BJERRINGBRO, Denmark—Three hundred million of the 783 million people facing water scarcity live in Sub-Saharan Africa. As the world’s water supply becomes more and more threatened, the number in this region will continue to disproportionately increase.
The case of water supply in Sub-Saharan Africa is an enigma. While 66 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa is arid or semi-arid, the continent is also home to one-third of the world’s largest international water basins. In fact, recent U.N. estimates show that there are between 63 and 80 transboundary rivers and water basins on the continent.
So with this seemingly abundant supply of water in Sub-Saharan Africa, how come 300 million people remain water scarce? A closer look at the factors influencing water supply reveal a much more complex, international scheme.
The factors affecting water supply usually fall under one of two categories—infrastructure and economics.
No matter how much water a region has, when a country lacks basic infrastructure it cannot reliably deliver water to those in need. This is a problem that disproportionately affects those living in rural areas, which are often neglected or marginalized in development plans.
Furthermore with lack of infrastructure comes lack of sanitation. In Sub-Saharan Africa 695 million people lack access to proper sanitation, a number which has risen since 1990. Using untreated water is highly dangerous and can lead to diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and malaria. The U.N. estimates that six to eight million people die each year from waterborne illness and disease.
Corruption also contributes to water scarcity. In Kenya, where 16 million people do not have access to water, people in slums have to get their water from corrupt vendors who control the taps. The water from these taps is often unclean, and vendors are known to inflate prices up to 50 Kenyan shillings per five gallons.
To rectify these problems the Nairobi City Water and Sewage Company linked up with Danish company Grundfos Lifelink, one of the world’s largest water engineering firms.
In 2009 Grundfos Lifelink brought water ATMs to Kenya’s slums. Drawing on the expertise of the company, Grundfos Lifelink uses solar-powered pumps to deliver water from its source to ATM machines’ various locations. Operating like vending machines, users swipe smart cards to dispense water from the tap.
To combat corruption, water ATM cards are prepaid and subsidized by the Kenyan government. Online revenue collection allows for full transparency in the management of the ‘water ATMs.’ Unlike the inflated prices from slum vendors, users can get five gallons of water for as little as half a Kenyan shilling.
Right now there are 40 Grundfos water ATMs in Nairobi and surrounding areas, providing clean water to more than 100,000 Kenyans in rural and peri-urban communities.
“This is the best project ever that has been started in Mathare—” says Mary Wangare, who lives in the slum— “I am now able to access clean water at a low cost and without worrying about its safety.”
The goal of the partnership between the Nairobi City Water and Sewage Company is to provide a long-term and sustainable solution to water scarcity. To accomplish this, Grundfos’ ATM machines are self-sustaining and last a minimum of five years—a lifespan the company hopes to grow to at least 10.
Grundfos also believes that when communities gain access to reliable water, they will start seeing a rise in income generating activities and general standard of living.
“The Lifelink system makes it easy to get water and water-borne diseases have gone down significantly. Also, people are starting to grow vegetables and distribute water to nearby communities because they know the water will be there tomorrow—” says Grundfos Assistant Chief in Musingini, Kenya, Peter Munyasia.
With the help of international partners UNICEF, the Red Cross, World Vision and the World Food Programme, Grundfos hopes to deliver ‘water ATMs’ to developing countries around the world.
– Celestina Radogno