Potable Water Crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa

It is a sad reality that Sub-Saharan Africa is at the forefront of the global potable water crisis. For decades, the subcontinent has had its inhabitants struggle to access clean drinkable water. In recent times, little or no progress has been noted to arrest this lingering water crisis.

This write-up looks to appraise the following queries;

· Why has Sub-Saharan Africa been at the forefront of the water crisis for decades?

· How has environmental degradation compounded the problem?

· What are the health implications of poor water quality on inhabitants?

· What can be done to find a lasting situation?

Why has Sub-Saharan Africa been at the forefront of the global water crisis for decades?

Sub-Saharan Africa does have a fair enough distribution of water resources compared to Northern Africa, considering its rainfall distribution, surface, and groundwater resources. The water issue of Sub-Saharan Africa emanates from poor infrastructural development, poverty and low standard of living, underdevelopment of rural areas due to rural-urban migration, little or no laws and policies on water conservation, little or no involvement in research and development on water and sanitation studies, just to mention a few. For instance, studies have shown that 86% of Nigerians do not have access to a safe source of drinking water, many Nigerians resort to purchasing sachet water usually termed “pure water” for domestic and consumption purposes. Only a few percentage of the population can afford this so-called pure water. Yet again, this same country does have a considerably good account of water supply and resources compared to many countries in North African and the world at large.

How has environmental degradation compounded the problem?

Numerous forms of environmental degradation intensifies the poor quality of groundwater, which in turn influence the health of its consumer negatively. For instance, the Niger Delta region of Nigeria is one oil rich region where hydrocarbon explorations are carried out. These explorations results to massive oil spillage which contaminates the land and surface water bodies. Both surface water and groundwater sources are polluted and in this case, the water is available but not conducive for consumption. In addition, the lack of infrastructural development, such as sanitary facilities does exacerbates open defecation, urination and other unsanitary activities, which in turn affects potable water quality directly or indirectly. Effluents (Industrial wastewater) rich in harmful chemicals are also channeled to water sources. These and more are the harmful environmentally degrading activities that takes place within Sub-Saharan Africa, causing the aggravated crisis on potable water supply.

What are the health implications?

According to the World Health Organization, contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. According to available statistics, most of these illnesses and diseases are prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially West Africa. This clearly indicates the health-related consequences of the water crisis in the region. Therefore, it is pertinent to note that safe drinking water is necessary for healthy living.

What can be done to improve the situation?

It is important for every stakeholder; government, corporate bodies, and individuals to collaborate actively in resolving the lingering water crisis in the region. This write-up recommends the following;

  1. Identifying areas of water stress and initiating projects/mechanisms to sustain water resources in these areas.

  2. Initiating periodic impact assessments, especially on vulnerable areas, such assessments may include surveys and physicochemical water analysis to ascertain drinkability

  3. Funding research and development for water studies. Areas of interest may include hydrogeology, surface water studies, etc.

  4. Infrastructural development such as adequate and well maintained public sanitary facilities and others.

  5. Public sensitization and awareness, such as personal hygiene practices. Public awareness at all social institutions (Homes, schools, religious places, places of employment, etc.)

  6. Policies and regulations against various forms of environmental degradation and effluent discharge


Onyenwere Kingsley.