Climate change continues pressuring African nations to prioritise water and sanitation provision.

The 2023 Africa Sustainable Development Report says, 411 million Africans still lack access to safe water, and almost three-fourths don’t benefit from safely managed sanitation services.

John Cassim

Harare, Zimbabwe – Climate change is likely to continue to heighten pressure for decisive action by African governments, which are widely seen, as failing to provide safe water and sanitation for their citizens, the latest Afrobarometer survey report on water and sanitation has revealed.

The report says several southern African countries including Zimbabwe and Malawi are trending below average regarding the provision of piped water as well as borehole/tubewell.

While the average was 56%, for piped water in the 39 African countries that were surveyed, Zimbabwe had 27%.

“Afrobarometer 2021/2023 surveys find little progress toward the goal of universal access to safe water and sanitation. Water supply ranks fourth among the most important problems that Africans want their government to address,” the report says.

The top three problems are unemployment, management of the economy, and health.

About one in four citizens reported that their household frequently went without enough clean water during the past year.

Only minorities enjoy access to piped water and a sanitation system, with stark disadvantages among rural and poor populations.

A growing majority give their government poor marks on their provision of water and sanitation services.

According to the World Health Organisation and the African Union, safe water and sanitation are essential to the health of all Africans as well as to the social and economic development of their countries, yet millions lack access to both.

Despite the government’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, most countries are not on track to meet their objective of ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

On the one hand, the 2023 Africa Sustainable Development Report says, 411 million Africans still lack access to safe water, and almost three-fourths don’t benefit from safely managed sanitation services.

Key report findings

The Afrobarometer report revealed that nearly six in 10 Africans (56%) say their household experienced a shortage of clean water during the previous year, including 24% who say this happened “many times” or “always.”

Among areas visited by Afrobarometer field teams, 56% had a piped water system. Fewer than one-third had water systems in Zimbabwe (27%), Malawi (28%), Mozambique (28%), Liberia (28%), and Guinea (29%).

On average, four in 10 respondents say they have water piped into their dwelling (27%) or their compound (13%), while about one-third rely primarily on a public tap or standpipe (17%) or a tubewell or borehole (16%).

About one in five rely on well water (14%) or surface water (5%).

Fewer than one-third (31%) of surveyed areas have sewage systems, ranging from 5% in Malawi to 79% in Tunisia.

One-third (34%) of respondents have a toilet in the home, while another 39% have facilities outside their dwelling but within their compound.

One in five (19%) rely on toilets outside their compound, and 8% say they have no access to toilets or latrines.

At least 12 countries recorded no significant change between survey rounds of 2011/2013 and 2021/2023, in the proportion of citizens who rank water supply as a top priority.

Within the same period, 10 countries showed significant increases in public concern, led by Côte d’Ivoire (+12 percentage points), Madagascar (+11), Nigeria (+10), Zimbabwe (+9%), and Uganda (+7).

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