Tanzania: So Much Water. So What’s the Problem?

Africa boasts two of the world's mightiest rivers—the 6,400-kilometer Nile and the 4,370-kilometer Congo River. It has some of the world’s largest lakes such as Victoria and Tanganyika.
A library photoPhoto courtesy of Yuuji Maruo
And yet huge numbers of the continent's 900 million people have only minimal access to water. A mere 36%, for instance, enjoy basic sanitation and some 288 million people do not have access to safe drinking water.
The health, social and economic costs are staggering. Partially because of the lack of safe water supplies some 85% of the 1.1 million people who die annually from malaria are in sub-Saharan Africa. Children here are 240 times more likely to catch diarrhea, with many of them subsequently dying, as kids in developed countries. Millions of mainly women and children spend most of their days hauling buckets of water from rivers or communal wells. Millions live in permanent poverty because of the lack of water to feed their animals, grow crops and earn a modest income.
Droughts and floods have increased in frequency and severity in the last 30 years and climate change experts say Africa will suffer disproportionately in coming decades further complicating access to water resources.
Why is there seemingly so much water available, yet so many people suffering? There are various reasons. The great water catchments in rivers and lakes is unevenly distributed around the continent. There are vast arid areas with little or no water which nevertheless are home to large populations. Rainfall is often erratic. Many nations are too poor, or sometimes unfocused, to build and maintain water and sewage systems in major population centers. That situation is getting worse as the entire continent continues to 'urbanize.'