Lack of Clean Water in Africa: Understanding the Reasons Behind the Water Crisis

Are you concerned about your fellow human beings overseas?

Do you find yourself thinking often of the struggles they must be facing without regular access to clean drinking water?

Do you often question what could cause such a serious crisis to happen in the first place?

If you’re looking for information to help you better understand the water crisis in Africa, there’s plenty here to get you started. In this article, you’ll find out about just how bad the water problem in Africa really is and how few major sources of clean water there are across the continent.

You’ll learn about the reasons why clean drinking water is so hard to come by in every African country, and you’ll find out what’s being done to try to solve this major problem. In the end of the article, you’ll even be introduced to a few options you can try if you’re looking for ways to get involved.

It’s human nature to care about the suffering of others, and it’s a good idea to educate yourself on such serious problems, too. Read on to learn more about the African water crisis.

10 Reasons People Cannot Access Clean Water in Africa

It’s time to find out just what leads to this terrible situation. In this section, you’ll learn the top ten reasons why people in Africa are unable to regularly access clean drinking water. Some of this information might surprise you, and some of it might seem all too familiar. However, remember that these issues have been going on for a very long time, and as of yet, they don’t seem to be improving too significantly.

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1. Africa is an arid continent. First and foremost, the weather and atmospheric conditions of this part of the world don’t lend themselves too well to regular supplies of fresh water.

If this was the only problem, it wouldn’t be completely impossible to figure out a way to provide the people of Africa with clean water. However, it’s really only the framework for many more significant issues.

2. Many of the bodies of fresh water on the continent are controlled by more than one government.

When this happens, the country or government upstream has much more of a say in what happens to the water than those downstream. This is most common with rivers, but sometimes large lakes see similar problems when their area bypasses legal boundaries.

3. All of the freshwater bodies in Africa are polluted or contaminated at least to some extent.

While you can certainly argue that some contamination is present in almost every natural body of water, the problem is that there are also no treatment facilities available to help improve the quality of this water. It is polluted or contaminated and it remains that way until it’s ingested or otherwise used by humans.

4. The largest populations don’t live anywhere near the Congo River basin, where most of the available fresh water is located.

30% of the continent’s fresh water can be found in this part of Africa, but only 10% of the population live there. This water is most often used for agricultural purposes and never reaches the people in other parts of the continent who need it for drinking.

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5. It’s very expensive and next to impossible to construct an infrastructure to bring fresh water from different regions to the people who need it the most.

In developed countries, this wouldn’t be such a daunting task, but there just isn’t enough money in most African governments to even start such a costly endeavor. Therefore, the water remains in places where it isn’t as needed, and people elsewhere continue to go without.

6. Most of the population rely on surface water instead of groundwater for everything they do.

This isn’t very safe because surface water is much easier to pollute than groundwater. Naturally, groundwater isn’t terribly contaminated, and it’s often easier to remove contaminants from it than from surface water. Also, when surface water is used up, there’s no real way to restore it. These freshwater sources dry up often, and as they start to recede, the risk of pollution becomes even greater.

7. There is a lack of education about the reality of water quality throughout the continent. 

Many people believe that any water that comes out of the ground, such as through a well, is safe to drink. It’s crucial that more education is provided so people across Africa understand how to tell when water is safe and when it should be avoided.

8. Women are often expected to bring water back for their whole families every day.

A full jerry can of water usually weighs around 40 pounds, and some women make this trip more than once a day. Because of this, most women are uneducated and never hold down a job. This, in turn, leads to a worse economy because fewer people are working regularly. Young girls often drop out of school when they reach puberty because of a lack of sanitation and toilets, and they soon are trained as the new water carriers for the family.

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9. The water table across the continent is receding every year. 

As more strain is put on surface water sources, the water table continues to dwindle. Pretty soon, even more of Africa’s countries will be desperately in need of fresh water that just isn’t there anymore. This is also a problem that’s facing the whole world.

10. The agricultural sector makes use of most of the freshwater sources in Africa. 

While this is true of most places around the world, it still hinders drinking water access in most African countries.

Remember that there are many other reasons that contribute to the lack of clean water in Africa, but these are some of the most common. Each individual community faces its own struggles, and it’s hard to say for sure what problems one might be dealing with as opposed to the next. If you’re curious about any specific country or city, you can often find breakdowns of water quality information provided by the World Health Organization and other similar groups.

