Among UNICEF’s programming regions, Eastern and Southern Africa ranks lowest in access to at least basic drinking water services.
Over 226 million people in ESA (47 per cent) have no access to at least basic drinking water services.
The highest burden is in countries like Ethiopia (61 million), Uganda (27 million) and Tanzania (24 million). Water supply in institutions (schools and heath care facilities) is not any better. In schools, for example, over 78 million (42 per cent) school-age children have no access to drinking water services in schools.
In efforts to accelerate access to drinking water services in the region, financing is a major bottleneck which needs to be addressed. There is also an increasing shift of populations from rural to urban areas and an exponential growth of small towns, which has great implications on UNICEF programming, which has been mainly rural. Urbanization presents its own challenges, especially in the unplanned areas, currently characterized by poor service delivery and which are epicenters of WASH related public health epidemics such as cholera.
Even where there is access to improved sources, contamination of these water sources and supply systems mainly from poor sanitation and other environmental activities is an increasing challenge in the region. For example, in Ethiopia, only 28 per cent of population with access to basic drinking water services was reported to have access safely managed services, while in Uganda, the proportion is even much lower, standing at only 15 per cent, indicating that most of the improved drinking water sources in the region could be contaminated.
Another key contributor to the growing water crisis is climate change. The region is experiencing droughts and floods that threaten quality and quantity of water. With cholera being endemic in the region, any extreme weather – whether droughts or floods – leads to outbreaks of cholera and other water-borne epidemics. Climate change also impacts heavily on sanitation and hygiene as water scarcity and flooding leads to communities abandoning important sanitation and hygiene behaviors such as use of flooded toilets or toilets that use flushing water and even handwashing. Climate changes are also driving displacement (refugees, IDPs).
Finally, poor management of water supply services is affecting their sustainability. As in other regions in the developing world, the region experiences failure of water systems before their life time, has a high proportion of non-functional systems especially handpumps, breakdown rates are high, and cost-recovery is poor.