Children in West and Central Africa

UNICEF in the region

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Water and sanitation

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1013/Asselin
Two girls fill containers with water at a handpump at Idrissa Diouf Primary School in the town of Bignona in the south-western Ziguinchor Region.

West and Central Africa has the lowest coverage of improved drinking water in the world, and the numbers of unserved were higher in 2008 than in 1990.

Eighteen per cent of the world’s population with no access to drinking-water lives in West and Central Africa.

The region lags far behind the progress needed to meet the target on reducing the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water (MDG 7).

Although West and Central Africa’s drinking-water coverage improved from 49 per cent in 1990 to 61 per cent in 2008, it needs to reach a far target of 75 per cent by 2015.

More than 159 million people (39%) were without access to improved drinking-water sources in 2008 and the small pace of increase failed to keep pace with the expanding population in the region (2.7% of population growth for 1990-2007 in West and Central Africa).

Increasing numbers of people without access
The total number of people in the region without access to improved drinking-water sources actually increased over the 1990-2008 period from 119 million people to 241 million.

Only 7 of the 24 countries of the region are on track to meet the MDG 7 water target.

Nonetheless, some countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana merit notice for their progress in increasing access to improved drinking-water sources between 1990 and 2008.  Burkina Faso, for example, boosted its coverage from 41 per cent to 76 per cent, while Chad improved from 38 per cent to 50 per cent.

Though, in 6 countries, drinking water coverage is less than 50 per cent: Chad (50), Democratic Republic of the Congo (46), Equatorial Guinea (43), Niger (48), Maurtania (49) and Sierra Leone (49). 

Disparity in access
The urban-rural divide in drinking water is at its widest in West and Central Africa. The majority of the region’s population remains based in rural areas, but urbanization is increasing fast. Notwithstanding this, the pace of urbanization is such that the absolute number of people without access to drinking water more than doubled in urban areas, from 16 million to 31 million (1990-2008).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Nigeria have particularly low coverage in rural areas, respectively 28, 39 and 42 per cent.

Household surveys confirmed the anecdotal evidence that women shoulder the bulk of the water-collecting responsibility when drinking water is not available on premises. Women, and often girls, are more than twice as likely as men, or boys, to go and fetch drinking water.

Collecting water is a time-consuming task
A vast majority of the population in the region must collect water from a communal source and they must collect sufficient amounts not only for drinking but for the cooking and washing needs of the whole family.

In Burkina Faso, 35 per cent of the population relies on a improved drinking water source that is more than 30 minutes away.

People’s basic water needs for drinking, cooking and hygiene are usually met if they can reach a public water source, collect water and return to their homes within 30 minutes; if the round trip is longer than 30 minutes, people tend to fetch less water than they need.

And there are signs that collection times have increased in some urban areas. In peri-urban areas and slums, irregular or interrupted supplies may cause residents to wait up to several hours before they can collect water.

In Mauritania, 36 per cent of the urban population relies on a water source more than 20 minutes away.

Water contamination
In the region, the most likely pollutant of water is human faeces that have not been disposed of and have spread because of a lack of basic sanitation and hygiene.

Household surveys have shown that the practices of disposing of children’s faeces are often unsafe. Far too many households do not dispose of faeces – in Sao Tome and Principe and in Guinea Bissau, respectively 40 per cent and 29 per cent of households leave faeces in the open.

In Togo, 35 per cont of households declare to throw faeces into garbage or with solid waste, whereas in Cameroon, 65 per cent of households declare to have used the toilets or rinsed the faeces in the toilet.

Water treatment
Unhygienic handling of water during transport or within home can contaminate previously safe water. A high percentage of people could therefore benefit from effective household water treatment and safe storage practices.

Drinking water treatment practices vary greatly among countries. Household surveys have shown that in Guinea-Bissau, 71 per cent of the population strain water through a cloth whereas in Gambia, 78 per cent of the population does not treat water.

Source JMP WHO/UNICEF 2008 and 2010

Case studies on the European Commission-UNICEF partnership for water and sanitation

Progress towards MDG 7 (Water)

The drinking water ladder



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