​How Bad is Africa’s Water Problem?

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It’s one thing to say there’s no water in Africa, but it’s another thing entirely to see the numbers and statistics that prove it. Before you dive into learning about the reasons behind the crisis going on with Africa’s water supply, take a moment to familiarize yourself with just how serious this problem really is. You might be shocked at some of the information you discover and some of the facts you read as you study more about just what’s going on in this critical situation.

  • Around the world, 783 million people live every day without regular, dedicated access to improved water sources. Improved water in this situation means safe, clean drinking water that has been at least minimally treated to remove contaminants and pollutants. It doesn’t necessarily mean purified water.
  • Of these people, 319 million of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is the area of greatest concern on the continent. This part of Africa hosts the most critical rural communities that desperately need access to clean drinking water.
  • 102 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa rely solely on surface water to supply all the water they use for drinking, cooking, washing, and living. They have no way to access groundwater.
  • 80% of the illnesses in developing countries around the world can be traced back to waterborne illnesses or a lack of improved sanitation conditions as a result of the inability to access regular clean water. Cholera is one of the most common of these illnesses in Africa, with typhoid, Dengue fever, and hepatitis on the list as well.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, 695 million people live every day without access to improved sanitation. This means there’s no way for them to remove human and animal waste from their communities or from their water sources, and there’s nowhere for them to throw garbage and solid wastes. Many people don’t even have access to soap with which to wash their hands.
  • There are very few toilets in Sub-Saharan Africa. Only around one in three people have regular access to toilets, with the rest having to urinate and defecate in out of the way places on the ground.
  • Around the world, agriculture is the primary means of survival for 84% of people living without access to improved water conditions. This is equally true across Africa, where agriculture puts a huge strain on the water supply while simultaneously causing it to be even more polluted than it ordinarily would be.
  • In infants and children under the age of five, one in five deaths worldwide can be traced back to diarrhea or dehydration as a result of a waterborne illness. The elderly are also more seriously affected by these types of illnesses.

As you can see, there are many troubling facts and figures to think about when it comes to the water situation in Africa. If you’re interested in learning more about what causes this problem, what might be done to change it on a worldwide scale, and what you can do to help improve the situation, read on.

Major Sources of Clean Water in Africa

You might be under the assumption that there’s no clean water in Africa, but that’s not exactly true. Clean water exists in places across the continent, but those places are just a few and far between. It’s unlikely to come across a clean natural body of water, and if you do, chances are good it’s on the verge of being depleted completely. However, if you’re wondering how clean water can exist at all in such harsh conditions, this section can tell you more.

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  • Piped water Although this is not too common across Africa, it’s still one of the only ways in which clean water can be made available to individual homes, yards, or buildings. There aren’t a lot of places in Africa where this type of water is present, however. This is an expensive method of supplying drinking water to the public, and unfortunately, most of the African governments simply can’t afford the type of piped water we all take for granted every day.
  • Public tap – It’s a little bit more common to find a protected public tap in an area with a large population. These taps are available for anyone to use at any time, and they are treated at least minimally to protect from contamination, especially of the bacterial nature. When organizations work to provide sustainable clean drinking water to African communities, this is often the type they build.
  • Protected springs It’s not too common to come across a protected spring, but every now and then, a community where a spring is located works to clean it up and keep it clean. This is still a surface water source, so it’s not as ideal as using other types of water to supply the population. Even so, it’s much better than a seriously contaminated or even polluted source of surface water, which is often the only alternative.
  • Protected groundwater wells – This is another type of clean water that is often provided by nonprofit organizations working to bring better water conditions to the people of Africa. It doesn’t cost much to build a protected groundwater well, but it’s often much more than communities and even whole countries in Africa can afford. When one is built, it’s protected and kept as clean as possible, even in places where regular filtration isn’t always an option.
  • Collected rainwater – There are many reasons why collected rainwater isn’t the best alternative, but in some parts of Africa, it’s the only choice available to anyone looking for a cleaner source of drinking water. When it rains, water is collected in cans or even in cisterns. As long as it’s used pretty quickly, it’s usually safe enough. However, if it’s left for too long, it can attract mosquitos that lay their eggs in it, and this, in turn, can spread Dengue fever.
  • Some bottled water – Not all bottled water available to the people of Africa is safe for human consumption. Some of it is safe enough for regular daily chores, and the quality of bottled water should only be judged on a case by case basis.

