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What Causes Water Scarcity in Africa?

An African man carrying a bucket of clean water

Sub-Saharan Africa contains nearly 50% of the global burden of the water crisis, and a number of factors contribute to the lack of clean water for the millions of people living in this region.

While circumstances are always changing, the most common causes of a lack of clean water in Africa are unsafe water sources, inaccessible water sources, and a lack of maintenance.

Read on to learn more and our approach to solving the issues caused by the water crisis.

Cause #1: Unsafe & Unsanitary Water Sources

For many communities in sub-Saharan Africa, their local water source does not contain water that is safe to drink. It may be a river or pond that is shared with animals or subject to pollution. A water source can also become contaminated or dry up over time, turning a once-reliable source of water into an unhealthy one.

African woman filling a water jug
A small creek
An African woman filling a water jug at a natural spring

This is especially devastating for children, who are more susceptible to such diseases. Waterborne illness frequently keeps children out of school, preventing them from receiving a proper education. Sadly, waterborne illness is one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of 5. In 2019, 1-in-13 children did not live to see their 5th birthday.

Cause #2: Inaccessible Water Sources

Another serious cause of the lack of clean water in Africa is the distance of the nearest water source to a community. For many communities in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly rural ones, the nearest water source may be hours away. This means that many people have to travel miles each day just to provide for their family’s most basic needs.

The burden of retrieving water falls unfairly on women and children for most households. They have to travel an average of 33 minutes per day to retrieve water for their families. This is another way in which the water crisis frequently prevents children from going to school, because of the time they must spend walking for water.

Cause #3: Lack of Maintenance & Community Involvement

A woman tilling the soil

There have been far too many instances where a new water point is built in a community in need, but over time it falls into disrepair. Many well-intentioned NGOs (non-governmental organizations) will implement a water point in a community without involving the local community members at all. Unfortunately, this frequently results in situations where the community members are not trained in how to maintain the water point. In some cases, because it was installed without community involvement, the water point is not placed in a good area for the community members to access it. In other cases, it may even be the wrong type of water solution for the community (for example, installing a well when household filtration systems would have been a better fit).

If the community doesn’t have ownership of the water point, there is no guarantee it will result in sustainable change. This is how tens of thousands of water points in Africa have fallen into disrepair over the years. And this is why it is so important that local leaders and community members are involved at every level of implementation!

A smiling group of people with water jugs

Going back to how important it is for the local community to understand the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene, and maintaining an open defecation-free environment, it is also important to understand the critical hygiene and sanitation are to solving the water crisis. Our partners develop community-based WASH committees for every new water point so they can spread the word about healthy practices throughout their community. This means that not only will the water point stay clean, but these practices will be utilized for lifetimes and shared farther than we can even tangibly measure.

Our Approach to the Water Crisis

The reasons for the lack of clean water in sub-Saharan Africa can vary drastically from community to community. But the factors we’ve listed here are some of the most common challenges that the communities we serve are faced with.

Fortunately, our partners are experts on the needs of their communities. Not only are they familiar with the unique challenges their individual communities face, but they also know the best way to provide them with sustainable access to clean water. In 2020 alone, our partners provided over 11,000 individuals with access to clean water and established more than 10,000 hygiene and sanitation facilities, in the midst of a new global pandemic.

Smiling kids washing their hands in a hand-washings tation

If you would like to get more involved in helping to equip our partners to be able to do more of this life-changing work than ever before, join The Fuel!

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