Understanding Africa's water and sanitation pain points

Sustainable water and sanitation supply in Africa and, specifically, the SADC region is curbed by many challenges. These challenges are even more apparent and detrimental in impoverished areas, where the basic human right of water and sanitation is not available to many communities. In order to mitigate these challenges and provide solutions to not only service these communities but also advance socio-economic development across the continent, we must first understand what pain points hold back progress. This article will explore them and posit possible solutions.

Current water and sanitation challenges

As it stands, Africa faces several challenges that hinder the progress toward proper water and sanitation supply across the board. Let’s take a look at some of the water and sanitation challenges in Africa:

Water preservation knowledge is lacking

When water becomes a scarce resource, it is expected that communities, governments and private sector stakeholders band together to implement water preservation tactics that buy enough time to come up with solutions before time, and water, runs out. However, we’ve seen that a lack of knowledge around water preservation tactics resulted in some African countries still using more water than the global average.

Wastewater is treated insufficiently

On the sanitation end of the spectrum, wastewater is also mismanaged, resulting in massive amounts of wastewater being disposed of in rivers and oceans. Beyond this, the infrastructure to treat wastewater is either non-existent, poor or in inoperable conditions. This means that many African countries have insufficient drinking water while overusing groundwater for agricultural purposes.

Frequent droughts delay progress

Adding to the already insurmountable problems, frequent droughts caused by climate change mean that Africa can never get ahead of its water and sanitation challenges, as most of the time and resources available must go towards addressing critical shortages when they happen as opposed to futureproofing our resources and processes.

Benefits of improving resources and access

While these challenges may seem insurmountable, the benefits of improving access and processes around water and sanitation far outweigh the challenges. Let’s take a look at why it’s worth investing in solutions to water scarcity in Africa:

Social impact on communities

The lack of access to proper water and sanitation resources in rural and impoverished communities stifles the economic growth in those areas even more. By mitigating the issue of access, we stand a better chance of curbing widespread poverty by enabling business growth and improving health conditions in these communities. This will enable these communities to enjoy better standards of living and ensure a sustainable future.

Economic growth possibilities

With the abovementioned advantages to the communities themselves, we would see a ripple effect of the positive impact, stimulating the possibilities for economic development across the continent. With better health and social infrastructure, the business sector can also thrive. This will ultimately positively impact the larger African economy too.

Steps to mitigate water and sanitation pain points 

As a Development Finance Institution, the DBSA is mandated to serve as a project execution agency and manage our Regional Fund for Water. Our objective is to develop regional water and sanitation infrastructure by implementing strategies that enable funding opportunities and project feasibility.

Through our continuous efforts to mitigate water and sanitation challenges and promote infrastructure development, we have identified a roadmap to further our progress. Here are a few key findings that guide our approach as one of Africa’s sanitation funding agencies:

  • Implementation of regional projects requires the commitment of national governments and country contributions in the form of staff, finances and tax exemptions, which are achieved through negotiations and signing of formal cooperation agreements such as financing, implementation and water sharing.
  • Financing through a fund structure allows for collaboration and harmonisation of standards and benefits across the region as opposed to a project-financing approach.
  • The coordination of cooperation and collaboration in a transfrontier project requires an executing agency to be sensitive to the dynamics of individual member states.

Final Thoughts

While the challenges curbing Africa’s access to feasible water and sanitation infrastructure are many, the possibility of reaching our goals and delaying or even avoiding Day Zero is evident. With contributions from government, public and private stakeholders, communities and the DBSA, we can work to ensure that Africa and its people enter a future where water and sanitation are not only on par with global standards but even exceed them.