15 Distressing Truths About Africa’s Water Pollution Crisis

Are you planning an upcoming trip to Africa?

Do you have friends or family who live in or frequently travel to this continent?

Are you concerned for your own health and well-being or that of someone you love?

If you find yourself in any of these situations and worried about water pollution in Africa, you have good reason to be concerned. Unfortunately, water pollution is a very big problem throughout the continent of Africa, and it is the underlying cause of almost every other problem going on there as well.

Of course, it’s impossible for human beings to survive without water, but the sad truth is that most people in Africa simply don’t have regular access to clean drinking water.

They hardly have enough polluted water on which to survive in the first place, and every time the people of these developing countries take a drink of water, they’re taking a risk with their own lives.

If you’re looking to learn more about the problem of water pollution in South Africa and in other nations throughout the continent of Africa, you’re in the right place.

In this article, you’ll be introduced to the problem as a whole, and you’ll learn more about what sorts of illnesses and problems associated with water pollution the population of Africa deals with on a daily basis. You’ll also find out about the actions that are being taken to get rid of this problem, and what you can do to help.

Later on in the article, you’ll be given a list of 15 facts to help you understand more about this overwhelming problem. You’ll learn everything you need to know in order to get started pitching in and making a difference.

Read on to find out more.

Water Pollution in Africa

When you think about water pollution, your mind probably drifts to the developing world before you think too much about the problem in your own country. While it’s very important to remember that water pollution exists everywhere around the world and is a huge problem that every country and continent needs to think about, Africa remains one of the most heavily polluted continents when it comes to the water supply. This is such a widespread problem throughout the continent that none of the countries of Africa are free from water pollution, and many of them suffer from a lack of water altogether.

water pollution exists everywhere

There are many different waterborne illnesses that afflict the people of Africa every day. In order to understand just what a significant problem this really is for Africa, it’s a good idea to first realize just how many illnesses can be spread through water alone. While there is a huge list of illnesses that can be carried through water, there are a few significant ones that the people of Africa have to face every day. These are listed below.

  • Malaria – While malaria is spread by mosquitos, these mosquitos breed in unclean water supplies around the world. Pregnant women and children under the age of five are the most susceptible to malaria, but anyone can come down with this terrible disease.
  • Hepatitis – This is a liver disease that leads to fever, significant weight loss, diarrhea, and a lot of pain and discomfort. Although countries with good health care are able to treat hepatitis in many individuals, people in developing countries throughout Africa often succumb to this disease.
  • Cholera – This is a terrible disease that causes significant diarrhea and vomiting as well as leg cramps. The dehydration caused by cholera can lead to death very quickly, and unfortunately, many developing countries in Africa just don’t have the ability to properly treat individuals who become sick with this illness.
  • Dengue Fever – Dengue fever is also spread by mosquitos, but once again, the chances of coming down with it are much higher in places where mosquitos breed, such as in unsanitary water conditions. This disease includes rashes and pain, headaches, and high fever. Although it’s not always fatal, it sometimes leads to a complication that causes the liver to malfunction, and this can be fatal.
  • Parasites – Giardiasis, ringworm, trichuriasis, hookworm, scabies, and many other parasites are present in water that isn’t treated and is left to fester in unsanitary conditions. Unfortunately, it’s very easy for humans to become sick from these parasites, especially when they regularly drink or are otherwise exposed to these water sources. Animals may easily become infected as well, and when humans eat these animals, they can contract the parasite in this way too.

15 Facts about Water Pollution in Africa

access to clean water

1. In African children under the age of five, 85% of all diseases contracted are caused by a lack of clean drinking water.

These diseases cover a wide range of afflictions that include dysentery, cholera, Dengue fever, and many others, and most of them involve diarrhea and dehydration. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to treat dehydration without access to clean water, and so these illnesses often lead to death in these young children. It’s estimated that one child dies every few seconds from water-related illnesses in developing parts of the world.

2. Of all the people in the world still relying on surface water instead of groundwater, two-thirds of these 159 million people live in Africa.

Most of the rest of the world has shifted to a reliance on groundwater instead of surface water for drinking purposes, although this isn’t without its problems either. Groundwater pollution is actually more widespread in most countries than surface water pollution is, but at least groundwater has more of a chance to be treated before it is used for human consumption. Surface water, such as the water many of the people of Africa rely on, is very hard to clean, especially when it’s contaminated with many different pollutants. It also dwindles very quickly.

3. There are 319 million people living in Africa who don’t have regular access to sustainable clean drinking water.

This is a huge number, and it might be hard for you to really comprehend how many people that really is. To put it in perspective, in 2014, the population of the United States was estimated at 318.9 million. The number of people without access to clean drinking water in Africa is the same as the entire population of the United States. Most of these individuals live in rural parts of the continent, where water is very scarce in the first place and water supplies that do exist are severely contaminated in a lot of different ways. However, some of the larger cities in African nations also face the same problem.

4. 695 million people in Africa live without clean sanitation options.

