking water, and the elaboration of the municipal action plans for the environment .
Several institutions are involved in the management of water and sanitation in Cameroon, including research and training institutes, decentralized local authorities, the private sector (all individual or corporate businesses), civil society organizations, international institutions, regional institutions, transboundary basin organizations and technical and financial partners . However, the Ministry of Energy and Water is the main actor in Cameroon  with the responsibility for developing and implementing Government policy on water and sanitation , including the production, transport, and distribution of water . For public water supplies in urban areas , the Cameroon Water Utilities Corporation (CAMWATER) was created in December 2005 and a leasing contract was signed in April 2008 between CAMWATER and Camerounaise des Eaux (CdE), a private operating company that manages the water supply facilities covered by its lease .
Successes and remaining challenges
Cameroon’s water strategy and policy landscape is a good start, but the country is experiencing many difficulties in moving ahead with its implementation. The formal adoption and implementation of key water policy and strategy instruments may be where several obstacles lie, as both the Plan d’Action National de Gestion Intégrée des Ressources en Eau (PANGIRE) – the national IWRM action plan – and a National Water Policy are awaiting adoption, whilst the Water Law is still currently under revision . The process to draw up the PANGIRE has been hampered by the lack of financial resources needed to produce the document, while the National Water Policy needs to be validated politically .
Several other challenges also hinder the country’s implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), including challenges related to the coordination, collaboration and cooperation of the various actors of the water sector; the mobilization of financing; communicating on what is already being done; the involvement of the private sector; the operationalization of institutions; the monitoring of implementation; knowledge of water resources; leadership, consultation, and sharing of data and information; the establishment of an institutional framework for the management of available data (weather and hydro); and the monitoring of the quantity and quality of groundwater .
Additionally, the main challenges that may hamper the achievement of SDG6 by 2030 (ensuring access to water and sanitation for all) in Cameroon include the weak mobilization of financial resources; climate change; the stability of the institutional framework of the WASH sector; and the security situation at the national level .
Initiatives and Development Plans
In the water sub-sector, Cameroon has implemented several projects, in particular the Drinking Water and Semi-Urban Sanitation project (PAEPAMSU) and the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Program (PAEA-MRU), respectively financed to the tune of 75 and 180 million CFA Francs .
Cameroon also became the 6th African country to join the UN Water Convention to boost cooperation on shared waters. Overall, Cameroon became the 47th Party to join the United Nations Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), following the approval of accession at the highest level by the Cameroon President on 7 July 2022 and the deposit on 1 November 2022 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the instruments of ratification at the UN headquarters in New York. This is an important step for the wider region, as Cameroon shares most of its water resources with other states including Chad, Nigeria, Niger, the Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. In the face of rising water stress, cooperation on these shared waters is essential to ensure economic development, climate change adaptation and to preserve regional stability. Accession to the Water Convention will also support Cameroon to further improve its integrated water resources management at the national level .
- The strategic framework for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) – including PANGIRE, the new water policy, and a revised water law – should be finalised, and fully operationalised. Climate change (and its implications) should also be incorporated into these water mechanisms .
- Draft the texts for the application of the law on decentralization and the general code of decentralized communities .
- Create an agency in charge of implementing IWRM in Cameroon .
- Revitalize existing Observatories and Committees in relation to IWRM .
- Develop a financing mechanism for the WASH sector .
- Improve revenue collection and expand revenue funded IWRM elements .
- Capacity building on IWRM is needed for relevant institutions and stakeholders .
- Establish a consultation framework for various stakeholders in the knowledge and management of water resources .
- Harmonize practices for the collection, management, transmission and sharing of water-related data .
- Operationalize the water information system and effective operation of the National Water Committee .
- Extend funding for hydrological, hydrogeological and climatic research .
- Set up a mechanism for the systematic control of pollution and discharges into surface and underground waters. With decentralization, this function will be transferred to the lowest level for greater efficiency .
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