How African countries continue to battle with water scarcity


    As the world observes World Water Day, millions of Africans continue to grapple with the daily challenge of accessing clean water and adequate sanitation. The latest findings from the Afrobarometer Pan-Africa Profile shed light on the human side of this pressing issue, revealing stories of hardship and resilience from across the continent, Ere-ebi Agedah Imisi writes.

    According to a survey carried out across 39 African nations by Afrobarometer, a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network, water supply emerges as the fourth most pressing concern that Africans want their governments to tackle. This ranks behind unemployment, economic management, and health in terms of priority.

    As the world observes World Water Day, millions of Africans continue to grapple with the daily challenge of accessing clean water and adequate sanitation. The latest findings from the Afrobarometer Pan-Africa Profile shed light on the human side of this pressing issue, revealing stories of hardship and resilience from across the continent.

    *Water Situation In South Africa*
    Our correspondent gathered that residents of Africa’s richest city, Johannesburg, are experiencing a severe water shortage in the middle of a summer heat wave. The shortages, which has lasted nearly two weeks, have affected some 50% of Johannesburg’s Water supply area, officials said.

    The South African city has a population of almost 6 million people, this means a lot of the city’s nearly 6 million people are having problems with water. Not having enough water is causing trouble for businesses and is making things hard for places like hospitals. Nurses at one hospital are worried because they can’t wash their hands properly without enough water.

    Mlimandlela Ndamase, a spokesperson for Johannesburg’s mayor, explained that an initial problem at a key pump station occurred on March 3 after a power outage from a lightning strike. This is not the first time the city has been without water as the city experienced regular shortages last year.

    Ndamase acknowledged Johannesburg’s water system is plagued by other long-term problems.

    “The city does accept that there are challenges as regards to aged infrastructure, the maintenance of infrastructure, and also the need to roll out new infrastructure throughout the city,” he said.

    A water expert from the University of South Africa, Anja du Plessis, offered insights into the systemic failures exacerbating the crisis. She pointed to a lack of transparency, accountability, and political will, compounded by insufficient skilled personnel and a dearth of financial resources allocated to infrastructure maintenance.

    This water problem is happening while South Africa is also having trouble with its electricity. For a long time now, there haven’t been enough power stations working, so there are often times when the power goes off. This makes things even harder for people who don’t have enough water.

    However, to help people who don’t have water, the city has brought in big trucks full of water to give out. Johannesburg Water says they are working to fix the water system, but they are worried that it might not be strong enough to last if other problems come up.

    In South Africa, almost everyone is affected by the mismanagement of water resources, hence those living in poor areas are the most affected as they do not have access to potable water and proper sanitation.

    *What Does It Mean For Residents To Lack Water*
    Do you know that millions of people around the world live without sufficient access to water, thereby leading to poor hygiene like hand hygiene, especially after using the toilet or before preparing food. Without enough water, people may be unable to wash their hands effectively, increasing the risk of spreading diseases and infections.

    In the heart of rural communities and impoverished households, water supply and sanitation remain fundamental yet elusive necessities. For many, the struggle for clean water is not just a statistic but a daily reality, impacting every aspect of their lives.

    “I wake up before dawn every day, walking long distances to fetch water for my family,” shares Fatou, a mother of three from a remote village in Mali. “Sometimes, the water sources run dry, and we have to ration what little we have until the next rainy season.”

    Fatou’s story resonates with millions of Africans who face similar challenges. According to the Afrobarometer survey, more than half of citizens report experiencing shortages of clean water in their households, with rural areas bearing the brunt of these hardships.

    “I dream of a day when I won’t have to worry about where my children will find water,” Fatou adds, echoing the sentiments of many mothers across the continent.

    The survey findings highlight a stark reality: despite efforts to address water supply and sanitation, governments are falling short in meeting the needs of their citizens. On average, 61% of Africans express dissatisfaction with their government’s performance in providing these essential services.

