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Water is life. Human existence totally depends on it.

Water is relates to all aspects of human development, and remains the single greatest power to drive industrialization, health and gender equality across the continent.

However, it’s easy to take water for granted.

We often think water problems only exist in poor rural communities and urban slums.

But for the first time, a major international city – Cape Town – could likely run out of water.

It’s been dubbed ‘Day zero’ – the day when the taps could run dry and thousands of people will struggle to find water to perform everyday activities like bathing, cooking and cleaning.

If you have access to clean drinking water, a shower, and running taps in you r home, you’re in the lucky group.

A lot of people around the world are not as lucky.

Did you know any of the following disturbing stats?

663 million people in the world still live without clean water.

1 in 3 people don’t have a decent toilet; and

1 in 9 don’t have clean water close to home.

As the pressures of global population growth and climate change continue, the conversation about water is likely to become more common.

What is the scale of Africa’s water problems?

Access to clean water remains a challenge in parts of the continent, and have serious consequences for health and sanitation.

Each part of the continent seems to face its own challenges associated with the water crisis, and the situation is far from ideal for anyone.

In rural communities…

The rural parts of Africa are probably the most seriously affected by a lack of clean drinking water.

In these parts of the continent, people walk several miles every day to find water to meet their daily needs. And most of the water they find is often polluted and contaminated.

This is why rural communities that face water problems are often hotbeds of disease.

As most people do not have access to toilets or any way to dispose of waste, it is common for diseases like diarrhea and cholera to spread quickly across the community.

And in urban areas…

As more people migrate to Africa’s urban areas, the water supply has come under increasing pressure.

Many urban areas still don’t have dedicated methods of cleaning up the water supply before it is used by the population.

The lack of plumbing or waste removal options causes bacteria, parasites and other contaminants to build up quickly and contaminate the water supply.

Unfortunately, water strain is a big issue in these places, as massive populations place high demands on surface water sources that are slowly dwindling.

In agriculture…

Agriculture puts a huge strain on the water supply while simultaneously causing it to be even more polluted than it ordinarily would be.

The agricultural sector uses surface water much more often than ground water. This practice is contributing to the drying up of large bodies of water and rivers across the continent.

Africa’s wetlands

From freshwater forests to saline lakes and massive flood plains, Africa’s wetlands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world.

They perform important ecological functions such as filtering water and improving air quality.

Rapid urbanisation, pollution, draining for agriculture, as well as challenges posed by climate change are threatening wetlands across the continent.

So, is there a solution?

Gladly, despite the depth and the breadth of the challenges at hand, solutions are within reach.

It is clear that innovation, technology and training are an essential part of creating sustainable solutions that will help us manage the continent’s dwindling water resources.

Many organisations are building sustainable, community-owned water projects to help improve the water situation in Africa.

These initiatives and services that provide solutions to water problems include:

  • Community managed latrines
  • Gravity-fed Schemes
  • Hand dug wells
  • Rehabbed wells
  • Bore-hole wells
  • Solar disinfection systems
  • Hand pumps
  • household sanitation
  • Spring water protection
  • Rain water harvesting
  • Sanitation and hygiene practices
  • Urban pit waste management
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Sand dams
  • Fog harvesting
  • Portable water purification

Some interesting innovations

The Hippo Water Roller is one good example of a practical approach to the water problem.

The product was developed by two South Africans, Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, in response to the daily struggle of rural women and children across Africa to access safe, drinkable water.

It is some sort of “container on wheels” that is used to carry clean water more easily and efficiently than traditional methods used in most rural areas.

The water roller consists of a barrel-shaped container which holds the water and can roll along the ground, and a handle attached to the axis of the barrel.

Another interesting initiative is Aquatrap.

Mark Algra of Cape Town created Aquatrap to save water, by using recycled tyres. Algra has been implementing his design at local schools.

He assists in educating children on how to save water, by providing them with knowledge that they can take home and share with their families and communities.

In closing…

As the wise saying goes, “Adversity is the mother of invention.”

As Africa and the world braces for the effects of dwindling water resources, the continent needs its thinkers, inventors, problem-solvers and entrepreneurs.

We need a blend of solutions that can balance competing demands on our limited water resources and help ensure that Africa is able to meet its water needs both today and in the future.

It’s a great time to be both worried and excited about water.