Without massive investment, drinking water will remain a scarce resource for Africa

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Water tap filling containers in Tanzania. Photo: World Bank Water tap filling containers in Tanzania. Photo: World Bank

Three years ago, I had the chance to work for the Yakin Water Tower Project, an NGO that aimed to provide a water tower to help the lives of 1,600 people, in Yakin, located in the South Center of Burkina Faso. Today, as a Consultant at the World Bank, I wanted to share my knowledge about water access in Sub-Saharan Africa for World Water Day. While water is a basic commodity in developed countries, it remains a scarce resource for many Africans.

Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is still a luxury for Africans

Water resources management is one of the main topics to be addressed at the upcoming World Bank Group Spring Meetings. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where the number of people without access to water is growing. In the last 20 years, 37 million more Africans have been without water and 247 million more without sanitation. 180,000 children under the age of five die each year in Sub-Saharan Africa from diarrheal diseases caused by lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene services. In addition, rural areas are disproportionately affected. 85% of those without water and 70% without sanitation live in rural areas. Clean and accessible water is critical to human health and a healthy environment. It is also an essential pillar of development.

Moreover, the livability and productivity of major cities are compromised as people only get ¼ water they need. In the context of unprecedented increases of urbanization, water demand will soar. Indeed, by 2030, 350 million more Africans will be living in cities and several African cities such as Kinshasa are now the fastest-growing in the world. Therefore, adequate water storage investments are required if these cities are to meet the daily water needs of Africans and support inclusive and sustainable growth, especially in the context of climate change.

Access to drinking water and sanitation is deteriorating due to climate change

Climate change has a significant impact on the water cycle. Indeed, water becomes more scarce, unpredictable, and polluted, having long-lasting effects on people’s access to water and sanitation. In Eastern and Southern Africa, climate models predict a rise in temperatures, causing extreme heat events, aridity, and changes in rainfall. Not only will people be affected in their daily life, but the economic sector will also be negatively impacted, as most countries rely significantly on agriculture (agriculture represents 17.2% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP). Africans will have their livelihoods negatively affected by climate change. The impacts of climate variability on Angola’s water resources are expected to be particularly severe. They will affect food and energy production, as well as hydropower, on which Angola relies for most of its electricity (Angola’s Country Climate and Development report). Another example of the most affected area would be Madagascar. It faces important risks with temperature increases and decreased rainfall patterns predicted.

The World Bank’s response to water and sanitation access

Sub-Saharan Africa is undersupplied with water storage infrastructures, highlighting an area for significant potential improvement in water resources management and service delivery. To address this regional challenge of water and sanitation access, the World Bank’s approach to water management in the region is focused on 9 priority countries - Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda) based on their large territory, substantial population, and water resources.

Last month Félix Tshisekedi, the President of the DRC, inaugurated The Binza Ozone Water Plant, supported by the World Bank. The water plant is one of the components of the Urban Drinking Water Supply Project (PEMU). The 110,000m³ capacity water plant was designed as part of its post-conflict reconstruction aiming at substantially increasing the production of drinking water and reducing water billing losses in distribution networks and connections. Over 1,500,000 consumers will have access to drinkable and flowing water in Ngaliema, in Northwest Kinshasa.

Investing in the future

Adequate water and sanitation are crucial for people’s health and country economies. It touches every area of people’s day in some form, so addressing – investing in the future – by building and providing the access needed, will have profound, cascading effects.  I remain optimistic on the issue of access to water and sanitation because Africa's potential is immense. I believe, building on the good work underway, my generation will find a solution to the African continent's water access problem, and we will meet the need, transforming our lives and economies.


Eisa Gouredou

External Affairs Consultant

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