FACT CHECK: World Water Day: 10 facts – some surprising – about Africa’s water
How many people in the region don’t have safe water? Do Cape Town residents use it mainly for their pools and gardens? Do well-off Nairobians pay less for their water?
Researched by Africa Check
In 2019, World Water Day is focusing on the reasons why so many people still do not have safe water. To mark this day, we’re sharing some facts about water in Africa that we’ve learned from our work in recent years:
In 2018, some 319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa did not have access to a water point that had good hygienic conditions.
In 2017, South Africa’s City of Cape Town municipality battled to bring down water use during a protracted drought. But were residents in formal housing the biggest water “wasters”, with half going to gardens and pools? While Cape Town’s residents did use the bulk of the water, there’s no data to show that they were used to keep gardens green and pools full.
Is it safe to drink Nigeria’s tap water? A large survey of households published in 2017 found that 90.8% of Nigerians’ drinking water contained some level of E coli bacteria, which may cause sickness. Only 3.7% of Nigerians had good access to clean water that was completely safe to drink.
Does South Africa guzzle 235 litres of water per person daily? In 2015/16 the most recent data put the figure at a slightly lower 233 litres. The highest consumption was reported for Gauteng at 305 litres per person per day, while Limpopo averaged the lowest at 182 litres.
Kenya’s Murang’a county is home to the all-important Thika Dam, also known as Ndakaini dam, which supplies 83% of the water used in the capital Nairobi. Dams in two other counties supply the rest. But claims that Nairobi rakes in KSh10 billion from Murang’a county water each year are false. In 2016/17 the capital earned KSh5.1 billion from the sale of water – and not all was from Murang’a.
If you are trying to save water, should you steer clear of bottled water? Advice shared widely on social media has it that it takes 11 litres to bottle just 1 litre of water. But as we found out, this all depends on how the water is treated before being bottled. If it is bottled at the source then very little extra water would be used. But if water needs to be treated through processes like reverse osmosis, deionisation or ultrafiltration, the amount of water required increases.
There are even startling water hoaxes floating around. One of these is a warning shared widely on social media that someone is injecting poison into water bottles in South Africa. But this is a hoax originally from the US. Also, water is not a ‘miracle cure’ for cancer and other illnesses, as claimed on WhatsApp. There are no scientific studies to back this.
It sounds implausible that South Africa would have less water available per resident than its neighbours Botswana and Namibia, home of the Kalahari and Namib deserts. But the claim checks out. South Africa has 822.2 m³ per person Botswana has 1,061 m³ and Namibia 2,505 m³.
Do inhabitants of Nairobi’s slums pay much more for water than those in swanky apartments? At KSh2 per 20 litre jerrycan, slum dwellers pay KSh100 per m³, rising to a massive KSh2,500 per m³ when the price is KSh50 per jerrycan. In comparison, residential customers of the Nairobi Water Company pay KSh204 for their first 6,000 litres (KSh29.4 per m³), KSh53 for water use between 7,000 and 60,000 litres and KSh64/m³ thereafter.
It is often reported that South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world. But available data showed that South Africa had annual rainfall of 495 mm in 2014, moving it slightly down the rankings to 39th position. Egypt (51 mm), Libya (56 mm) and Saudi Arabia (59 mm) had the lowest annual rainfall in 2014.