There is a popular saying, “Water is Life,” which underscores the value of water as a key resource that every human being depends on for their livelihood.

Clean Water Improves Health and Sanitation Standards

When communities lack access to clean and safe water, a lot of health and sanitation-related challenges become prevalent in society. The major health problem associated with water scarcity is the risk of exposure to waterborne diseases. Some of the main diseases associated with inadequate water include diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, guinea worm, and trachoma, among others. Unfortunately, underprivileged communities and neighborhoods face the greatest risk because, aside from lacking water, they also live in deplorable sanitary conditions.

Unfortunately, children are the biggest casualties, as those who are living in areas that lack clean water are twice as likely to suffer from waterborne diseases. Remember, waterborne diseases are responsible for numerous child deaths across the continent. Many areas in Africa have underdeveloped sewage and drainage systems which directly affects sanitation standards, thus creating a favorable environment for diseases. Most of the areas that face health and sanitation issues as a result of water scarcity have a high population that puts a lot of strain on the few water resources, which can hardly cater to the needs of the entire community.

In order to prevent diseases associated with water, there is need for consistent effort to ensure awareness is created and priority given to addressing the issues of how to deal with water crisis.

Clean Water Improves Education

Lack of water has caused many children to miss school and, therefore, adversely affects their learning. Children from populations affected by water scarcity, at times, have to trek long distances in order to fetch water, which means they end up skipping school. In addition, when clean water is easily accessible, children are spared from diseases and are able to concentrate on their studies. Affected children often suffer from diseases such as diarrhea, frequent stomach aches, and hunger that prevent them from learning. When schools put in place programs that provide water to students and their families, enrollment is much higher.

It is unfortunate that children who come from places that experience water scarcity fail to access the same education privileges that other kids enjoy. In recent times, various stakeholders, both private and government, have come up with numerous projects aimed at keeping children in school, especially those who come from areas faced with water scarcity. According to statistics, most of the areas whose educational standards are low, happen to come from regions where there is an acute water shortage. Lack of water also creates a lot of challenges within the home environment, making it difficult for children to be able to focus on their studies because of constant learning disruptions.

Clean Water Boosts Agriculture and Food Supply

Agriculture in Africa entirely depends on water and therefore, it is difficult to achieve sustainable agriculture without adequate water access. Water is key to agriculture and food security, as both crops as well as animals require water to grow and flourish.  Agriculture requires an extensive amount of water to facilitate various processes, and ensure there is enough food supply to feed the population. Many countries in Africa depend on agriculture as their main economic mainstay, and so the availability of water has a direct impact on how countries expand their agricultural sectors. It is impossible to address food supply without first improving access to safe and clean water.

Additionally, without water, it is not only challenging for food to grow, but to preserve and prepare. It’s worth mentioning that 70% of Africa’s water resources are used for agriculture and irrigation, and only about 10% goes to domestic use. This emphasizes the fact that without water, there is no agriculture that can take place. Countries that have put in place measures to mitigate water scarcity are continuously making strides towards ensuring a steady food supply chain for both internal consumption and export.

Clean Water Contributes to Women Empowerment, Gender Equality and Opportunity

In Africa alone, women spend 40 billion hours annually walking long distances in search of water, and 72% of the water collected in Sub-Saharan Africa is collected by women. In most African homesteads, the responsibility of water collection and all issues pertaining to water lies with women, who have to trek long distances to fetch water for their families. By setting up water projects in the neighborhoods, women get the chance to utilize these resources which were previously not accessible to them. When there is easier access to water sources, women get to benefit the most. As the users, managers and providers of water in their homes, when the water system breaks down, women are the most affected.

Because of the huge amount of time women spend searching for water, they end up missing valuable time, which could have otherwise been used for engaging in more productive activities. Considering their role in water provision, women, especially in rural Africa, have continuously been disadvantaged, as opposed to men who usually don’t participate in ensuring there is provision of enough water at home. When water is available, women become empowered as they can engage in income-generating activities, and young girls can attend school and complete their studies, allowing them to compete on an equal platform with men. When communities have improved access to water, women and girls reclaim their lives.

Clean Water Secures Future Generations

Water is an important resource that is required now and in the coming days. One of the major challenges that urgently needs to be addressed is to find out how future generations will be able to cope with the available water resources. By 2030, it is expected that Africa’s population will surpass 1.7 billion and, therefore, there is a need to ensure that adequate plans regarding provision of water are addressed well in advance. When there is plenty of water available, there will be a suitable environment for both social and economic development, which will, in turn, ensure future generations enjoy a more comfortable life.

