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Safe Piped Water Remains a Luxury Across Africa

By Jeffrey Moyo

MWENEZI; Zimbabwe (IDN) – Raviro Chawuruka scoops out sand from a well on a stream bank closer to her rural home in Rutenga, 443 km west of Harare, in Mwenezi district in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo Province.

At the age of 72, Chawuruka says she has known no rest while scavenging for water, this as she daily battles it out with the sand-filled water well in the vicinity of her home. She stands out among millions of Africans to whom piped water still remains a luxury, decades after several African nations gained independence from their former colonisers: Zimbabwe over 37 years ago.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, 65 percent of Zimbabwe’s 14 million people such as Chawuruka are domiciled in rural areas, where they have become the number one victims of lack of piped water.  |JAPANESE | CHINESE | 

“I have lived in this area for as long as I can remember and sourcing water for daily use from rivers, streams and wells is a norm here. There has never been a borehole here. I don’t know what it is to have piped water,” Chawuruka told IDN.

She said in order to find the scarce precious liquid, she has to struggle to access it underneath the sand by scooping out the sand so that diminishing water underground starts simmering out before Chawuruka and many other villagers start accessing it.

Based on a report released four years ago by the Human Rights Watch, titled Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital, people here have little access to potable water and sanitation services, and often resort to drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells that are contaminated with sewage, and to defecating outdoors. Yet in 2010, Zimbabwe voted for a UN General Assembly resolution establishing the right to water and sanitation, according to the Human Rights Watch.

A similar situation that has hit many Zimbabweans like Chawuruka has not spared several other Africans like 56-year old Armando Sinorita in Mozambique’s Tete Province.

“We always struggle to find water for use because we have no boreholes in my area. The only borehole we used to have which is far away, broke down over 10 years ago and we have turned to wells and streams to get water,” Sinorita told IDN.

But Sinorita said hard times always follow after the rivers, wells and streams run dry. As such, for many Africans like Sinorita, piped water remains a luxury, worse in Mozambique’s remote areas, despite the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) of the United Nations aiming at ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Even in East Africa, in Southern Africa and in West Africa, piped water remains scarce for many people who still scrounge for water from unprotected sources.

The situation is worse in Kenya, where a population of 47 million, which is 37 percent of the people there still rely on unimproved water sources, such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers, while 70 percent of Kenyans use unimproved sanitation solutions. The 2013/2014 review of Kenya’s water services sector by the Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb), also shows that only 53 per cent of town dwellers have clean piped water. According to the report, 51 per cent of approximately 34 million rural Kenyans lack access to clean piped water.

Neighbouring Zimbabwe, South Africa, deemed Africa’s economic super power, has made less strides towards effective achievement of water supply and sanitation goals, according to development experts.

“South Africa has joined other countries on the continent which have a mountain to climb to achieve UN SDG on access to water by 2030. Yes, water usage in SA has increased, but the water infrastructure legs behind. Consequently, in many communities here, particularly in the poorer rural areas, water has over the years after this country gained independence in 1994, stopped flowing out of the taps,” Nkosilathi Mapule, an independent development expert based in the South African capital Pretoria, told IDN.

Further up, in Ghana, close to three million people (nearly 11 percent) rely on surface water to meet their daily water needs, leaving them vulnerable to water-related disease, this while 85 percent of the people there lack access to improved sanitation or are entirely without toilet facilities. Ghana has a population of about 29 million people.

With less than 15 years before the deadline of the attainment of the UNSDGs, even Ethiopia at the Horn of Africa, water supply and sanitation stands amongst the lowest in Sub Saharan Africa, according to human rights defenders.

“While access has improved significantly with funding from donors, much still remains to be done to ensure access to water and sanitation for all in line with the UN SDG six here although in 2001 the government adopted a water and sanitation strategy that called for more decentralized decision-making in as far as water issues are concerned,” Hermela Mulugeta, an Ethiopian human rights activist, told IDN.

The situation is worse for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to the UN. Based on findings from the United Nations Environment Programme, about six years ago, an estimated 51 million people in DRC, which is three quarters of that country’s population – had no access to safe drinking water despite the country housing half of Africa’s water reserves.

“DRC’s legacy of war coupled with environmental degradation and poor investment in water infrastructure, has over the years extremely affected the accessibility of drinking water,” a top DRC diplomat based at the country’s embassy in Zimbabwe, told IDN on condition of anonymity for professional reasons as he was not allowed to speak to the media.

Water and sanitation are among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were adopted by the 193 Members of the UN in September 2015, and which are guiding the work of the development efforts of the international community through 2030.

As UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson pointed out in his keynote address on August 28, 2017 at a special event in Stockholm to start World Water Week, combined with the Paris Agreement on lowering the impact of climate change, the SDGs represent “the best chance our species has to achieve a sustainable way of life on Planet Earth before it is too late.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 9 September 2017]

Photo: Lack of piped water across Africa has impelled villagers to turn to unprotected water bodies to access the precious liquid. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IDN-INPS