    For Emmanuel, a father of four living in a bustling urban neighborhood in Nigeria, unreliable water supply has become a constant source of frustration. “We pay exorbitant prices for water from private vendors, yet the quality is often questionable,” he laments. “It’s a choice between risking our health or going without water.”

    Emmanuel’s story underscores the urgent need for government intervention to ensure equitable access to clean water for all citizens, regardless of their socio-economic status.

    The Afrobarometer surveys not only capture the challenges faced by Africans but also serve as a catalyst for change. By amplifying the voices of ordinary citizens, these surveys provide valuable insights that can inform policy decisions and drive meaningful action at both national and regional levels.

    *Urban Challenges: Balancing Growth With Sustainability*
    While urban centers generally have better access to piped water systems, they grapple with their own set of challenges. Rapid urbanization, coupled with inadequate infrastructure and population growth, strains existing water supply systems, leading to frequent shortages and service disruptions. Informal settlements, often lacking proper sanitation facilities, exacerbate sanitation-related issues, posing health hazards and environmental concerns.

    *Rural Divide: Unequal Access To Clean Water*
    The Executive Director of an advocacy Organization in Nigeria, known as Hipcity Innovation Centre, Mr Bassey Bassey in a chat with our correspondent maintained that Water is essential for every living being. It constitutes a significant portion of our bodies, highlighting its importance.
    ‘‘All our activities requires water, which is perhaps why nature enveloped our planet with it. 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. Additionally, we rely on groundwater as a freshwater source. This underscores the critical role water plays in our lives.

    ‘‘In Nigeria, the 2021 WashNorm report, released by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and experts, reveals that only 67% of Nigerians have access to basic drinking water services. There’s water supply disparity between rural and urban areas. Many communities, especially in the FCT, lack potable water and resort to unreliable surface water sources. The scarcity worsens during the dry season, forcing communities like Zokotu in KUJE Area council to retrieve water from caves, often contaminated and unfit for consumption. This scarcity has spurred conflicts especially in the Lake Chad region, particularly in regions where nomadic herders compete for water sources also used by locals’’

    According to Bassey, Groundwater serves as fresh water source safe for drinking. However, climate change has compromised its sustainability, therefore making it a global concern and call for effective water resource management and also why the 2024 World Water Day theme considers water management as a conduit for peace.

    As mentioned earlier, ‘‘Aquifers, responsible for groundwater storage, are suffering from decreased recharge due to reduced rainfall as a result of climate change experience across the globe. This scarcity exacerbates inequalities, especially in regions sharing trans-boundary aquifers like Nigeria does with Niger, Chad, Cameroon etc and these transboundary aquifers exist across several other countries and continents, an example being the “Toba -Yrenda’- Chaco Tarijen ̃o Transboundary Aquifer” shared by Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia in South America, Over-extraction of ground water by one country can lead to conflicts, evident in areas like the Lake chad region, where shrinking water sources drive migrations and disputes.

    World Water Day emphasizes water management for peace, recognizing its pivotal role in averting conflicts arising from resource scarcity.

    ‘‘In rural Africa, where infrastructure development often lags behind urban centers, the struggle for clean water and proper sanitation is amplified. Remote villages and communities face significant hurdles in accessing safe water sources, often relying on distant wells or contaminated rivers for their daily needs. Consequently, waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid proliferate, posing grave health risks to vulnerable populations.

    ‘‘Nigeria must prioritize water management to mitigate the over-reliance on self-help systems like boreholes. Sustainable solutions entail enhancing state water boards’ functionality to ensure equitable water distribution. Government intervention is crucial to dissuade unregulated water extraction and promote responsible usage.

    Furthermore, raising public awareness on water conservation and management is imperative to safeguard water sources from contamination. By enforcing environmental regulations and fostering cooperation with neighboring countries, Nigeria can secure its water resources for future generations.’’