It’s pretty clear that the sources of clean drinking water throughout Africa are few and far between. There are no large bodies of water that are clean enough to provide drinking water without any means of treatment. Unfortunately, the treatment options available are often too expensive to do any good.

Areas Most Affected by a Lack of Clean Water

Clean water is hard to come by anywhere in Africa, although there are some nonprofit groups working to rectify this problem. For the time being, however, there are several areas where the lack of clean water in Africa is felt even more strongly than in others. Each part of the continent seems to face its own challenges associated with the drinking water crisis, and the situation is far from ideal for anyone.

  • Rural communities – The rural parts of Africa are probably the most seriously affected by a lack of clean drinking water. In these parts of the continent, people must walk miles every day to find any water at all, and the water they do find is usually packed with contaminants and pollution. These communities are often hotbeds of disease because there’s no sanitary way to help cure people who fall ill. They often don’t have access to toilets or any way to dispose of waste, so as one person becomes sick with diarrhea, it quickly spreads to the others in the community, all as a result of bad water.
  • Urban areas In many developing countries, urban areas are a little bit more likely to have water treatment facilities. Although this is still somewhat true in African countries, many still don’t have any dedicated method of cleaning up the water before it is used by the population. Unfortunately, water strain is a big issue in these places, as massive populations place high demands on surface water sources that are slowly dwindling. Once again, a lack of plumbing or any waste removal options causes bacteria, parasites, and other contaminants to build up quickly in these water sources.
  • Agriculture – The agricultural sector uses the vast majority of Africa’s freshwater sources every year. However, because of the problems with the continent’s infrastructure and the other issues that regularly plague the people of every African country, the water used for agricultural purposes is still largely unavailable and not used in a safe or healthy manner. Like other water uses, Africa’s agriculture industry uses surface water much more often than groundwater, which in turn contributes to the drying up of the large bodies of water and rivers across the continent and the receding of the water table.
  • Disappearing wetlands – The mountainous regions of Africa were once home to wetlands that provided a home for hundreds of unique species of fish, birds, mammals, and insects. Unfortunately, the poor water habits of the humans who live in Africa have slowly caused the wetlands to dry up and die, which in turn has led to the loss of several endangered species of animals. These wetlands suffer significantly from the water crisis, and even organizations like the World Wildlife Federation are unsure if they can ever be restored completely.

There are other areas that feel the strain of the water crisis in Africa, and it’s safe to assume that everyone and everywhere is affected by it in some way. For example, the medical field has seen very few technological advancements largely due to a lack of clean water, indoor plumbing, and even hand soap in the vicinity of most hospitals.

How is the Problem Being Addressed?

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There are several different groups and government bodies working to solve the shortage of water in Africa. Although there’s no perfect answer, and a long-term solution seems like it could be miles away still, this isn’t a problem that’s just flying under the radar. People around the world care about Africa’s water crisis, and there are a few different ways in which this problem is slowly but surely being addressed. Below are some of the most effective.

  • World Water Week This is a week designed with the African water crisis in mind. Although the event doesn’t only focus on Africa, it takes center stage more often than not as an area of increased risk and greatest concern. During this week, which is held one or two times a year depending on need, world leaders from countries across the globe come together to try to solve water-related issues that affect a number of different locations. They brainstorm plans and enact new procedures that are intended to improve the quality of water around the world.
  • United Nations water recognition – In 2010, the United Nations officially recognized water as a basic human right. Although to some people it seems impossible to fathom that it would take that long for the UN to come to this conclusion, there were a lot of complicated politics involved in the statement. Basically, this recognition means that individual members of the UN must prioritize the available of fresh, clean drinking water above anything else other than the other basic human rights. This provision also included the right to simple improved sanitation conditions. Since this change, countries have been working harder than ever to try to improve the drinking water situation in Africa.
  • Charities – Nonprofit organizations and charities spend a lot of time, money, and energy focusing on Africa’s water crisis. These groups take it upon themselves to provide clean, fresh drinking water to the people who need it most. Many times, they travel to Africa to dig groundwater wells. They might also help the residents of rural communities install biofilters that can be used to clean up the surface water they’re already using. Each individual location is examined on a case-by-case basis to determine its specific needs. There are plenty of great charities out there, but unfortunately, there are some shady ones too.
  • Government donations – Some countries are more well-off than others, and they can afford to send some monetary donations on a large scale to African countries to help improve the water infrastructure and clean up surface water sources. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to see just how the money sent as part of these donations is really being used, and most of the time it just isn’t enough to get the continent on its feet in terms of water supply.

