Every so often we hear accounts of the dire situation in the African continent regarding access to water and sanitation. UN-Water reminds us every World Water Day of the billions of people in the world that still don’t have these basic services. And the COVID-19 crisis is reminding us of why clean water and sanitation should matter to us. Although we are appalled by the numbers of the current pandemic, unfortunately other figures, maybe because they are so often heard, don’t seem to leave a lasting impression on us.
A report released last March provides us with another point of view on the water and sanitation data. It comes from over 45,000 interviews done from September 2016 to September 2018 in 34 African countries, home to almost 80% of the people in the continent. Prepared by the Afrobarometer, a non-partisan, pan-African research institution conducting public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, the economy and society in over 30 countries, it gives us a fresh insight, from on the ground face-to-face interviews held in the language of choice of the respondent.
The strength of the Afrobarometer’s data is that respondents are the best judges of their own interests, so they are the ones who can best express how their quality of life is, even if not with great precision. It uses the Lived Poverty Index (LPI), a measure based on a series of survey questions about how frequently people go without basic necessities in the course of a year. It includes enough food, enough water, medical care, etc.
The report finds little progress towards UN SDG no. 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, when the results are compared with Afrobarometer data from previous surveys. Although the findings vary widely from one country to the next, the analysis indicates that about half of Africans surveyed say they do not have enough clean water for domestic use. This is particularly important because it hinders proper hygiene to prevent the spread of infections, as the current coronavirus crises has brought to light. People in rural areas are the most disadvantaged when in comes to access to water and sanitation services.