Water scarcity in Africa
Water scarcity or lack of safe drinking water is one of the world's leading problems affecting more than 1.1 billion people globally, meaning that one in every six people lacks access to safe drinking water. The Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines safe drinking water as "water with microbial, chemical and physical characteristics that meets WHO guidelines or national standards on drinking water quality." Hydrologists generally assess water scarcity by looking at a population-to-water equation that treats 1,700 cubic meters per person as the national threshold for meeting water requirements for agricultural and industrial production, energy, and the environment. Availability below the threshold of 1,000 cubic meters represents a state of "water scarcity", while anything below 500 cubic meters represents a state of "absolute scarcity".
As of 2006, one third of all nations suffered from clean water scarcity, but Sub-Saharan Africa had the largest number of water-stressed countries of any other place on the planet and of an estimated 800 million people who live in Africa, 300 million live in a water stressed environment. According to findings presented at the 2012 Conférence on "Water Scarcity in Africa: Issues and Challenges", it is estimated that by 2030, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will be living in areas of high water stress, which will likely displace anywhere between 24 million and 700 million people as conditions become increasingly unlivable.
- 1 Impact on development
- 2 Reasons for scarcity
- 3 Addressing the issue
- 4 See also
- 5 External links
- 6 References
Impact on development
The most immediately apparent impact of water scarcity in Africa is on the continent's health. With a complete lack of water, humans can only live up to 3 to 5 days on average. This often forces those living in water deprived regions to turn to unsafe water resources, which, according to the World Health Organization, contributes to the spread of waterborne diseases including typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery and diarrhea, and to the spread of diseases such as malaria whose vectors rely on such water resources, and can lead to diseases such as trachoma, plague, and typhus. Additionally, water scarcity causes many people to store water within the household, which increases the risk of household water contamination and incidents of malaria and dengue fever spread by mosquitos. These waterborne diseases are not usually found in developed countries because of sophisticated water treatment systems that filter and chlorinate water, but for those living with less developed or non-existent water infrastructure, natural, untreated water sources often contain tiny disease-carrying worms and bacteria. Although many of these waterborne sicknesses are treatable and preventable, they are nonetheless one of the leading causes of disease and death in the world. Globally, 2.2 million people die each year from diarrhea-related disease, and at any given time fifty percent of all hospital beds in the world are occupied by patients suffering from water-related diseases. Infants and children are especially susceptible to these diseases because of their young immune systems, which lends to elevated infant mortality rates in many regions of Africa. Water scarcity has a big impact on hygiene.
When infected with these waterborne diseases, those living in African communities suffering from water scarcity cannot contribute to the community’s productivity and development because of a simple lack of strength. Additionally, individual, community, and governmental economic resources are sapped by the cost of medicine to treat waterborne diseases, which takes away from resources that might have potentially been allocated in support of food supply or school fees. Also, in term of governmental funding, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa, treatment of diarrhea due to water contamination consumes 12% of the country’s health budget. With better water conditions, the burden on healthcare would be less substantial, while a healthier workforce would stimulate economic growth and help alleviate the prevalence of poverty.
The Human Development Report reports that human use of water is mainly allocated to irrigation and agriculture. In developing areas, such as those within Africa, agriculture accounts for more than 80% of water consumption. This is due to the fact that it takes about 3,500 liters of water to produce enough food for the daily minimum of 3,000 calories, and food production for a typical family of four takes a daily amount of water equivalent to the amount of water in an olympic-sized swimming pool. Because the majority of Africa remains dependent on an agricultural lifestyle and 80% to 90% of all families in rural Africa rely upon producing their own food, water scarcity translates to a loss of food security. At this point, with less than a third of the continent's potential using irrigation most of rural African communities are not tapping into their irrigation potential, and according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa and New Partnership for Africa’s Development, "irrigation is key to achieving increased agricultural production that is important for economic development and for attaining food security". The doubling of Africa's irrigated land is currently high on many political agendas, which can potentially be addressed through markets, commodity selection, ownership, land tenure, reliable water storage, and international agreements.
