Water Scarcity in Africa: Causes, Effects, and Solutions | Earth.Org (2023)

The problem of water scarcity has cast a shadow over the wellbeing of humans. According to estimates, in 2016, nearly 4 billion people – equivalent to two-thirds of the global population –experience severe water scarcity for a prolonged period of time. If the situation doesn’t improve, 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. Africa, in particular, is facing severe water scarcity and the situation is worsening day by day. Resolute and substantial action is needed to address the issue.

Water Scarcity in Africa: An Overview

Water scarcity is the condition where the demand for water exceeds supply and where available water resources are approaching or have exceeded sustainable limits.

The problem of water scarcity in Africa is not only a pressing one but it is also getting worse day by day. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), water scarcity affects 1 in 3 people in the African Region and the situation is deteriorating because of factors such as population growth and urbanisation but also climate change.

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Water scarcity can be classified into two types: physical and economic. Physical water scarcity occurs when water resources are overexploited for different uses and no longer meet the needs of the population. In this case, there is not enough water available in physical terms. Economic water scarcity, on the other hand, is linked to poor governance, poor infrastructure, and limited investments. The latter type of water scarcity can exist even in countries or areas where water resources and infrastructure are adequate.

As reported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in 2011, arid regions of the continent – mainly located in North Africa – experience frequent physical water scarcity, while Sub-Saharan Africa undergoes mainly economic water scarcity. Indeed, the latter region has a decent levels of physical water, mainly thanks to the abundant, though highly seasonal and unevenly distributed supply of rainwater. This region’s access to water, however, is constrained due to poor infrastructure, resulting in mainly economic rather than physical water scarcity.

Water Scarcity in Africa: Causes, Effects, and Solutions | Earth.Org (1)

Figure 1: Map of physical and economic water scarcity at basin level in 2007 across the African continent.

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In a 2022 study conducted on behalf of the United Nations University Institute for Water Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), researchers employed indicators to quantify water security in all of Africa’s countries. They found that only 13 out of 54 countries reached a modest level of water security in recent years, with Egypt, Botswana, Gabon, Mauritius and Tunisia representing the better-off countries in Africa in terms of water security.

19 countries –which are home to half a billion people – are deemed to have levels of water security below the threshold of 45 on a scale of 1 to 100. On the other hand, Somalia, Chad, and Niger are the continent’s least water-secure countries.

Egypt performs the best regarding access to drinking water while the Central African Republic performs the worst. The latter, however, has the highest per capita water availability while half of North African countries are characterised by absolute water scarcity. This again shows that Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Africa face economic water scarcity more than physical water scarcity.

Causes of Water Scarcity in Africa

Human activities, which result in overexploitation and global warming, are the main culprit for the water scarcity in Africa. Overexploitation is the main contributor to physical water scarcity. A 2018 report published by the Institute for Security Studies stated that more than 60% of South Africa’s rivers are being overexploited and only one-third of the country’s main rivers are in good condition. Lake Chad – once deemed Africa’s largest freshwater body and important freshwater reservoir – is shrinking because of overexploitation of its water. According to a 2019 report, for this reason alone, the water body of the lake has diminished by 90% since the 1960s, with the surface area of the lake decreasing from 26,000 square kilometres in 1963 to less than 1,500 square kilometres in 2018.

Water Scarcity in Africa: Causes, Effects, and Solutions | Earth.Org (2)

Figure 2: The size of Lake Chad shows a massive shrinking between 1972 and 2007.

The underlying cause for overexploitation can be further broken down to the increase in water demand, driven by the rise in population growth and rate of urbanisation.

Population in Sub-Saharan Africa is growing at a rate of 2.7% a year in 2020, more than twice that of South Asia (1.2%) and Latin America (0.9%). Meanwhile, the population of Nigeria – a country in West Africa – is forecasted to double by 2050. As for the rate of urbanisation, according to the United Nations, 21 out of the 30 fastest-growing cities in the world in 2018 are deemed to be in Africa. Cities such as Bamako in Mali and Yaounde in Cameroon have experience explosive growth.

The booming population will inevitably lead to more food demand, a faster rate of urbanisation and an rise in industrial activities, all of which require abundant water supply.

