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Water Security And Africa

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Water Security And Africa

By Olive Mandalasi 


Access to safe and resilient water supplies as well as its impact on the quality of life overall is an issue  of concern virtually everywhere. With the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals, water security  was put under the international spotlight since one of the goals emphasizes on providing clean water and  sanitation to all. Sanitation and hygiene are issues that are of major concern in Africa, as such these affect  the quality of water in the region. Mismanagement of the water supplies available also continue to  deteriorate the quality of water. Regardless, there are other nations, in and outside the continent, that the  African community can choose to learn from. 


Water Security Definition 

In September 2015, at a historic United Nations (UN) Summit, the UN General Assembly adopted  Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). These are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable  future for all. They are a set of universal goals that address the global challenges humans face, including  poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice (Welcome to the  United Nations, n.d.). Goal number 6 of the SDG’s aims at ensuring availability and sustainable  management of water and sanitation for all. With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals,  water security was put under the international spotlight. 

Water security is a developmental concept that identifies the water dynamics of a particular area and  provides an appropriate methodology for its remedy (Habiba, Shaw, & Anwarul, 2014). It encompasses  the protection of water systems against water-related hazards and their sustainable use, as well as the  sustainable development of water resources. It also involves safeguarding of access to water functions  and services for humans and the environment.  

Water security has three key dimensions; Economic, Social and Environmental. The Economy dimension aims at increasing water productivity and conservation in all water-using sectors, the Social dimension aims at ensuring equitable access to water services and resources for all through robust policies and legal  frameworks at all levels and the Environmental dimension aims at managing water sustainably as part of  a green economy (Beek & Arriens, 2014).Essentially, water security aims at training a population to  safeguard access to a level of acceptable water quality for sustainable livelihoods, human well-being,  and socioeconomic development in a manner that guarantees protection against water-borne pollution  and water-related disasters. 

Water security is not only about ensuring or having enough water it is also about mitigating water-related  risks, such as flooding and drought, addressing conflicts that arise from disputes over shared water  resources, and resolving tensions among the various stakeholders who compete for a limited resource (Beek & Arriens, 2014). Therefore, this article addresses water security in a broader viewpoint of general  issues that enhance vulnerability of water sector in Africa and suggests ways of putting the concept  (water security) into practice.



Over 1 billion cubic kilo-meters of water flows on the planet, accounting for over 70% of the earth’s total  surface area yet all this water is consumable due to issues of salinity or glacier ice caps. Most African  countries rely on rainfall for water in their reservoirs. Unfortunately, water tables are dropping and some  of the world’s largest rivers no longer reach their deltas. Industrial effluents and human waste are causing  severe deterioration of water quality in rivers and streams (Clarke, 1993). 

Some regions of the world experience consistent precipitation throughout the year, others undergo  extreme variations in weather patterns hence making it difficult to store and manage water resources.  (Shepard, 2019) states that Southern Africa is projected to face a decrease in precipitation of about 20%  and an increase in the number of consecutive dry days in countries like Namibia, Botswana, northern  Zimbabwe and southern Zambia. This will result in reductions in the volume of the Zambezi basin  projected at 5% to 10%. He further discusses that the Sub-Saharan Africa has been projected to face an  increase in temperature compared to the global mean temperature, this in return poses a threat to water  resources on the continent. The western part of Southern Africa is set to become drier, with increasing  drought frequency and number of heat waves toward the end of the 21st century. 

This predetermined threat on water quantity and quality places an immense pressure on the capacity of  countries to ensure water security for economic and human development. Increasing water scarcity and  insecurity will lead to more deaths from drought and water-borne diseases, political conflict over limited  resources and loss of freshwater species (Parry et al., 2007). 


Water Insecurity and Africa 

Access to safe drinking water as well as its impact on the quality of life overall is an issue of concern  virtually everywhere. Nearly half of Africans do not have access to clean water and two-thirds lack access  to sewage infrastructure (Walker & Logan, 2016). This leaves African countries at an alarming rate of  facing issues of water scarcity and depletion. In 2006, access to safe water in Sub-Saharan Africa was  worse than any other area on the continent, with only 22 to 34 percent of populations in at least eight  Sub-Saharan countries having access to safe water. According to (Tatlock, 2006) this was mainly  enhanced by lack of insufficient infrastructure which developed countries use in order to maintain a flow  of water year in and out. The quality of water has been further deteriorated due to contamination of water  sources at both underground and surface levels through arsenic and saline intrusion due to indiscriminate  discharge of wastewater into water sources, droughts in many parts of the African continent, and inefficient and unsustainable use of water resources. Likewise, increasing urbanization, industrialization  and wastage are putting more pressure on water quality.  


Figure 1 showing some statistics in relation to sanitation and hygiene 

Source: The Water Blog, World Bank,2018. 


Water quality In Africa is mainly compromised by sanitation and hygiene. For example, countries like  Chad, Congo, Ghana, and Guinea have less than 30% improved sanitation coverage in urban areas and  Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, Sudan and Togo with less than 15%  improved sanitation coverage in rural areas (WHO and UNICEF, 2006). 