With the current rapid population increase, there is an urgent need to put in place sustainable water solutions. If this is not done, areas already experiencing water scarcity will be overstretched in the future. This will worsen disease prevalence, increase marginalization of women and girls, and bring about more political conflicts and war, since territories will be fighting over the few available water resources.

How to Address Water Challenges Africa is Currently Facing

In order for Africa to solve its water problems and achieve SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) by 2030, adequate measures must be put in place to ensure future generations do not have to suffer from water scarcity issues. Focus on SDGs is the best way to ensure equitable and adequate sanitation and hygiene. There is no doubt that there is a need for consistent investment in water infrastructure, proper management of water resources, maintenance and operations, as well as strengthening of regulatory and policy frameworks.

Long-Term Solutions to Solve Africa’s Water Crisis

Dealing with water scarcity in Africa has proved complicated, and despite numerous efforts being initiated, many have failed. The only way to achieve sustainable solutions and guarantee the population clean drinking water is to put in place long-term measures. Addressing water scarcity calls for increased participation by various stakeholders in order to get things done.

Below are some of the best strategies Africa can use to deal with her water problems.

Addressing Corruption

One of the biggest causes of the water crisis in Africa is corruption, which is perpetuated by government officials, unscrupulous water vendors and owners of large farms. In most cases, water supply lines are diverted and, in some cases, pipes are vandalized to create artificial shortages to benefit a few people. Corrupt officials in government misappropriate funds meant to improve water infrastructure and fail to implement laws to protect water sources from pollution and encroachment. According to experts, the unfortunate selfish acts by a few people have denied millions of poor Africans access to clean and safe drinking water.

Regional Advocacy Manager at NGO WaterAid, Bethlehem Mengistu said, “The impact of corruption on the water sector is manifested by lack of sustainable delivery, inequitable investment and targeting of resources, and limited participation of affected communities in developmental processes.”  In a 2010 report released by the World Health Organization, approximately 343 million people in Africa lack access to an “improved drinking water supply.”

Burgeoning populations and climate change have worsened the competition for the scarce water resources, which has sparked communal conflicts. “More specific examples of how corruption denies poor people access to water include situations where wealthy or politically-connected people use their position to unduly influence the location of a water source at the cost of the poor.” This is according to United Nations Development Programme, Water Governance Facility Programme Officer, Maria Jacobson.

Government Participation

Due to the magnitude and seriousness of Africa’s water crisis, mitigation efforts will be more effective if they are spearheaded by the government. When governments become more committed to ensuring easier accessibility to clean and safe water, there is better support and coordination to ensure various programs initiated achieve their intended purpose. While there are many private and community based initiatives aimed at solving the water crisis, making governments recognize and get involved in these initiatives is essential.

Ensuring Political Stability

One of the key problems that have contributed to water inaccessibility in Africa is constant political conflicts. Many countries in Africa share water sources and, as a result, we have witnessed cases of cross-border wrangles caused by fighting for the scarce water resources. In such cases, countries that are located upstream heavily influence the quality and availability of water as it flows downstream. Because of this and other boundary disagreements, the scramble for water has often led to political unrest.

Aside from external conflicts, internal conflicts are perpetuated by neighboring communities sharing common water sources, who often attack each other in a bid to gain control of water resources. However, in the recent times, there have been numerous efforts by various African governments, as well as local community leaders to quickly and amicably solve water related conflicts.

Better Infrastructure

Africa still has a long way to go when it comes to developing a sound water infrastructure that will guarantee communities clean and safe drinking water. For instance, if there were well-developed water infrastructure systems put in place, the Congo basin, which has a lot of water, could share some of its water with other parts of the continent that have insufficient water. Having a good water infrastructure is possible if African countries can come together and contribute to, as well as harness technology to establish a sustainable system that could, once and for all, solve Africa’s water crisis.

Hand Washing Seems Like a No-brainer but…

Nelly Gachanja
Nelly is a Digital Marketing Professional and the founder of popular Kenyan food blog. She joined Africa.com in 2017 and is responsible for managing the organization’s Social Media platforms. Her experience and background in Digital Marketing spans over 5 years and includes expertise in Social Media and Content Management.During her leisure time, Nelly loves cooking, spending time on the internet catching up with current affairs, updating her African music collection, watching movies, traveling and spending time with family. She is also passionate about volunteering.