Addressing Africa’s Water Insecurity
For a very long time, Sub-Saharan Africa has been at the epicenter of many water-related issues in addition to other poverty-associated problems. Although, it would be ignorant to assume that poverty has become such a prevalent issue that it is the sole reason for the water issue. Poverty is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons why Africa is facing water scarcity, and we (people living in first-world countries) hold just as much responsibility for the issue along with the authoritative powers and corrupt government officials in charge there.
What is water scarcity?
Water scarcity according to the Brittanica definition is “insufficient freshwater resources to meet the human and environmental demands of a given area.” When we often hear of water scarcity the most common place we think of is Africa. Now although it isn’t the whole continent of Africa, a lot of the countries there are plagued by poverty, and as a result, many don’t have access to clean water. By 2025 close to 230 million people in Africa will be facing water scarcity and 460 million will be living in water-stressed regions. Without access to clean drinking water, it is almost impossible to break the cycle of poverty.
How is water scarcity a problem?
There are two general types of water scarcity: physical and economic.
Physical water scarcity is the result of a region’s demand outpacing the limited water resources found there. Physical scarcity is mostly the result of the environment, for example, people living in arid or semi-arid regions experience physical scarcity. Two-thirds of the world’s population live in areas subject to seasonal water scarcity at least one month a year.
Economic water scarcity is the result of the lack of water infrastructure or to poor management of the water resources where the infrastructure is in place. Mismanagement or underdevelopment may mean that accessible water is polluted or unsanitary for human consumption. It can also result from unregulated water use for agriculture or certain industries. Ignoring water as a finite natural resource is also a contributing factor to water scarcity in certain regions.
Why is water scarcity a problem?
With lack of water, you can’t grow crops, you can’t build housing, you can’t stay healthy, and for some, you can’t go to school, and can’t keep working. This is because households often have to take extra long trips to find a source of drinking water, and most of the time the water is not clean for consumption. In sub-Saharan Africa, one roundtrip to collect water is 33 minutes on average in rural areas and 25 minutes in urban areas. To add on, a study of 24 sub-Saharan countries found that when the collection time is more than 30 minutes an estimated 3.36 children and 13.54 million adult females were responsible for water collection. Together, their daily journeys total 200 million hours.
Given the amount of time it takes and the toll it has on the physical body to carry jugs of water, many often take time away from their education, and some stop altogether. Unfortunately, many households often leave girls in charge of the housework and chores, and because of this, it leaves the responsibilities of fetching water to them. Thus limiting their access to both education and business opportunities. Even if there is access to water at home if schools do not have proper toilets or sanitary facilities girls drop out once they reach puberty.
Not only is distance and time an issue, but the typical container used for water collection in Africa the jerry can weigh over 40 pounds when it’s completely full. Now imagine how heavy it would be to carry the equivalent load of a 5 years old child for 3 hours each day. Some women carry, even more, up to 70 pounds in a barrel carried on the back. That’s the equivalent of a baby hippo!
In Malawi, the UN estimates that women who collected water spent 54 minutes on average, while men spent only 6 minutes. Guinea and the United Republic of Tanzania had average collection times for women of 20 minutes, double that of men. In addition to the physical toll it takes on the bodies, many are often scarred emotionally during their journeys towards water sources.
Many times during the journey to find water, children and women have to cross busy highways and roads where rape on routes to rivers is very common in an HIV-infected region. Where more than 70 percent of females in Sub-Saharan Africa alone spend each day bringing clean water to keep their communities going it becomes an increasing problem.
The problems don’t stop there, but once the water is brought back into the household, there are often contaminants in the water. This is due to the lack of sanitation practices in certain communities and villages. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the best water coverage rates, as many as 1 in 4 people still lack adequate sanitation. When people don’t have access to safe toilets, they opt to defecate in the open, and exposed human waste is transferred back into people’s water resources. About one-fourth of those defecating in the open in the world live in sub-Saharan Africa and they spend an average of 2.5 days per year trying to find a private location to defecate.
Most of the time, unimproved water sources have been found to harbor Escherichia coli (E. coli) which causes severe diarrhea in humans. Diarrhoeal disease is the 2nd leading cause of death in children under 5 years old, which is both preventable and treatable. Other water-borne diseases include cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. More people die from unsafe water than all forms of violence including wars.
What is being done to address water insecurity
In order for a country to develop it needs to first address the issues that are repressing it in the first place. With awareness and education, citizens and governments can begin to address and take action on it. There are many non-profit organizations out there that are making it their mission to address this problem. Although the most well-known course of action out there is the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6; Clean Water & Sanitation. Where it has been promised to provide safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030. They will invest in adequate infrastructure, provide sanitation facilities, and encourage hygiene. Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems is essential. They will ensure universal safe and affordable drinking water reaches over 800 million people who lack basic services and improve accessibility and safety of services for over two billion people.
Although this is a good place to start, it isn’t enough. Other people should advocate for safe drinking water. Donating to charities and non-profit organizations that help with this is also good. But putting more pressure on government officials, and asking the questions to the right people, including large organizations who are part of the problem, is the best way to combat this epidemic.
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Addressing Africa’s Water Insecurity