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Key findings
  • Across 36 countries, almost half (45%) of respondents say they went without enough clean water at least once during the previous year. One in five (19%) did so “many times” or “always.”
  • A majority of Africans (51%) can only access water outside of their compound.
  • More than one-third (36%) of surveyed communities have no infrastructure for piped water. More than two-thirds (68%) lack sewerage infrastructure.
  • One in five citizens (20%) have to leave their compound to use a latrine, and almost one in 10 (8%) have no access at all to a latrine or toilet, even outside their compound.
  • Rural residents have far less access to water and sanitation than their urban counterparts. North Africa outperforms other regions, while East Africa lags behind.

If water is fundamental to life and human dignity, no issue is more pressing for 663 million people for whom access is still lacking (United Nations, 2015). As World Water Day (March 22) reminds us, safe and readily available water is a human right and an important contributor to public health, whether it is used for drinking, washing, food production, or recreational purposes. Contaminated water and inadequate sanitation help transmit diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, and typhoid; diarrheal deaths due to unclean drinking water are estimated at 502,000 each year, most of them of young children (World Health Organization, 2015). Improved access to safe water and sanitation boosts economic growth, contributes to poverty reduction, and is highly relevant to achieving all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from health and education to food security and environmental sustainability (World Bank, 2014).

Substantial progress was made under the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) initiative; worldwide, the target of reducing by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water was met in 2010. But in sub-Saharan Africa, most countries fell short, and achieving the new SDG No. 6 – ensuring access to water and sanitation for all by 2030 – will require intensive and sustained action.

In observance of World Water Day, new findings from Afrobarometer’s Round 6 surveys in 36 African countries give voice to citizens who call on their governments to address inadequate water supply and sanitation as a top priority. Despite some infrastructure improvements, nearly half (45%) of Africans went without enough clean water for home use during the past year. More than half (51%) have to leave their compounds in order to access water. One-third of surveyed communities lack access to a piped-water system, and two-thirds lack access to sewage infrastructure. Citizens’ ratings of their government’s performance in providing water and sanitation services worsened over the past decade: A majority say their government is doing a “fairly” or “very” poor job.

John Kewaza

John Martin Kewaza is a researcher for Hatchile Consult in Uganda.<br />