But for many regions, there is a lack of financial and human resources to support infrastructure and technology required for proper crop irrigation. Because of this, the impact of droughts, floods, and desertification is greater in terms of both African economic loss and human life loss due to crop failure and starvation. Additionally, lack of water causes many Africans to use wastewater for crop growth, causing a large number of people to consume foods that can contain chemicals or disease-causing organisms transferred by the wastewater. Thus, for the extremely high number of African areas suffering from water scarcity issues, investing in development means sustainably withdrawing from clean freshwater sources, ensuring food security by expanding irrigation areas, and effectively managing the effects of climate change.
African women and men's divergent social positions lead to differences in water responsibilities, rights, and access, and so African women are disproportionally burdened by scarcity of clean drinking water. In most African societies, women are seen as the collectors, managers, and guardians of water, especially within the domestic sphere that includes household chores, cooking, washing, and child rearing. Because of these traditional gender labor roles, women are forced to spend around sixty percent of each day collecting water, which translates to approximately 200 million collective work hours by women globally per day and a decrease in the amount of time available for education. Water scarcity exacerbates this issue, as indicated by the correlation of decrease in access to water with a decrease in combined primary, secondary, and tertiary enrollment of women.
For African women, their daily role in clean water retrieval often means carrying the typical jerrycan that can weigh over 40 pounds when full for an average of six kilometers each day. This has health consequences such as permanent skeletal damage from carrying heavy loads of water over long distances each day, which translates to a physical strain that contributes to increased stress, increased time spent in health recovery, and decreased ability to not only physically attend educational facilities, but also mentally absorb education due to the effect of stress on decision-making and memory skills. Also, in terms of health, access to safe and clean drinking water leads to greater protection from water-born illnesses which increases women's capabilities to attend school.
The detriment water scarcity has on educational attainment for women in turn affects the social and economic capital of women in terms of leadership, earnings, and working opportunities. As a result of this, many women are unable to hold professional employment. The lost number of potential school days and education hinders the next generation of African women from breaking out of the cycle of unequal opportunity for gainful employment, which serves to perpetuate the prevalence of unequal opportunity for African women and adverse effects associated with lacking income from gainful employment. Thus, improved access to water influences women's allocation of time, level of education, and as a result their potential for higher wages associated with recognized and gainful employment.
In addition, the issue of water scarcity in Africa prevents many young children, especially girls, from attending school and receiving an education. They are expected to not only aid their mothers in water retrieval, but to also help with the demands of household chores that are made more time-intensive because of a lack of readily available water. Furthermore, a lack of clean water means the absence of sanitary facilities and latrines in schools, and so once puberty hits, this has a more serious impact on female children. In terms of lost educational opportunity, it is estimated that this would result in 272 million more school attendance days per year if adequate investment were made in drinking water and sanitation.
For parents, an increase in access to reliable water resources reduces vulnerability to shocks, which allows for increased livelihood security and for families to allocate a greater portion of their resources to caring for their children. This means improved nutrition for children, a reduction in school days missed due to health issues, and greater flexibility to spend resources on providing for the direct costs associated with sending children to school. And if families escape forced migration due to water scarcity, children's educational potential is even further improved with better stability and uninterrupted school attendance.
Productivity and development
Poverty is directly related to the accessibility of clean drinking water- without it, the chances of breaking out of the poverty trap are extremely slim. This concept of a "water poverty trap" was developed by economists specifically observing sub-Saharan Africa and refers to a cycle of financial poverty, low agricultural production, and increasing environmental degradation. In this negative feedback loop, this creates a link between the lack of water resources with the lack of financial resources that effect all societal levels including individual, household, and community. Within this poverty trap, people are subjected to low incomes, high fixed costs of water supply facilities, and lack of credit for water investments, which results in a low level of investment in water and land resources, lack of investment in profit-generating activities, resource degradation, and chronic poverty. Compounding on this, in the slums of developing countries, poor people typically pay five to ten times more per unit of water than do people with access to piped water because of issues - including the lack of infrastructure and government corruption - which is estimated to raise the prices of water services by 10% to 30%.
