By Joan Nyika and Megersa Olumana Dinka, published by Springer Nature (2023)
Water management remains one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century and is projected to be a key limiting factor in global socioeconomic and environmental development.
Globally, water resources are under threat due to rising pollution, urbanisation, and climate change. According to a UNESCO/United Nations (UN) Water Report 2020 (featured in the book), more than 685 million people from more than 570 cities worldwide will access freshwater at declining levels (by >10%) by 2050 as a result of environmental factors such as climate change.
Similarly, a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF (2020) (also highlighted in the book) indicates that due to neglect and an apparent disparity of access to basic services in rural and urban areas, more than 350 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have no access to clean drinking water, the majority of whom reside in rural areas.
Evidently, the global goal to sustainably provide clean water and sanitation to all populations (Sustainable Development Goal 6 [SDG 6]) is under threat, with concerns raised regarding regions with unsafe, unreliable, and short-term water accessibility, most of which are in SSA.
It is against this background that the authors of the book, Joan Nyika and Megersa Dinka, explore issues regarding poor water access and management in urban and rural sub-Saharan Africa and propose solutions to avoid the looming crisis.
The analysis of the state of water access in urban SSA revealed the following: The demand and supply gap for water is growing due to urbanisation and unprecedented growth in population levels. Furthermore, the situation is exacerbated by poor governance, sub-optimal institutions, the non-enforcement of policies on water management, and poor planning for sanitation and hygiene needs. For instance, countries such as Senegal, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo neglect the sanitation and hygiene aspects of water management, which has led to the non-holistic development of their water sectors.
Also, due to limited financing, regulatory authorities in SSA do not prioritise the storage and distribution infrastructure improvements required to meet the growth in demand. For instance, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the use of 50-year-old water distribution and transmission lines hinders effective water supply from service reservoirs and water treatment systems.
Additionally, overcrowded slums and unplanned settlements create technical challenges for expanding water supply systems and sewer lines. This is complicated by the difficulty of installing taps and piping in low-quality housing, often built from plasterboard, tin, plant material, and mud. This is the case in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and Khayelitsha in Cape Town. The disparity in water access is similarly apparent in countries where illegal settlers are not included in national policies associated with water, sanitation, and hygiene – in Zimbabwe, for example.
The health hazards are obvious in these circumstances. Lack of sanitation in unplanned settlements leads to open defecation, which contaminates freshwater sources. This is evident in slums in Lagos, Nigeria, where more than half the population has no access to water, sanitation, or hygiene services. These residents are forced to rely on water sources such as unprotected wells and water vendors.
There are additional challenges to service delivery in SSA’s remote and sparsely populated rural areas. Rural populations have limited access to water, caused by infrastructural neglect, malfunction, and over-abstraction at water points. Neglected by governments, independent utility providers also find it is not cost-effective to supply water to low-income rural communities that cannot afford to pay for the service. The authors give the examples of South Africa and Burundi in 2020, wherein in the latter, 3.8% of rural residents had access to water, while in the former, the gap in water access between wealthy urban dwellers and rural poor was 63.7%.
Rural dwellers travel long distances for water. Women and girls, who bear the greater responsibility of collecting water, are the most affected by the safety, health, and economic hazards of travelling long distances in search of uncontaminated sources. Although this trend is prevalent in most SSA countries, the book highlights the experiences of communities in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.
Extreme weather patterns, combined with the use of agrochemicals and deforestation, also compromise water quality and access. Floods and runoffs induced by changes in weather patterns move chemical and microbial contaminants to water sources, causing pollution, as is the case in rural Limpopo province inSouth Africa and Kitui in Kenya.
Water scarcity also affects human security. Human life is further threatened by factors such as water conflicts. The most water-deprived and arid regions have witnessed water conflicts, which typically escalate to water wars as communities/clans/countries claim ownership of scarce resources. For example, transboundary water conflicts have occurred between farmers and herders who share borders between Kenya and Ethiopia, and Mali and Burkina Faso. Consequently, the parties involved in water wars not only complicate access to safe water but jeopardise human security due to property losses and death. Nyika and Dinka also believe that the frequency of water conflicts in SSA will increase due to climate change effects that will make water more difficult to access.
To address the issues outlined, several SSA countries have adopted the practice of integrated water resources management (IWRM) as per UN WATER guidelines. IWRM is a cross-sectorial policy approach designed to replace traditionally fragmented sectorial approaches to water resource management. The main pillars of IWRM are an enabling environment, institutions and participation, management instruments, and financing.
Examples of IWRM efforts include those in Kenya, where IWRM implementation led to the establishment of the Water Act of 2016, which ensures rural populations participate in water management decision-making through user associations (WRUA). Similar policies and associations have been replicated in Tanzania and Uganda.
In West Africa, IWRM has facilitated the implementation of a regional water policy that promotes the development of infrastructure to improve access to and management of water for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
IWRM in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has led to the development of a protocol on shared water systems (PSWS) to prevent water conflicts.
Notwithstanding the efforts made in IWRM, Nyika and Dinka reiterate that good governance in water management is still lacking in SSA countries, suggesting that in addition to governments, stakeholders such as private institutions, civil society, and community-based organisations must incorporate good governance in their collective participation for holistic water management.
Nyika and Dinka present an exceptionally detailed analysis of SSA’s water access crisis and its poor resource management by featuring meritorious research from various experts and institutions. Their reflective approach to assessing water management also leaves readers with a clear understanding of the proposed solutions and the projected timelines.
Considering that three of the world’s 10 largest freshwater lakes in volume and ratio (Lakes Malawi, Tanganyika, and Victoria) are in SSA, Nyika and Dinka rightfully assert that such facts and others highlighted throughout the book make it difficult to comprehend just how dire water access is in the region. In this respect, the book contains plenty of information and proposes solutions to help policymakers within various institutions, such as governments, improve water management for SSA’s sustainable development.
Sarah Nyengerai is an academic and freelance writer based in Zimbabwe with a strong passion for social, cultural, economic and political issues that affect women. She believes literary works form the foundation for the dialogue required to sustain momentums of change and aims to bring attention to such matters. A member of NAFSA (Association for International Educators) and Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), Sarah is actively involved in the advancement of education for women.