The Challenge: Clean and Safe Water

“Water is colorless and tasteless, but you can live on it longer than eating food.” – African Proverb

In 2010, the United Nations officially declared water a fundamental human right. “This means that for the UN, the right to water and sanitation is contained in existing human rights treaties and is, therefore, legally binding. The right to water and sanitation is a human right, equal to all other human rights, which implies that it is justiciable and enforceable. Hence, from today onwards, we have an even greater responsibility to concentrate all our efforts on the implementation and full realization of this essential right,” said the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights Obligations, related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque.

One of the biggest challenges across the globe, Africa included, is access to clean and safe water. Water is an essential basic need that must be available in order for human beings to survive the next day. Africa has a serious water crisis, despite the continent boasting of having numerous natural water sources such as lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, springs, rainwater, aquifers, and ocean waters. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 40% of Africa’s Sub-Saharan population still lacks access to safe water.

Africa’s population has grown from 800 million in 2000, to a whopping 1.2 billion today. One of the UN’s SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) includes ensuring all humanity has access to clean and safe drinking water. By 2030, it is estimated that the population of Africa will have reached 1.7 billion and, therefore, water issues on the continent need to be urgently addressed.

Over 300 million Africans lack access to clean and safe water for drinking and 700 million are living in poor conditions without adequate sanitation. Lack of access to clean and safe water has frustrated poverty reduction efforts and hindered economic prosperity. For instance, Sub-Saharan Africa loses 5% of its GDP per year as a result of water-related challenges. In addition, 40 billion hours per year, which could have otherwise been used on productive activities, are spent searching for water.

Sadly, Africa’s water problems have continued to compound and the continent now faces a serious problem. A majority of the population finds it difficult to access clean and fresh water for drinking and running other daily household chores. Experts have pointed out that most people in Africa rely on surface water, yet the continent lacks the financial capability and technology to invest in groundwater harnessing such as the digging of wells. The rising population and strain on the available water resources has contributed to an acute water scarcity, which has triggered both social and economic implications.

Since water in Africa is a core ingredient for sustainable development, its availability is key to facilitate human survival, socioeconomic development, and healthy ecosystems. If there is sufficient water for communities, diseases shall be contained and populations will become more productive. Most of the suffering witnessed by African populations is mainly associated with water scarcity which directly affects human health, causes hunger and starvation, as well as influences security because of water-related conflicts. In addition, sanitation is a serious challenge that faces the continent because many people, especially those living in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, lack dedicated sewage systems, which causes them to live in unsanitary conditions threatening the spread of diseases.

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