This is over twice the number of people living in the United States. That’s a lot of people to go without sanitation, but unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of steps being taken to improve these conditions throughout much of the African continent. Once again, most of the people living without proper sanitation reside in rural parts of the continent, but this is still a problem in big cities as well. Even some of the largest cities in Africa have residents who just don’t have a clean, safe way to dispose of waste products or regular household garbage, or even a clean place to prepare food.

5. 42% of all the healthcare facilities and hospitals in Africa don’t have clean drinking water in the vicinity.

access to clean water

This also means they don’t have access to clean water with which to wash their hands before performing healthcare procedures. Even the most routine of procedures can lead to serious complications when the doctor in question has dirty hands, but unfortunately, this is a major way in which bacteria and parasites are spread. This also contributes significantly to the inability to treat illnesses that result in dehydration, such as most of the waterborne illnesses. When a patient has serious diarrhea and needs fluids to get better, it’s almost impossible to treat that patient without regular, nearby access to clean drinking water.

6. Although over 80% of the people living in Africa without clean water rely on agriculture as a sole means of survival, these agricultural practices further damage the water supply significantly.

Outside of the major cities in African countries, most of the other residents of the continent rely on agriculture at least in some way. Some of them rely on it in a big way, and wouldn’t be able to survive without growing their own plants or raising their own animals to eat. Unfortunately, the lack of clean sanitation practices in many of these places couples with the existence of a lot of agriculture to create very dirty water that is heavily polluted by animal waste. When animal waste reaches water supplies, many diseases are spread very quickly. And if an animal dies in a water supply, that water is tainted and unfit for human consumption. Unfortunately, this water is not only used for drinking but also for watering plants and raising animals, which can cause these animals and plants to carry diseases, too.

7. In developing countries, including Africa, an average person has between 2.6 and 5.2 gallons of water available per day.

For comparison, in the United States, the average person uses a little over 158 gallons of water per day. Imagine having only three milk jugs full of water to work with every day. This includes all washing of food, cleaning of clothes, washing of hands and hair, and drinking, as well as watering plants and animals. If you had to cut back that much on your daily use of water, what would you cut out? This is a big reason why disease spreads so quickly across Africa, as most people choose not to wash their food or hands in favor of having something to drink for that day.

8. 2.2 million deaths a year occur because of severe diarrhea caused by unclean drinking water.

from water-related diarrhea

In Africa, 650 people a day die from water-related diarrhea. Most of these people are children under the age of five and pregnant women, although the problem seriously affects elderly people too.

9. Fourteen of the countries in Africa are affected by water stress, which means they have very little access to clean water.

In the next ten years, it’s expected that 11 more of these countries will be affected as well. This means that almost half of the countries across the continent will not have access to enough water to sustain the people who live there. The other half will still face serious water pollution issues too.

10. Of the rivers and lakes that exist throughout Africa, eighty of these are shared by more than one country at a time.

This leads to political stress on the water supply as well as environmental issues of so many people relying on a single source of water. When one country chooses to dam up a river, for example, people in another country that rely on that same river will either experience a serious drought or terrible flooding, depending on their location. Trouble between the countries means water can’t be kept clean or made as readily available as it should.

11. Only 16% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa have access to water through dedicated taps available in their homes or yards.

The rest of the people in this part of Africa rely on community wells or simply gather their water from surface water sources in the area. This means they must walk to the well or surface water, gather water in a jerry can (which can weigh upwards of 40 pounds when filled), and haul it back home. This water is not filtered and can quickly contaminate a whole town if it’s polluted with bacteria.

12. As recently as 2001, cholera was a huge problem in South Africa.

In that year, over ten thousand people became sick with this terrible water-related illness. Epidemics like this are common in Africa because of shared water sources, and unfortunately, it’s very hard to treat these outbreaks when they happen.

13. In the Congo basin, 30% of the water on the entire continent is present but supplies only 10% of the continent’s population.

This unequal distribution of water leads to a lot of the problems of water conservation around the rest of the continent. There isn’t a lot available in terms of water infrastructure to carry this water to other parts of the continent, and political strife once again contributes to some of this problem too.

14. Endangered species that call Africa home are slowly dwindling even more because of the disappearing water table on this continent.

exist anywhere else in the world

In the Niger River alone, there are 20 species of fish and mammals that don’t exist anywhere else in the world, but their numbers are shrinking annually. Although conservation efforts are being made to rescue these animals, it’s believed that some of them will soon disappear forever because of reduced water supplies.

15. While much of the continent’s water can be found in the mountains throughout Africa, deforestation, mining, and overgrazing through agriculture are all contributing to a dwindling supply of water in this part of Africa as well.

Wetlands are diminishing here as much as they are throughout the rest of the world.

Sources of Water Pollution in Africa

There are a lot of sources of water pollution throughout Africa. Unfortunately, there are so many that it can be very difficult to focus on cleaning up one at a time, and even when one problem is addressed, the others seem to get out of hand almost right away. In this section, you’ll learn about the many causes of water pollution across Africa, and you’ll be able to see the differences and similarities between these causes and the ones faced by other countries such as the United States.