So, the social and economic consequences of a lack of clean water penetrate into realms of education, opportunities for gainful employment, physical strength and health, agricultural and industrial development, and thus the overall productive potential of a community, nation, and/or region. Because of this, the UN estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion potential work hours per year collecting water.
The explosion of populations in developing nations within Africa combined with climate change is causing extreme strain within and between nations. In the past, countries have worked to resolve water tensions through negotiation, but there is predicted to be an escalation in aggression over water accessibility.
Africa's susceptibility to potential water-induced conflict can be separated into four regions: the Nile, Niger, Zambezi, and Volta basins. Running through Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, the Nile's water has the potential to spark conflict and unrest. In the region of the Niger, the river basin extends from Guinea through Mali and down to Nigeria. Especially for Mali - one of the world's poorest countries - the river is vital for food, water and transportation, and its over usage is contributing to an increasingly polluted and unusable water source. In southern Africa, the Zambezi river basin is one of the world's most over-used river systems, and so Zambia and Zimbabwe compete fiercely over it. Additionally, in 2000, Zimbabwe caused the region to experience the worst flooding in recent history when the country opened the Kariba Dam gates. Finally, within the Volta river basin, Ghana is dependent on its hydroelectric output, but plagued by regular droughts which effect the production of electricity from the Akosombo Dam and limit Ghana's ability to sustain economic growth. Paired with the constraints this also puts on Ghana's ability to provide power for the area, this could potentially contribute to regional instability.
At this point, federal intelligence agencies have issued the joint judgment that in the next ten years, water issues are not likely to cause internal and external tensions that lead to the intensification war. But if current rates of consumption paired with climatic stress continue, levels of water scarcity in Africa are predicted by UNECA to reach dangerously high levels by 2025. This means that by 2022 there is the potential for a shift in water scarcity's potential to contribute to armed conflict. Based on the classified National Intelligence Estimate on water security, requested by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and completed in Fall 2011, after 2022 water will be more likely to be used as a weapon of war and potential tool for terrorism, especially in North Africa. On World Water Day, the State Department stated that water stress, "will likely increase the risk of instability and state failure, exacerbate regional tensions and distract countries from working with the United States on important policy objectives." Specifically referring to the Nile in Egypt, Sudan, and nations further south, the report predicts that upstream nations will limit access to water for political reasons, and that terrorists may target water related infrastructures, such as reservoirs and dams, more frequently. Because of this, the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Risk Report has included water as one of the world’s top five risks for the first time.
Reasons for scarcity
According to the Africa Partnership Forum, “Although Africa is the continent least responsible for climate change, it is particularly vulnerable to the effects,” and the long-term impacts include, “changing rainfall patterns affecting agriculture and reducing food security; worsening water security; decreasing fish resources in large lakes due to rising temperature; shifting vector-borne diseases; rising sea level affecting low-lying coastal areas with large populations; and rising water stress”.
More specifically, the Human Development Report predicts warming paired with 10% less rainfall in interior regions of Africa, which will be amplified by water loss due to water loss increase from rising temperature. This warming will be greatest over the semi-arid regions of the Sahara, along the Sahel, and interior areas of southern Africa. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that climate change in Africa has manifested itself in more intense and longer droughts in the subtropics and tropics, while arid or semi-arid areas in northern, western, eastern, and parts of southern Africa are becoming drier and more susceptible to variability of precipitation and storms.
The Human Development Report goes on to explain that because of Africa’s dependence on rain-fed agriculture, widespread poverty, and weak capacity, the water issues caused by climate change impact the continent much more violently compared to developed nations that have the resources and economic diversity to deal with such global changes. This heightened potential for drought and falling crop yields will most likely lead to increased poverty, lower incomes, less secure livelihoods, and an increased threat of chronic hunger for the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa. Overall this means that water stress caused by changing amounts of precipitation is particularly damaging to Africa and thus climate change is one of the major obstacles the continent must face when trying to secure reliable and clean sources of water.
Physical scarcity and economic scarcity
Water scarcity is both a natural and human-made phenomenon. It is thus essential to break it down into two general types: Economic scarcity and physical scarcity. Economic scarcity refers to the fact that finding a reliable source of safe water is time consuming and expensive. Alternatively, physical scarcity is when there simply is not enough water within a given region.
