Amount Of Water In Africa Not The Problem, But Delivery To People

Published on by in Non Profit

Ada Oko-Williams grew up in Nigeria, a country with more than 160 million people, but where only half the population has access to safe drinking water. Even fewer people have acceptable sanitary facilities.

She now lives and works in Sierra Leone, and over the past half-decade has worked with charities and non-governmental organizations in West Africa to create open-defecation free communities that benefit hundreds of thousands of people. Oko-Williams says the health problems associated with unsafe drinking water are well-known, but there are other dimensions to a lack of access.

"People are also unable to engage in economic and productive activities because they spend a lot of their time being sick, because they have no access to water and sanitation," Oko-Williams says. "Education and attendance in school [have] increased significantly now…income levels are beginning to increase, which means people have more cash and can do so much more with their lives than they would ordinarily be able to do had these initiatives not happened."

The University of Oklahoma's WaTER Center honored Oko-Williams with the 2013International Water Prize in September. She spoke to KGOU's World Views alongside University College London hydrogeologist Richard Taylor. He says a common misperception is that there's insufficient water in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"The problem is the delivery of water to people," Taylor says. "Whether it's from a tap, from a bore hole, from a protected spring, it's really about the delivery of the water and the distribution of water."

Oko-Williams says the mechanisms for delivering the water are closely tied to governance on a continent with dozens of failed states.

"So government is not responsive to its responsibilities in terms of providing the framework that allows for different actors to get engaged and be able to deliver quality access to water and sanitation for the people."