One of the world’s poorest countries in the world, the Central African Republic – located just north of the equator in Central Africa – has been described by the United Nations as “the world’s most silent crisis.”
Water quality in the Central African Republic is still a challenge, with the lack of basic infrastructure and ongoing regional and local political instability presenting the greatest obstacles for the local populations to gain access to clean water.
Low water quality in the Central African Republic is correlated with the standards of living for the internally displaced, who are mostly women and children. With skyrocketing infant mortality rates of up to 10 percent, the average life expectancy is only about 50.7 years.
Only about 75 percent of Central African Republic citizens have access to clean water, while only 27 percent have access to sanitary facilities. As a result, gastrointestinal diseases and infections such as tuberculosis, malaria, polio and shigellosis are most prevalent.
In a 2016 study published in the Advanced in Social Sciences Research Journal, water quality in the Central African Republic was found to be dismal with “contamination of fecal microorganisms, excessive use of agrochemicals, uncontrolled discharges from industries and solid and liquid waste from households and municipal” found to be the most common problems.
The study cited other conducted studies and noted that nitrates and coliform bacteria in groundwater came from the reuse of untreated wastewater in agriculture. Additionally, rivers and lakes were found to the most contaminated sources and human activities (such as waste disposal) only made the water pollution worse, resulting in serious risks to the health of the residents.
According to a 2011 Water and Sanitation Program assessment by the World Bank, though the country has seen reforms in its water supply and sanitation, insufficient infrastructure development and financial and political instability has caused slow gains. Severely neglected rural areas with remote access and low population density have taken the brunt of the suffering, with no water sanitation or safety.
With bottled water in supermarkets costing about $1 per liter, natural water has become a precious resource. Water-borne diseases are so common that according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) it is not uncommon “to see children with distended bellies due to parasites.”
Due to the low level of rainfall, agricultural production is low, threatening the food supply and needs of the local population. Relying on local water pumps for their daily needs, residents are forced to drink dirty or contaminated water.
The ICRC has worked extensively to provide drinking water to the population and maintain water quality in the Central African Republic. For instance, in 2013, ICRC sent 200 tons of water treatment products in the country following the latest violence in the capital.
Yet, water quality in the Central African Republic has been severely degraded by soil erosion, deforestation, agricultural runoff, untreated sewage outflows and mining area effluents.
Outside the country, the European Commission has provided funds to Solidarités International to assist the refugees fleeing from the Central African Republic and ensure their access to a safe water supply. Water pumps, lockable toilet and shower blocks, and laundry points have been provided to refugees and self-service and -maintenance has been encouraged.
According to UNICEF Central African Republic Representative Souleymane Diabaté, “access to safe drinking water remains out of reach to many people who have been displaced by the violence.”
Speaking of an initiative in 2014 in which drinking water was provided to more than 183,000 people ahead of the rainy season, Diabaté said, “as the first heavy rains have already begun, standing water and flooding increase the risk of a cholera outbreak. Children are particularly vulnerable to diseases related to bad water and inadequate sanitation conditions, and reliable supply of safe drinking water is crucial to their survival and well-being.”
In the same year, of the $62 million requested by the UNICEF to meet the children’s humanitarian needs, $14 million was proposed to be used for water, sanitation, and hygiene needs.
Increasing water access and improving water quality in the Central African Republic remains a long road due to the political and economic situation in the country. With the assistance of the international aid organizations and water sanitation initiatives by the government, this conflict-riddled country may well be well on its way to providing safe water to all of its residents.
– Mohammed Khalid