Access to clean water and sanitation in many rural and urban areas of Africa is severely limited, with many people lacking a basic household water connection. Throughout the continent, financial constraints result in poorly managed water and wastewater treatment systems; even when authorities develop such facilities, the cost of maintaining them proves too high and the overall infrastructure begins to collapse. With limited resources to routinely test supplies and repair pipes, risk of water loss is high.
Indeed, non-revenue water (that is, water that has been processed for consumption but is lost before reaching the customer) accounts for over a third of water consumption in Cameroon, Swaziland, Togo and the Republic of Congo. Even in countries that have experienced a surge of infrastructure development, such as Kenya and Ghana, utilities are losing half of their water through under-financed and poorly maintained water supply systems.
In sub-Saharan Africa, extraction of water from existing sources has increased due to massive growth in urban areas. Whether domestic or industrial, water demands across this region have outpaced the development of supply facilities. Without the means to access groundwater or desalinate coastal sources, rising populations across the sub-Saharan area will certainly face water scarcity in the next few decades.
To add to this grim picture, the threat of contamination is also rife across Africa, with surface water rendered toxic through industrial emissions, agricultural run-off and raw sewage, and processed supplies affected by poor maintenance and inadequate treatment. Even groundwater supplies are affected, with unregulated industries allowing heavy metals to poison underground aquifers.
On a continent as vast and varied as Africa, the challenges facing the water sector are just as huge and myriad. As overwhelming and bleak as things may appear, it’s worth remembering that progress is being made through new partnerships, confident investment and the application of technologies, aided by the assembly of influencers, advisors and experts at summits like the WEX Global Water and Energy Exchange.