  • Deforestation – Around the world, deforestation is a problem that leads to water pollution. When forests are cut down without environmentally friendly practices—such as planting new trees in place of the old ones or being mindful of certain ecosystems—sediments easily enter into the water supply through soil erosion. This causes a lot of natural types of pollution, including arsenic and lead poisoning. Deforestation can also lead to widespread death of birds, animals, and fish, which can further contaminate the water.
  • Mining – Mining causes a lot of the same types of water pollution as does deforestation, including poisoning through natural substances that find their way into the water. Mining is a big problem in Africa for a lot of reasons, but water pollution is definitely one of them. When mining practices aren’t carefully regulated, water can become quickly contaminated with a wide variety of different substances, including bacteria and parasites that can lead to widespread disease.
  • Agriculture – Agriculture is a problem that contributes to water pollution across the board, no matter what part of the world is being examined. In Africa, agricultural practices are often a little bit less industrialized than they are in other parts of the world, but even so, they still contribute to water pollution. When animal waste and dead animals aren’t disposed of properly, bacteria finds its way into groundwater and surface water sources quickly. This can lead to serious disease, which can infect live animals as well as humans in the area.
  • Urbanization – As parts of Africa are becoming more and more urbanized, they are seeing a lot more chemical and toxic water pollution. The more construction sites that spring up, the more polluted the water becomes from toxic runoff. This chemical presence is only exacerbating an already significant problem of serious water pollution.
  • Industrial Presence – When urbanization takes place, so does industrialization, and this is especially true in Africa. The continent is mostly made up of developing countries, so industries are slowly but surely building up throughout the many different nations of Africa. However, there are very few regulations in place to keep these industries from dumping wastewater and toxic chemicals into existing water supplies, so the water that can be found in Africa is getting even more polluted than it ever was before.
  • Lack of Sanitation – Many developing parts of Africa don’t have access to sanitation at all. They don’t have a way to remove human waste from homes, yards, and water supplies, and so the water becomes seriously contaminated with bacteria, parasites, and other pollutants. This leads to the vast spread of waterborne disease and illness seen throughout Africa.
  • Politics – Even in the United States, politics has a little to do with water pollution, but in Africa, the problem is much bigger. Some water sources are shared by more than one country, and not all of these countries get along. When one country is capable of restricting water for another, this leads to a huge problem that can cost a lot of lives.

Actions Taken Against Water Pollution in Africa

It’s an unfortunate truth that most of the countries across Africa simply aren’t doing a lot to help clean up their water supplies. This is mostly because they can’t afford to, as these are countries that don’t have access to a lot of money and don’t have a good economic stability. While it would take a widespread change to make a big difference across the continent, there are still a few actions taking place to help improve the quality of water throughout Africa.

  • Support from around the world – Developed countries around the world regularly contribute to cleanup efforts throughout the continent of Africa. Whether this contribution comes in the form of money or physical assistance, it’s not too uncommon to find help coming from sources around the world. However, there’s always more these countries can do to make a difference, and so it’s very important to make it known to local and national governments that you’d like to see more aid send to the people of Africa whenever possible.
  • Nonprofit organizations – The actions taken by nonprofit organizations to help clean up the water in Africa are some of the most effective. These groups regularly collect donations of time and money and send people to parts of Africa where the water is seriously threatened. They help dig wells and provide filters to people who would otherwise have no access to clean drinking water. However, these organizations can only do so much at a time, and although they often make a big difference on a small scale, they can’t tackle the whole continent on their own.
  • Education – Educating the people of Africa on cleaner and safer water practices is a good step to take, and many of the nonprofit organizations that work on this continent take this into consideration when they get involved. In some instances, there are some changes that can be made easily to help cut back on water pollution in certain areas. However, in many situations, the problem doesn’t really lie with the individuals who live in Africa, but with the overall state of the continent’s water itself. Education also works both ways, so spreading true information about African water pollution to the people you know can go a long way toward helping find others to contribute to the cause.
  • Environmental laws – In some of Africa’s countries, particularly in South Africa, there are laws and regulations in place that help protect the environment to a point. These usually focus on waste management, water conservation, and land planning. While these laws are definitely making a difference, they do take a while to work, and they can be difficult to enforce in some situations.


Do you feel ready to get started contributing to the eradication of water pollution in Africa? This is a big problem, and it’s not going to get any better any time soon, even with all the help the continent can get. However, if no one pitches in and tries to make a difference, then there will be no chance. If you start helping now, you can work toward making a difference for future generations of the residents of Africa. Although it might take a long time to see any significant changes, those changes will take place even so, and one day, the water in Africa may be plentiful and clean once again.

If you’re unable to physically go to Africa and help out, don’t worry! There are a lot of things you can do to get involved. You can help educate others on the problem of water pollution in Africa, and you can do your part to spread the word about good nonprofit organizations that are working to clean up water sources as well as they can. You can also always donate time or money to these organizations and help see to it that people in developing nations have access to water filters whenever possible.

There’s always something you can do to make a difference. Choose your path and get ready to work toward improved water and sanitation conditions for the people of Africa, one step at a time. You might be surprised at just how much of a change you can help make.