World Water Day 2019 coincides this year with the closure of the African Climate Week in Accra meant  “to provide more practical solutions for channelling financial resources towards national climate ambitions”. This day is marked a few days after Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, affecting more than 2 million people, a stark reminder of the moral imperative to act on climate change and its deadly reality, especially in Africa.

Access to water has been internationally recognised as a human right since 2010. Yet, more than two billion people did not have access to safe drinking water in 2018. Despite significant progress over the last 15 years, the goal of providing safe water to all is still inaccessible for much of the world’s population. Marginalized groups – women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and many others – are often neglected and sometimes discriminated when trying to access safe water and sanitation.

Some recent statistics from 2019 on the water access situation reveal that water is still rather a luxury for those who have it on a daily basis

  • 2.1 billion people live without safe water at home.
  • One in four primary schools has no drinking water service, with pupils using unprotected sources or going thirsty.
  • Around 4 billion people – nearly two-thirds of the world’s population – experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.
  • Globally, 80% of the people who have to use unsafe and unprotected water sources live in rural areas.
  • Women and girls are responsible for water collection in eight out of ten households with water off-premises.
  • 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030.

In Africa, climate change is already hitting the continent hard, making the water availability and accessibility particularly difficult as rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns make access to water difficult and lead to lower water levels and weak agricultural yields. The reduction of water reserves and the degradation of ecosystems have an immediate impact on agriculture.

According to the international scientific journal IOPScience, Eastern and Southern Africa will see their crops affected by climate change by 2030. For example, wheat varieties grow well at temperatures between 15 and 20ºC, but the average annual temperature in sub-Saharan Africa now exceeds this range during the growing season. If these climatic trends continue, wheat production could, therefore, decline by 10 to 20% by 2030 compared to yields in 1998-2002.

In South Africa, water has been a big issue recently. In 2018, Cape Town, one of the biggest cities in the country, almost ran out of water. While the real result of this would have been taps running dry in more affluent homes, there is an ongoing crisis in less prominent (and therefore less reported on) places. Many towns in the Western and Eastern Cape (two of South Africa’s provinces) are still dealing with water shortages. Climate scientist has estimated that the drought that Cape Town experienced was 30% worse due to the effects of climate change. South Africa is a water stressed country, and climate change is increasing the average temperature at a rate double that to the global average. This means that in the future we are likely to experience more severe droughts, leading to increased water shortages for people, agriculture and industry. The poor in South Africa will be most affected by climate change.

The theme for World Water Day 2019 is ‘Leaving no one behind’. However, this will remain an empty slogan as long as there are no efforts from central and local governments and development agencies to include people who have been marginalized or ignored. Water services must meet the needs of marginalized groups and their voices must be heard in decision-making processes.

To address the high levels of inequalities in accessing safe water, African countries, being the most impacted by climate change, must have a pronounced interest in meeting 1.5°C and pledge to phase out fossil fuels projects while accelerating the transition to a just, clean energy economy. For Africa, it is a question of survival as climate change hits it double as hard than the rest of the world.


– Landry Ninteretse, 350Africa Team Leader