Today’s indicator figure is 79,580,618
79,580,618 of what?
79,580,618 is the number of people living in EAC countries without basic access to drinking water or over 49% of the population.
What do you mean by basic access to drinking water?
UNICEF and the World Health Organization define various types of water supply. Basic service of drinking water is defined as the provision of water fit for human consumption that does not require more than 30 minutes of travel time. Water which requires trips of longer than 30 minutes to retrieve, or that is sourced from ponds, streams, or unprotected wells is not included in basic service of drinking water. Even with basic drinking water service, consumer level boiling or other treatment of water is necessary.
The Sustainable Development Goals as listed by the United Nations require the provision of basic services, including access to safe, treated water to citizens by 2030. Ninety countries in the world are not projected to meet this goal with regard to the provision of drinking water.
Which EAC country has the highest and which the lowest basic access to drinking water?
Rwanda has the best water access as a percentage of its population at 61.3% of people with basic access to drinking water followed by Kenya at 59.1%, Burundi at 55.6%, Tanzania at 49.2%, and Uganda at only 37.8% of its population having access to basic drinking water.
How does access to basic drinking water compare to other regions of the world?
Globally, 2.1 billion people do not have access to safely managed water. Of this figure, 159 million people drink untreated surface water from lakes or streams. There are 293 million people who need over 30 minutes to retrieve water from an external source.
We see the most dramatic increase in water service in Asia, which added one billion new safe water facilities from 2000-2015. In comparison, Sub-Saharan Africa has added only 100,000 new safe water facilities over the same period.
Is basic water access in the EAC improving or declining?
It is declining. Unfortunately, the population growth of EAC countries has led to more people without basic drinking water access than can be provided. The greatest challenge is seen in Burundi where 53% more people were without basic service in 2015 compared to 2000. Kenya and Tanzania seem to be coming closer to meeting demand with only a 15% increase in people without basic drinking water access during the same period.
How does water access affect the economies of East Africa?
On average individuals lose 30 minutes a day in retrieving water from a water source. Usually, only one or a few members from the family unit have the responsibility of acquiring water for the family. This is a productivity loss that can be addressed with piped treated safe water.
Diarrheal diseases, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, Hepatitis A and Guinea Worm Disease can all be contracted from untreated water. These diseases affect the vulnerable populations the most. Children are particularly vulnerable to these diseases. Piped, treated water can reduce infant deaths by 75%.
The overall water supply affects how much water is available to raise crops of all kinds. Water shortages affect the agricultural sector, the largest sector in the economies of the EAC, dramatically and directly.
What challenges arise in water provision to communities in the EAC?
The main challenges are a lack of infrastructure to install pipes to transport water. Large-scale water treatment requires large treatment, distribution and sanitation facilities. A major obstacle is that many people in the EAC live rurally and far away from each other. The high investments needed to create the needed water infrastructure would understandably need to reach as many people as possible.
Water infrastructure is a historically expensive construction project. Engineers, construction workers, chemists, biologists, geologists, and many other experts will need to contribute to a water infrastructure project in order for it to produce a durable and reliable infrastructure system. The materials needed will be expensive as well. Governments traditionally pay for and manage this process as safe water is a public good that benefits all of society. If the governments do not have the amount of funds on hand, then the next best option is to issue bonds or take out a loan. Bonds are an issue as there is not a near-term revenue stream from water projects and the benefits are indirect impacts on the health care sector.
What is being done in the EAC to meet the need for basic water access?
The EAC is near the end of a large-scale project called the Lake Victoria Water Supply and Sanitation Program. This program has been implemented in over 20 towns and development-centered projects in the EAC. Its main goals are to reduce the pollution flowing into Lake Victoria, a major source of untreated surface water, and to improve sustainable water supply and sanitation infrastructure. So far the project seems very successful.
What are some potential investment themes to meet the regions’ need for water services?
While it is clear that the EAC is taking the necessary steps to increase safe water supply and access, the population growth of the EAC is outpacing the rate of water supply improvements. The people of the EAC will need more options which may include the following:
- Bottled/treated water – those who can afford to typically drink filtered or bottled water with a rising middle class; these consumers are anticipated to increase demand. That said, competition is quite high for bottled water throughout the region.
- Purifying tablets – water sourced from wells may not be clean and still have bacteria or other diseases present. Tablet-based solutions such as iodine tablets or similar can help kill harmful organisms and improve water quality.
- Efficient boilers – those who do not have the ability to buy bottled water typically seek to boil untreated water prior to its consumption which consumes a good deal of charcoal or electricity. Solutions to help the bottom of the pyramid with their water preparation with efficient village-level distribution systems would likely be well received by the market.
- Water systems – large purifying systems offered by engineering firms typically powered by solar or diesel generators suitable for disbursed populations could help meet the market need if the cost were considered affordable by communities
How can I learn more?
To learn more about the topics in this article you can visit:
WHO and UNICEF WASH Reports – https://washdata.org/reports
Basic Water Access in EAC Countries – https://washdata.org/data#!/dashboard/281
About the authors:
David L. Ross is Managing Director of Statera Capital and US Ambassador to the Open University of Tanzania active in growing companies in Eastern and Southern Africa through primary investment, investment advisory, strategic partnerships, and executive education. Connect on LinkedIn at http://tz.linkedin.com/in/davidlross1 or at [email protected]