World Water Day: Covid-19 or the new revealer of water inequalities
22 March 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic was a reminder of the inequalities in access to water. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly 2.1 billion people still do not have access to domestic drinking water services. On this World Water Day, The Infrastructure Consortium for Africa takes stock of the continent's water challenges.
Today, 4.4 billion people, or 60 per cent of the world's population, do not have access to safely managed sanitation services. Of the estimated 2.1 billion people without access to safe domestic water services, 844 million lack even a basic water supply, 263 million live more than 30 minutes away from the nearest water point, while 159 million continue to drink untreated surface water from rivers and lakes.
While "ensuring access to water and sanitation for all and sustainable management of water resources" is the 6th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the United Nations, more than 320 million Africans still lack access to safe drinking water. The annual deficit in water infrastructure on the continent is estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa almost 5% of GDP and despite some progress in recent years (the multilateral action plans of the 2005-2015 decade have enabled 1.3 billion people in developing countries to gain access to safe drinking water), it is still too slow in many countries to achieve MDG 6 by 2030.
In sub-Saharan Africa, only 15% of the population has access to water and soap at home, compared to 76% in North Africa, at a time when hand washing has become the best weapon against the pandemic.
Covid-19 highlights some health basics
"40% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa has no access to basic water, and 70% has no access to water at home. At the same time, 70% of this population does not have access to basic sanitation, i.e. latrines," recalls Mikes Salawou, ICA Coordinator. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), improving water supply, sanitation and hygiene could reduce the global disease burden by 4%. To date, unsafe water is still responsible for the deaths of over 1.2 million people, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study. According to the Consortium for Infrastructure in Africa, investment needs for water and sanitation on the continent would amount to nearly 60 billion dollars per year, whereas today only 13 billion dollars would be mobilized," reminds Céline Robert, underlining the urgency and volume of investments to be made.
Covid-19 has nevertheless revealed the responsiveness of certain African governments, which have rapidly adopted measures to contain the spread of the pandemic. Covid-19 also reminded us of some health basics. However, the economic consequences are still to come and the food crisis threatens several African countries.