Water Pollution in Africa: Causes and Effects

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  • 0:01 Why Is Water a Problem?
  • 1:17 Water Issues in Africa
  • 3:44 Solutions to the Problem
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Helmer

Matt is an upcoming Ph.D. graduate and archaeologist. He has taught Anthropology, Geography, and Art History at the university level.

Water pollution is a global problem, especially in developing regions of Africa. In this lesson, learn about the lead contributors to water pollution in Africa and what is being done about the problem.

Why is Water a Problem?

About 70 percent of Earth is covered in water. So, how can it be so difficult for so many people to have access to safe drinking water? How can water pollution be a problem when there's so much of it?

Well, water pollution refers to the contamination of fresh water bodies, the only kind of water that humans can drink. It doesn't help that only 2.5 percent of Earth's water is fresh, drinkable water, and that most of that is trapped in ice at the poles or deep underground. That leaves about 0.007 percent of Earth's water available for almost seven billion of us to use for drinking, growing food, providing energy, and producing goods.

Even items you might not think about require water to produce. For example, a single pair of blue jeans requires about 3,000 gallons of water to produce because they are made of cotton, and cotton is a water-intensive crop. Like so many other issues we face today, water shortage is the price we pay for a booming population as well as industrial and technological progress. Because of Africa's environmental, demographic, and economic issues, the region is one of the hardest-hit areas of the water crisis, and it serves as a warning sign for the rest of the globe.

Water Issues in Africa

Africa is a big place, more than double the landmass of the United States, and it is made up of 54 different countries. Over 358 million people lack safe water throughout Africa. That's nearly as much as the entire rest of the world combined. The first and foremost issue creating the water crisis in Africa is population increase. Africa has over one billion people, and the continent's population has doubled in the last 27 years.

The obvious side effect of population increase is a strain on natural resources, but other consequences include sanitation problems as people continue to live in larger and denser numbers. In developed countries, we almost take for granted our sophisticated water management systems that pump out and filter sewage water while also pumping in safe drinking water we can turn on and off at will.

The thought of not having a toilet would probably mortify most Americans, yet over a third of the world's population, many of them located in Africa, don't have plumbing. This means that human waste mixes in with local water systems, leading to diarrhea, lethal parasites, and diseases such as typhoid and dysentery. Animal waste, fertilizers, and industrial by-products also enter local water systems to make sanitation worse. Children are the most vulnerable to fighting off sanitation-based illnesses, and it is estimated that over half a million children die annually as a result of drinking polluted water.

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