Published On: Sat, Jul 11th, 2020

Africa’s water scarcity problem is getting worse

Over the past few years, the water scarcity problem in Africa has actually gotten worse. There are over 1.3 billion people on the continent and many of them do not have an adequate water supply. And according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa, if things like the current rate of consumption or global temperature increases don’t change, the water shortage problem will grow to dangerously high levels by 2025.

Water is an essential part of life no matter where you live and living without enough of it can cause some very serious issues. To address the issue, it’s important to understand the causes of the current water scarcity problem in Africa.

photo D. Sharon Pruitt from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, USA

What is water scarcity?

What scarcity is when there is not enough freshwater for the current population of an area. There are a number of reasons that an area might not have enough freshwater to meet demands. Sometimes it is caused by a drought, a lack of rainfall, pollution, or there simply isn’t access to a large enough source of freshwater in that area. 

When there isn’t enough freshwater in an area, the local population will experience problems. Some common problems associated with water scarcity include deadly diseases, poor nutrition, a lack of food, and an increased risk for water-borne illnesses. 

Water scarcity can also impact seemingly unrelated areas. For example, when there is a water shortage, education can suffer. Children will often have to wake early in search of water for the home, sometimes walking miles to do so. By the time they return home they are too tired for school and unable to perform their best. A lack of water has a significant impact on any population that experiences it, in ways both obvious and subtle. 

Areas of Africa hit the hardest

There are some areas of Africa that are experiencing a more severe water scarcity problem than others. For example, in Uganda, more than half the people are suffering from a lack of water. The Sub-Saharan portion of Africa is perhaps the hardest hit, with the World Health Organization reporting that “more than 40 percent of the global water-stressed population lives in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The water scarcity problem hits both rural and urban areas alike. In that same area of Africa, only 44 percent of the urban population and 24 percent of the rural population has adequate access to fresh, clean water.

Why the problem is getting worse

Despite many organizations’ efforts to improve the water scarcity problem in Africa, in many areas, it is actually getting worse. There are a few reasons for this.  

First, more people are leaving rural areas and heading to urban ones in hopes of finding a job. This increase in population in urban areas has led to an increase in water demands. At the moment, there is not enough infrastructure in place to meet the demand. In addition, much of the water is going towards industrial uses, making the problem worse.

Second, there are poor sanitation systems in place. People in Africa store waters in their home, leading to more mosquitoes which can carry disease. It is also common practice to use wastewater to irrigate crops, which means the diseases can then spread to the food. Poor sanitation only makes the problem of water shortages harder to solve, as too many people end up getting sick or dying.

Agriculture is also a major leading contributor to the water shortage. Despite many people moving to more urban areas, agriculture is still a major part of African life. Roughly 80 to 90 percent of all Africans produce their own food, requiring a large amount of water. In many cases these agricultural areas are poorly irrigated as well, leading to water getting waster. 

Finally, climate change is playing a big role. Because of the overall warming of the planet, water is evaporating more quickly throughout Africa. It also impacts rainfall patterns, providing less water to the continent. The result is that there is less water to go around and collecting water becomes more difficult. 

Addressing the issue of water scarcity

Despite the challenges, there are many organizations who are dedicated to helping improve the water scarcity problem in Africa. Organizations like The Last Well use a variety of techniques to try to address the issue. These techniques can include teaching how to properly recycle wastewater, install new water catching systems, borehole logging, and improving the water distribution infrastructure.  

The problem may be getting worse in many areas throughout Africa, but that doesn’t mean no improvements have been made. Because of the work of these organizations and the local populations, millions of people now have more access to fresh, clean water who didn’t previously have it.

Author: Shruti Gupta

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