According to a survey done by WHO and UNICEF in 2015, Africa still has a long way to go in covering  safely managed sanitation facilities. 


Figure 2: Showing a share of population using safely managed sanitation facilities 

Source:WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) 


In Malawi, 6% of the population has access to standard sanitation facility (USAID, n.d.). This is also  affecting the quality of water in the country, Blantyre City Council disclosed that 230 toilets were  constructed in Ndirande along the banks of Nasolo river. This aforementioned river pours into Mudi river  which is a major source of water for domestic and other uses in communities that live downstream (Namangale, 2014). 


Figure 3 showing contaminated Mudi River (Blantyre, Malawi) 

Source: The Nation Online 


It is widely recognized that the provision of good access to clean water and sanitation facilities is a key  factor in improving the health and development of a country or region. Countries face a decline in GDP  of about 0.8 and 2.0 every year due to issues of water insecurity (Desbureaux, Damania, & Rodella,  2019). 

In addition to that, World Bank Group President David Malpass also made a remark on this where he  confirms that deteriorating water quality stalls economic growth, reduces food production which in return  exacerbates poverty in many countries (The World Bank, 2019). This is not a new trend as it manifested  itself in Kenya during the 1999- 2000 drought, drastic power rationing was imposed and the Kenya Power  and Lighting Company lost US $20 million, the economy was paralyzed and the national GDP declined by 0.3%. This was Kenya’s worst performance since independence in 1963 (Drought in Kenya, 2006).


Way Forward 

Water security relies on effectively integrating water resources management at various scales, in  particular at national or local scales and includes the essential elements of economic efficiency, social  equity, and environmental sustainability. Although the broad definition of water security is applicable at  all scales (national or local), it is logical at each scale to focus on specific issues, below are suggestions  on how Africa can mitigate this problem at a national scale. 

About 95% of water that enters our homes goes down the drain (BlueFrog Plumbing+Drain, 2018), this  fact is reason enough for Africans to do more on reusing water. Namibia, Tunisia and South Africa are exceptions on the continent when it comes to treating sewage sludge through a range of conventional and non-conventional systems and having national guidelines and regulations (Bahri, Drechsel, & Brissaud). If the African community is to advance in the fight of water  security its regimes need to find ways to better bridge the gap between policy and implementation of  strategies put In place to enhance water quality. 

Firstly, countries should focus more on collection and treatment of waste water to protect human  life and the environment from pollution. According to (Bahri, Drechsel, & Brissaud) most African  countries do not have systems that recycle water. For example, in Malawi, the statutory  corporations that are responsible for water distribution do not have a provision whereby  households or communities can recycle water at a low scale. Therefore, once water is used, it  immediately returns to the hydrological cycle.  

Consider Namibia, a country that adopted recycling sewage into drinking water in 1968 and 30  percent of their water supply is recycled water and till date the project is successful such that  countries like Singapore adopted it (Senthilingam, 2014). An arid nation Israel, historically  suffered from water scarcity and it is now considered a world leader in reuse of waste water, with  most of the water used for irrigation. This is a technique that can help a lot of African countries  considering that most countries rely on agriculture as the staple of their economy. 

Increment in the number of water treatment cycles, makes it possible to significantly reduce the  pollutant load released into the environment. Therefore, the natural waters that remain, when  taken for drinking, are easier and cheaper to treat because they are less polluted; This is called increasing the productivity of raw water (Haushofer, 2019). Increase in treatment plants also make  room for new employment opportunities. 

In addition, the industrialization sector should be strictly regulated. Industrial activity requires  massive amounts of freshwater as such industrialization massively deplete the water resource. In  most African countries the volumes used end up being higher than necessary due to  mismanagement of the resource. According to (Habiba, Shaw, & Anwarul, 2014) Industry and  manufacturing account for about 10% - 30% water resource use. The state of water insecurity imposed on any country depends on its degree of industrialization. In developed countries, the  rate of depletion is regulated in compliance with pollution laws, consequently less is wasted. Unfortunately, such trends are not as apparent in poorer developing countries where few  governments provide industry with incentives to adopt more efficient water-use practices. Therefore, countries should make more effort in ensuring that their industries are practicing safe  ways of disposing their waste.  

Lastly, building new wells and rehabilitation old wells. Africa can take this approach in combating  water insecurity because wells can provide clean water at a relative low cost (Well, 2019). In  addition to that, whilst governments work on systems that distribute water to far as remote areas,  the population may be served with wells. These wells must be dug at specific radii which must  reduce the tendency for Africans walking long distances in order to get an access to a water source.  

There is a general consensus that public participation is an integral part of environmental decision making, environmental justice and participatory democracy (Banda, nd). It is therefore crucial that  leaders answer questions that may arise in implementation of the above strategies. Any project to reuse  treated wastewater for drinking water requires transparent and honest efforts to explain and raise  awareness as well as inspire trust. All stakeholders must be included in this project (Haushofer, 2019).  This supports Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which protects  the principle of public participation in environmental governance. Principle 10 highlights the fact that  “environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at relevant levels” (Papovic, 1993).



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