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Africa’s growing cities face water shortages

  • Africa’s growing cities face water shortages
    Accra. Credit: Wikipedia

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Cities in several African countries, including Ghana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast have been facing water shortages for months, reports Bloomberg. To blame are droughts as well as urban population growing so fast that inadequate investment in water infrastructure cannot keep up with the pace.

In its 2019 World Water Development Report published last March, the UN noted that global water use has been increasing by about 1% per year since the 1980s, driven by a combination of population growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns. The trend is expected to continue until 2050, increasing as much as 30 per cent above the current level of water use. Already over 2 billion people live in countries with high water stress, and stress levels are expected to increase as the water demand grows and the effects of climate change intensify.

Lack of financing

In the poorest continent the population will likely double by 2050, reaching 2.5 billion, and more than half will live in cities by that time, according to UN estimates. The rising domestic demand will be compounded by increased agricultural water demand to feed the growing population. The situation will be difficult even in countries with abundant water resources, as they will have to build water infrastructure to ensure water services.

Data from a study by the African Development Bank indicate the continent will have to spend at least $130 billion on infrastructure, of which $66 billion would be spent on access to water and sanitation. But construction encounters many difficulties: up-front investments, short-term political interests and constrains to borrowing by governments get in the way.

Water restrictions

Zimbabwe suffers the effects of an intense drought and deteriorating infrastructure, so water rationing is the norm in its two main cities, Harare and Bulawayo. Meanwhile, residents of Mozambique’s capital city Maputo also live with water cuts on alternating days since last January due to dwindling reservoir levels.

While taps nearly went dry in Cape Town last year due to an intense drought, Ivory Coast’s second city, Bouake, did run out of water. The government had to resort to tankers to bring in water while thousands moved elsewhere temporarily.

Accra, Ghana’s capital, is fortunate to have regular rainfall, but poor water infrastructure causes water shortages. Residents that are better off can buy bulk water from tankers and store it at home. Others not so fortunate have to fetch water while they harvest every drop they can when it rains. The public utility Ghana Water Co, knows about the supply problems but struggles to set up infrastructure to provide services for the growing city.

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