Camels can walk on water. I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. And if you don’t believe me, well, just look at the picture below to see camels walking on water in Somaliland!
Yes, it looks like sand, but there is water right underneath their hooves. This is the brilliance of sand dams and subsurface dams, where sand effectively serves as a temporary reservoir cover, protecting the precious water underneath from evaporating under the blazing sun. Sand dams provide low-cost, low-maintenance, and replicable rainwater harvesting technology.
Poor sanitation is the all too familiar story in many expanding African cities and Mozambique’s capital city Maputo is no exception. In fact, over half of the country’s urban population lack access to even basic sanitation. With an estimated 668 million city dwellers around the world not having access to safe sanitation, overcoming sanitation challenges in cities like Maputo will go a long way towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal for safe sanitation (SDG 6.2).
When it comes to economic success, Tanzania offers a model for the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth has averaged 6.5 percent per year over the past decade, and between 2007 and 2012 nearly a third of the poorest 40% of the population rose out of poverty. However, the progress towards improving water and sanitation access for all has not kept a similar pace.
A new report by the World Bank, ‘Reaching For The SDGs’ was launched by the Honorable Eng. Isack Kamwelwe, Minister of Water and Irrigation on March 20 in Dar es Salaam. In her welcome address, Ms. Bella Bird, Country Director for Tanzania, Malawi, and Burundi said, “adequate WASH is a crucial component of basic human necessities that allow a person to thrive in life”. The report shows how water and sanitation services need to advance substantially in order to achieve much needed improvements in health and wellbeing that will help the country fulfill its true potential. Progress in this area still has a long way to go.
While the share of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa decreased from 56 percent in 1990 to 43 percent in 2012, the region’s rapid population growth outpaced the decrease in poverty, resulting in higher number of poor people than before. More specifically, Africa’s urban population is expected to triple in size in the next half century, which is putting pressure on scarce resources in cities, exacerbated by capacity, budget and governance bottlenecks. The densely-populated areas with low levels of water and sanitation services pose a serious threat to public health – cholera epidemics have broken out in urban areas in several African countries in recent years.
Have you ever wondered how your life chances are affected by where you were born? Odds of being born at all are already miraculously small, but only one in ten of us is born into the relative security of a high-income country. What if you are born in Niger or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? Before you could even walk or talk, your challenges would be daunting. That's because, despite progress, deaths of children under five years old are more than twenty times higher than in the EU and nearly ten times higher than in China.
Even if you survived, you would confront another major risk to your development: malnutrition. In Niger and DRC, almost one out of every two children is stunted. Stunting has significant and long-lasting negative effects on early childhood development, impeding physiological and mental development, and making small children more vulnerable to disease.
I am constantly startled by references to “population growth” as a cause of a number of development challenges. Whether it’s urbanization, food security, or water scarcity, all too often “population growth” is cited as a cause for pessimism or even a reason not to strive for progress. I can almost see Thomas Malthus grinning at me from the shadows.
It gets worse. I recently reviewed a paper where higher fertility among minorities was touted as an explanation for their poverty! A few months ago, a respected professional wrote asking why we weren’t doing more on family planning, since fertility in Africa would pretty much stymie any efforts to provide infrastructure-based services! I hear statements to this effect routinely from policy makers in charge of infrastructure ministries and projects (“how can we keep up with the population?” or “nothing we do will be enough unless we control the population”) but am always amazed when I hear them from scientists of different hues.
So I thought I’d try to set the record straight:
This past February, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta officially declared the drought in his country a national disaster. No rain had fallen for months in East Africa, causing a dire living situation.
Tribes migrated to find water and food, and we saw an increase in the amount and severity of conflicts, specifically between herders and owners of large farms.
In the cities, the situation is not much better. Nairobi’s main water supply is a dam which is currently only 20% full. The Nairobi Water Company is rationing water, and many people only have running water once a week.
Agriculture is suffering; the price of milk has risen from 40 to 65 Kenyan Shillings (KES) for half a liter in just six months. Maize meal, a staple food, has gone up nearly 40%, with the state recently announcing a subsidy for maize.