Climate change and global warming – mainly caused by an increase in human and commercial activities– equally contribute to water scarcity in Africa. As a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa found, a 1C rise in global temperatures would result in a reduction of runoff – excess rainwater that flows across the land’s surface – by up to 10%. Another study stated that the declining trends of rainfall caused by global warming will continue in North Africa, limiting groundwater recharge and exacerbating groundwater depletion. Although in areas closer to the equator, a soar in precipitation will likely occur as a result of global warming, the increased potential evapotranspiration – the combined loss of water through the plant’s process of transpiration and evaporation of water from the earth’s surface –and drought risks in the majority of the continent still outweigh the increased rainfall in these areas.

Consequences of Water Scarcity in Africa

Water scarcity is expected to affect the economic condition, the health of citizens as well as ecosystems in Africa.

In economic terms, the agriculture sector is likely to be hampered under severe water scarcity. Agriculture is one of the most pivotal economic sectors for Africa, employing the majority of the population. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, it accounts for nearly 14% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As the sector that relies on water the most, agriculture is already heavily impacted by water scarcity and the situation is expected to further deteriorate, leading to other issues such as food shortages and, in the worst cases, famine.

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Not surprisingly, water shortage is an immense threat to human’s health. In times of water scarcity, people are often forced to get their water supply from contaminated ponds and streams. When ingested, polluted water results in widespread diarrhoeal diseases including cholera, typhoid fever, salmonellosis, other gastrointestinal viruses, and dysentery. Quality of healthcare services in many African countries is low, with only 48% African people having access to healthcare. The poor system has made diarrhoeal diseases life-threatening and in many cases even fatal.

A study published in 2021 found that severe diarrheal disease accounts for about 600,000 deaths each year in sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority being children and elderly. Diarrheal disease is the third-leading cause of disease and death among African children under the age of five, a situation that public health authorities blame on poor quality of water and sanitation.

Lastly, water shortages jeopardise ecosystems and contribute to a loss in biodiversity. Africa is home to some of the most unique freshwater ecosystems in the world. Lake Turkana is the world’s largest desert lake, while Lake Malawi hosts the richest freshwater fish fauna in the world, home to a staggering 14% of the world’s freshwater fish species. If not tackled, water scarcity will disrupt and likely terminate freshwater and marine ecosystems in the continent.

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Solutions to Water Scarcity in Africa

Remedies for water scarcity are observed on a local, national, and international scale.

Local communities are taking adaptation action. Many opt for drought-tolerant crops instead of crops that require large amounts of water, a strategy to mitigate both water scarcity and food insecurity. Conservation or regenerative agriculture is also introduced to help infiltration and soil moisture retention through mulching and no-tillage approaches. Countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Ethiopia have all adopted such techniques in recent years.

Several governments are also taking steps to tackle water scarcity across the continent. For example, the government of Namibia financed the construction of a urban wastewater management in the capital Windhoek, significantly improving the management of water resources and thus lowering the risk of water scarcity.

International organisations also lend a helping hand in times of water scarcity. In recent years, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) promoted several initiatives and implemented innovative financing model to alleviate this pressing issue. In regions in eastern and southern Africa, UNICEF is cooperating with the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and other international agencies and organisations to evaluate and implement bankable projects in a blended financing mode, particularly targeting the urban areas. For example, the European Union donated 19 million for the construction of water supply systems in the Eswatini’s cities of Siphofaneni, Somntongo, and Matsanjeni. Similarly, the DBSA contributed about 150 million to the construction of the Lomahasha Water Supply. Booster pumping stations as well as reinforced concrete reservoirs are also constructed with the support of international actors.


All in all, the water scarcity problem in Africa is likely to exacerbate under the ever-increasing water demand and rise in global temperatures. Tangible action from all parties is constantly required to tackle this massive problem. Individuals can equally play an important role in alleviating water scarcity in Africa by adopting a more environmental-friendly lifestyle and taking actions in their daily lives to mitigate the effect of climate change and they can develop mindful practises that help safe water, one of the most important resources for life on Earth.

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What are the causes of water scarcity in Africa? ›

The main causes of water scarcity in Africa are physical and economic scarcity, rapid population growth, and climate change. Water scarcity is the lack of fresh water resources to meet the standard water demand.

What are the effects of water scarcity in Africa? ›

Water access impacts food security, and therefore increases hunger rates. Without water for sanitation, meanwhile, it is also difficult to provide communities with basic health care and to protect citizens from preventable diseases.