The 2006 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that 300 million out of the 800 million who live on the African continent live in a water-scarce environment. Specifically in the very north of Africa, as well the very south of Africa, the rising global temperatures accompanying climate change have intensified the hydrological cycle that leads to dryer dry seasons, thus increasing the risk of more extreme and frequent droughts. This significantly impacts the availability, quality and quantity of water due to reduced river flows and reservoir storage, lowering of water tables and drying up of aquifers in the northern and southern regions of Africa.
Included in the category of physical scarcity is the issue of overexploitation. This is contributing to the shrinking of many of Africa's great lakes, including the Nakivale, Nakuru, and Lake Chad, which has shrunk to 10% of its former volume. In terms of policy, the incentives for overuse are among the most damaging, especially concerning ground water extraction. For ground water, once the pump is installed, the policy of many countries is to only constrain removal based on the cost of electricity, and in many cases subsidize electricity costs for agricultural uses, which damages incentives to conserve such resources. Additionally, many countries within Africa set the cost of water well below cost-recovery levels, thus discouraging efficient usage and threatening sustainability.
The majority of Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from economic scarcity because of the population’s lack of the necessary monetary means to utilize adequate sources of water. Both political reasons and ethnic conflict have contributed to this unequal distribution of resources. Out of the two forms of water scarcity, economic scarcity can be addressed quickly and effectively with simple infrastructure to collect rainwater from roofs and dams, but this requires economic resources that many of these areas lack due to an absence of industrial development and widespread poverty.
Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa are progressing towards the Millennium Development Goal on water at different paces. While Northern Africa has 92% safe water coverage, Sub-Saharan Africa remains at a low 60% of coverage - leaving 40% of the 783 million people in that region without access to clean drinking water.
Some of these differences in clean water availability can be attributed to Africa's extreme climates. Although Sub-Saharan Africa has a plentiful supply of rainwater, it is seasonal and unevenly distributed - leading to frequent floods and droughts. Additionally, prevalent economic development and poverty issues, compounded with rapid population growth and rural-urban migration have rendered Sub-Saharan Africa as the world's poorest and least developed region. Thus, this poverty constrains many cities in this region from providing clean water and sanitation services and preventing the further deterioration of water quality even when opportunities exist to address these water issues. Additionally, the rapid population growth leads to an increased number of African settlements on flood-prone, high-risk land.
Addressing the issue
International and Non-Governmental Organization's efforts
To adequately address the issue of water scarcity in Africa, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa emphasizes the need to invest in the development of Africa’s potential water resources to reduce unnecessary suffering, ensure food security, and protect economic gains by effectively managing droughts, floods, and desertification. Some suggested and ongoing efforts to achieve this include an emphasis on infrastructural implementations and improvements of wells, rainwater catchment systems, and clean-water storage tanks.
Efforts made by the United Nations in compliance with the Millennium Development Goals have targeted water scarcity not just for Africa, but globally. The compiled list includes eight international development goals, seven of which are directly impacted by water scarcity. Access to water affects poverty, food scarcity, educational attainment, social and economic capital of women, livelihood security, disease, and human and environmental health. Because addressing the issue of water is so integral to reaching the MDGs, one of the sub-goals includes halving the proportion of the globe’s population without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. In March 2012, the UN announced that this goal has been met almost four years in advance, suggesting that global efforts to reduce water scarcity are on a successful trend.
As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the United States plays an integral role in promoting solutions to aid with clean water scarcity. One of many efforts include USAID’s WASH- the WASH for Life partnership with the Gates Foundation- that works to promote water, sanitation, and hygiene. With this, the U.S. "will identify, test, and scale up evidence-based approaches for delivering these services to people in some of the poorest regions". Additionally, in March 2012, Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. Water Partnership, which will bring together people from the private sector, the philanthropic community, non-governmental organizations, academics, experts, and the government in an attempt to look for system-wide solutions. The technologies and ability to tackle the issue of water scarcity and cleanliness are present, but it is highly a matter of accessibility. Thus, the partnership will aim at making these solutions available and obtainable at a local level.