With many different plans in the works, it’s obvious that governments and organizations from most developed countries understand the need for clean water in Africa. However, there is always more that can be done, and it’s important to pay close attention to what your country is doing and the ways in which they could improve their involvement on a large scale.

How Can We Help?

It’s all well and good that large groups and people in positions of power are doing something to help—in fact, it’s great—but what happens when you want to do something yourself about the lack of drinking water in Africa? No matter what part of the world you hail from, you can find a way to get involved and try to make a difference in this problem. Even if you’ve never been to Africa and never plan to go, this is an issue that can and should affect you, at least on an emotional level. Don’t be afraid to find your niche and start helping as best as you can.

  • Donate money – This is perhaps the most obvious method of helping charities and nonprofits work to provide clean drinking water to the people of Africa. Many individuals and companies donate to water charities on a regular basis, with the majority of those donations coming in around the holiday season. If you have the funds to spare, consider sending a one-time donation or setting up a recurring payment to a legitimate, well-trusted organization. Be sure to do your research ahead of time, however, since some of these groups might not be the type you want to give your money to for a variety of different reasons.
  • Donate skills – If you can’t afford to donate money, you might be able to help out environmental groups with your skills. For example, if there’s a charity based in your city that focuses on the African water crisis, get in touch with them and ask if they need help with anything at their base of operations. They might need someone to answer telephones, keep up with website maintenance, or even tidy up their offices. You never know what skill you might have that one of these groups could really use.
  • Donate time Are you the kind of person who likes to volunteer and get your hands dirty? If you are, and if you don’t have a lot of commitments that keep you from traveling for a lengthy period of time, you might want to consider volunteering with a legitimate water charity or nonprofit group and going overseas to actually help build the wells yourself. This can be a potentially dangerous endeavor, but it can also be a life-changing experience that you’ll never forget. It’s not for everyone, however.
  • Contact your government If you feel like your local or national government could be doing something more to assist the people of Africa, there’s no harm in contacting them to let them know. A letter or phone call on its own might not make much difference, but the more you reach out, the more your voice will be heard. You might even put together a petition to get some real attention.
  • Spread the word If all else fails, spread the word. Print out some flyers for a good organization you’ve uncovered in your research and hand them out to your friends and family. Leave them on bulletin boards around town while you’re at it. The more you reach out to spread the word about the water situation in Africa, the more likely it is you’ll find someone who can potentially donate a lot of much-needed money or manpower.

Finding a way to pitch in can make you feel good about yourself and help others have access to cleaner, safer drinking water too. This is a win-win situation, and it pays to reach out and try to make a difference for your fellow human beings. Remember that money isn’t the only way you can help, and even if you’re strapped for cash, you can find other ways to help make a difference half a world away.

Conclusion

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When you live in a developed country, it’s hard to imagine what life might be like in a place where something as simple as water is largely unavailable to you. It might seem like something you’d only read about in fiction novels, but the reality is that all of the countries in Africa face this problem to some extent on a daily basis. While there are plenty of plans and programs in the works to try to improve this situation, things aren’t changing very quickly. There’s no way to tell how long it will take before the people of Africa are able to live their lives without having to wonder where their next drink of water might come from or if it might make them deathly sick.

If this strikes a chord with you, you’re not the only one. Many people in developed countries find ways to help every year. Whether or not you have money to spare to donate to charities, there is something you can do to help make a difference. Don’t be afraid to get a little outside your comfort zone and find the right option for you. Every time you do even the smallest of actions to help the people of Africa, the water situation improves by that much. Think how much better it could be if more people decided to try to make a difference!

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