What are the effects of water scarcity short answer? ›

Water scarcity limits access to safe water for drinking and for practising basic hygiene at home, in schools and in health-care facilities. When water is scarce, sewage systems can fail and the threat of contracting diseases like cholera surges. Scarce water also becomes more expensive.

What are the causes and effects of water scarcity? ›

The concept of water scarcity may also refer to the difficulty in obtaining fresh water sources and the deterioration and depletion of the available water sources. Some of the contributing factors to water scarcity are climate change, water overuse, and increased pollution.

How can we solve water problems in Africa? ›

Ways To Get Clean Water In Africa
  1. Set Up Rain Catchment Tanks. In areas that receive adequate rainwater, a rain catchment system can be an economical solution to water scarcity. ...
  2. Protect Natural Springs. ...
  3. Install Sand Dams. ...
  4. Rehabilitate Old Wells. ...
  5. Build New Wells.
24 May 2019

What are the causes of scarcity of water on the earth? ›

Agriculture consumes more water than any other source and wastes much of that through inefficiencies. Climate change is altering patterns of weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others. At the current consumption rate, this situation will only get worse.

How can we solve water problems? ›

There are ways to save water and prevent water scarcity:
  1. Sustainable water management. Improving water infrastructure must be a priority, as water conservation and efficiency are key components of sustainable water management. ...
  2. Reclaimed water. ...
  3. Pollution control & better sewage treatment. ...
  4. Awareness & Education.

What are the 10 causes of water scarcity? ›

Following are some of the major causes of water shortage:
  • Climate change.
  • Natural calamities such as droughts and floods.
  • Increased human consumption.
  • Overuse and wastage of water.
  • A global rise in freshwater demand.
  • Overuse of aquifers and its consequent slow recharge.

What are 3 effects of water pollution in Africa? ›

Effects of Water Pollution on Africa

' Water scarcity, coupled with poor sanitation practices, has resulted in an abundance of illnesses, diseases, and deaths. Water scarcity can lead to a variety of waterborne tropical diseases, such as typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, and diarrheal illnesses.

What is water scarcity and what are its main causes answer in 30 words? ›

Water scarcity or water stress occurs when water availability is not enough to match the demand for water. It is caused by an increase in population, growing demand for water, and unequal access to it.

What are the effects of water? ›

Effects on Human Health

If drinking water contains unsafe levels of contaminants, it can cause health effects, such as gastrointestinal illnesses, nervous system or reproductive effects, and chronic diseases such as cancer.

What is water scarcity short note? ›

Water scarcity (closely related to water stress or water crisis) is the lack of fresh water resources to meet the standard water demand. There are two types of water scarcity: physical or economic water scarcity.

What are the 3 causes of scarcity? ›

What Are the Main Causes of Scarcity? The primary causes of economic scarcity are demand-induced, supply-induced, and structural.

What are the effects of water scarcity in South Africa? ›

This lack of access to clean water across South Africa will result in many difficulties including issues with health, education, gender equity, and economic development.

How can we improve water supply in Africa? ›

Utilities should invest more in protecting water resources. Improve governance on water issues at the municipal level involving government agencies, the private sector and civil society. Infrastructure planning needs to be multifunctional and integrated. That means more investment must flow into “green infrastructure”.

What are the causes of water scarcity essay? ›

Some of the major reasons are Global Warming and Climate Change; Pollution of the rivers due to industrialization; Deforestation and the cutting down of trees is another reason; Reduced percentage of rainfall due to the climate change pattern; Increase in the population which leads to increase in the use of water.

What are the main causes of water scarcity PDF? ›

Water scarcity occurs where insufficient water resources are available to satisfy long-term average requirements. Population growth, more intensive agriculture, energy and manufacturing needs and tourism all contribute to increasing water use .

What are 3 ways to treat water? ›

Three Ways To Purify Water
  1. Boiling. Bring the water to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes. Let cool before drinking.
  2. Disinfect. You can use household liquid bleach (regular household bleach contains 5.25% sodium hypochlorite) to kill microorganisms. ...
  3. Distillation. Fill a pot halfway with water.

What are the types of water scarcity? ›

Water scarcity is often divided into two categories: physical scarcity, when there is a shortage of water because of local ecological conditions; and economic scarcity, when there is inadequate water infrastructure.

