GROWING SCARCITY

World Water Day: Reminder of imminent global crisis

In Summary

• An estimated two billion people do not have access to safe water

• Africa has just nine per cent of global water resources, it is home to 16% of the world’s population

Residents of Nakaale, Turkana county, scramble for water as
BETTER POLICIES NEEDED: Residents of Nakaale, Turkana county, scramble for water as
Image: HESBORN ETYANG

We marked World Water Day last Friday. The day signifies the importance of the world's freshwater resources. Moreover, it is a day for us, collectively, to advocate sustainable use of as well as equitable access to increasingly scarce freshwater resources.

Essentially, World Water Day is a time for those who enjoy unlimited access to clean water on demand to stop and for a moment, think about the four billion people who have to endure severe water shortage for at least one month a year.

An estimated two billion people do not have access to safe water. Such shortages are often associated with malnutrition, hunger, morbidity and even death.

Children in the developing world are particularly at risk of contracting water-borne diseases. According to the World Health Organization, contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.

Contaminated drinking water causes about 502,000 deaths from diarrhoea annually. Research has shown that diarrhoea is both a cause and a consequence of malnutrition. Diarrhoea prevents children from achieving normal growth, while malnutrition increases the frequency and duration of diarrhoea events.

By 2025, half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas and Africans will constitute an inordinate proportion of that population

In recent years, residents in cities such as Cape Town Flint, Michigan, Rio de Janeiro and in many cities and villages in India, Haiti, Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa, have had to confront outbreaks of illnesses that surge whenever populations suffer from acute shortages of clean water.

Last week Nairobi county issued a cholera outbreak alert. This comes in the wake of a blistering drought and staggering water shortage.

According to official estimates, whose reliability is doubtful, Nairobi receives about 505 cubic metres of water a day, against a demand of 760,000 cubic metres a day. It is estimated that 60 per cent of Nairobi residents do not have access to clean water. Water vending is a lucrative business with complex and politically enabled supply and distribution networks.

At the continental level, America has the largest share of the world’s total freshwater resources with 45 per cent, Asia with 28 per cent, Europe with 15.5 per cent and Africa with nine per cent.

While Africa has just nine per cent of global water resources, it is home to 16 per cent of the world’s population, and this proportion is growing rapidly. Moreover, Africa will also bear the heaviest burden of climate change.

At the national level, stream re-charge has declined to dangerous lows. Hence what is referred to as baseflow or drought flow for all the major rivers is at an unprecedented low.

This is thanks to wanton deforestation, unbridled expansion of agriculture and human settlement. Wetlands and springs have been wiped out of existence by brick-making and farming.

By 2025, half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas and Africans will constitute an inordinate proportion of that population.

Water resource planning and management must come to the fore of public policy and investment. Individuals must also adopt a water ethic as a philosophy in the sense of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.