In addition to the role the United States, the United Nations, and other international governmental bodies, a number of charitable organizations work to provide clean water in Africa and elsewhere around the world. These charities are based on individual and group donations, which are then invested in a variety of methods and technologies to provide clean water.
Solutions and technologies
The more basic solutions to help provide Africa with drinkable and usable water include well-digging, rain catchment systems, de-worming pills, and hand pumps, but high demand for clean water solutions has also prompted the development of some key creative solutions as well.
Some non-profit organizations have focused on the aspect of drinking water contamination from sewage waste by installing cost-effective and relatively maintenance-free toilets, such as Drop In The Bucket’s “Eco-sanitation Flush Toilet” or Pump Aid’s “Elephant Toilet”. The Elephant Toilet uses community-sourced resources in construction to build a relatively simple waste disposal mechanism that separates solids from liquids to promote faster decomposition and lower the impact on ground water. In comparison, the Eco-Sanitation Flush Toilet also uses no power of any kind, but actually treats sewage rather than just storing it so that the toilet’s output is only water. Both solutions are then simple for residents of African communities to maintain and have a notable impact on the cleanliness of local water sources.
Other solutions to clean water scarcity issues have focused on innovative pump systems, including hand-pumps, Water for People’s “Play Pumps”, and Pump Aid’s “Elephant Pumps”. All three designs are built to aid communities in drawing clean water from wells. The hand pump is the most basic and simple to repair, with replacement parts easily found. Using a more creative approach, Play Pumps combine child’s play with clean water extraction through the use of playground equipment, called a roundabout. The idea behind this is as children play on the roundabout, water will simultaneously be pumped from a reservoir tank to either toilets, hand-washing stations, or for drinking water. Some downsides to the PlayPump, though, are its inability to address situations of physical water scarcity and the danger of exploitation when children's play is equated with pumping water. Alternatively, Elephant Pumps are simple hand water pumps. After a well is prepared, a rope-pump mechanism is installed that is easy to maintain, uses locally sourced parts, and can be up and running in the time span of about a week. The Elephant Pump can provide 250 people with 40 litres of clean water per person per day.
Moving beyond sanitary waste disposal and pumps, clean water technology can now be found in the form of drinking straw filtration. Used as solution by Water Is Life, the straw is small, portable, and costs USD$10 per unit. The filtration device is designed to eliminate waterborne diseases, and as a result provide safe drinking water for one person for one year.
Overall, a wide range of cost-effective, manageable, and innovative solutions are available to help aid Africa in producing clean, disease-free water. Ultimately what it comes down to is using technology appropriate for each individual community’s needs. For the technology to be effective, it must conform to environmental, ethical, cultural, social, and economic aspects of each Africa community. Additionally, state governments, donor agencies, and technological solutions must be mindful of the gender disparity in access to water so as to not exclude women from development or resource management projects. If this can be done, with sufficient funding and aid to implement such technologies, it is feasible to eliminate clean water scarcity for the African continent by the Millennium Development Goal deadline of 2015.
Africa is home to both the largest number of water-scarce countries out of any region, as well as home to the most difficult countries to reach in terms of water aid. The prevalence of rural villages traps many areas in what the UN Economic Commission for Africa refers to as the "Harvesting Stage", which makes water-scarce regions difficult to aid because of a lack of industrial technology to make solutions sustainable. In addition to the geographic and developmental limiting factors, a number of political, economic reasons also stand in the way of ensuring adequate aid for Africa. Politically, tensions between local governments versus foreign non-governmental organizations impact the ability to successfully bring in money and aid-workers. Economically, urban areas suffer from extreme wealth gaps in which the overwhelming poor often pay four to ten times more for sanitary water than the elite, hindering the poor from gaining access to clean water technologies and efforts. As a result of all these factors, it is estimated that fifty percent of all water projects fail, less than five percent of projects are visited, and less than one percent have any long-term monitoring.
- 2007 African floods
- 2009 West Africa floods
- Millennium Development Goals
- Water issues in developing countries
- Water politics
- Water scarcity
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