What is water scarcity and what are its main causes in 200 words? ›

Water scarcity is the cause of mismanagement and excess population growth of the water resources. Also, it is a man-made issue that continues to rise. Besides, some of the reasons for water scarcity are: Wasteful use of water for Agriculture- India is one of the major food growers in the world.

What are the three types of water scarcity? ›

There are two general types of water scarcity: physical and economic.

What are the 8 effects of water pollution? ›

6 Effects of Water Pollution
  • Depletion of drinking water supplies. As the resource upon which we depend for our survival, it would be logical to prioritise the safety and sanitation of our drinking water supplies above all else. ...
  • Disease. ...
  • Eutrophication. ...
  • Food chain disruption. ...
  • Agriculture. ...
  • Economic impacts.
16 Apr 2022

What are the 5 effects of human impact on water? ›

They include sedimentation, pollution, climate change, deforestation, landscape changes, and urban growth.

What are 4 effects of water pollution? ›

More than 50 kinds of diseases are caused by poor drinking water quality, and 80% of diseases and 50% of child deaths are related to poor drinking water quality in the world. However, water pollution causes diarrhea, skin diseases, malnutrition, and even cancer and other diseases related to water pollution.

What are the main causes of water scarcity Class 10 Brainly? ›

Water scarcity is a state of insufficient freshwater supply to the population. The primary reason for water scarcity is the over-exploitation of water resources.

How does water affect the world? ›

We rely on water for our food, our health, our livelihoods, and for fun and leisure. But water can also take away life. And the absence of water can be even worse. Currently, 700 million people live in water-stressed areas.

What are 6 effects of water pollution? ›

Polluted water causes some of the deadly diseases like cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, jaundice, etc. About 80 per cent of stomach diseases in India are caused by polluted water.

Why clean water is important? ›

Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Absent, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose individuals to preventable health risks.

What is scarcity and examples? ›

What is Scarcity in Economics. In economics, scarcity refers to the limited resources we have. For example, this can come in the form of physical goods such as gold, oil, or land – or, it can come in the form of money, labour, and capital. These limited resources have alternate uses.

Who is affected by water scarcity? ›

Women and children are worst affected - children because they are more vulnerable to diseases of dirty water and women and girls because they often bear the burden of carrying water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours each day.

What is scarcity in English? ›

a situation in which something is not easy to find or get: the scarcity of skilled workers. Opposites. abundance formal. plenty.

What are the 4 factors driving the water crisis in Africa? ›

Poverty is a huge barrier to access to water and sanitation, and most of the world's poorest countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. Natural disasters, increased pollution, and a lack of resources are all driving forces of the water crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.

What are 3 causes of water pollution in Africa? ›

Runoff of pesticides and fertiliser from nearby farming activities, raw sewage from villages on the lake shoreline, and mining effluent are all causing water pollution.

What are the causes of water scarcity in Nigeria? ›

Our climate is changing at an alarming rate and it's making it even harder for the world's poorest people to get clean water. More frequent and extreme flooding is polluting fragile water sources; longer droughts are drying up springs.

What are the main water resource problems in Africa? ›

In Africa, the accumulation of water- and ecological deficits over nearly four decades of droughts has predisposed the environment to a high level of desiccation and vulnerability. Widespread poverty is another basic factor in Africa's water problems.

What are the 14 causes of water pollution? ›

Various Causes of Water Pollution
  • Industrial Waste. ...
  • Sewage and Wastewater. ...
  • Mining Activities. ...
  • Marine Dumping. ...
  • Accidental Oil Leakage. ...
  • The burning of fossil fuels. ...
  • Chemical fertilizers and pesticides. ...
  • Leakage From Sewer Lines.

Where is water scarcity in Africa? ›

As reported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in 2011, arid regions of the continent – mainly located in North Africa – experience frequent physical water scarcity, while Sub-Saharan Africa undergoes mainly economic water scarcity.

What are 3 major problems in Africa? ›

Intra-state conflict, terrorism, and unconstitutional changes of government are three of the biggest security issues in Africa to monitor in 2022.

What types of water resources are in Africa? ›

Africa appears blessed with abundant water resources: large rivers include the Congo, Nile, Zambezi and Niger and Lake Victoria is the world's second largest. But Africa is the second driest continent in the world, after Australia, and millions of Africans still suffer from water shortages throughout the year.

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