Water Scarcity and Suffering in Africa


Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Many parts of Africa especially East Africa and the Island of Madagascar located in the Indian Ocean near South Africa are suffering due to scarcity of water. The area of this island state is about the same as that of France and has a population of about 30 million. But the conditions of people in France and Madagascar are vastly different. Incidentally several million years back, Madagascar was linked to India anthropologically in terms of its land shape, climate, agriculture, etc.

People of Madagascar are facing extreme water shortage for their personal use, for their animals and for agriculture. People in this island country are in pursuit of water round the clock. Carts loaded with empty containers, bottles, big jugs, clog the streets and pathways of this island country.

Sometimes men, women and children wander for long duration before they find a water pond or puddle to collect a few liters of this precious commodity. Their effort at collecting some water is made more difficult because of hundreds of people who have gathered to these water ponds or puddles for the same purpose. Sometimes they may find a small hill from where small amounts of water are trickling down, but this is insufficient.

Although located in the Indian Ocean the amount of rainfall is small and this source is becoming even smaller over the last few years. Efforts have been made by some meteorologists to seed clouds; this has helped increase in rainfall only in a few spurts followed again by dry and waterless weather. A community well does collect some rainfall and ground water, but the demand by thousands of people gathered there quickly dries up the well. It takes long duration of time for the well to replenish itself — people collect even at midnight to collect a bucket of the well water but their efforts are helping them only marginally.

A few Water cartels have come up to collect water from various sources and then sell it to those who are unable to collect due to old age or disease or some other factorsThe fees for these operations are increasing acting as a double whammy for the marginalised folks. Some are complaining that due to water inflation, and scarce rainfall, they are compelled to spend more on water than on food. Imagine their physical and mental conditions at this situation.

The Meteorology Department of the country does try to help but they are warning that the dry seasons will become longer resulting in increasing difficulties especially for the poor.

The problem of shortage of water is not confined to Madagascar alone but is a pan African problem. As indicated above, this is causing stress, physical disabilities and increasing number of deaths due to this problem. The journal Down to Earth published from New Delhi has reported in a recent issue that about 90 % deaths of people are occurring due to this shortage. Animals and agriculture are also severely affected.

Whether it is Kenya, Congo , Nigeria or other nations, the problems of decreasing rainfall and availability of water for the poor are increasing. There are some major water basins in Africa —   Congo, Niger, Malawi, Chad, etc. but due to shortfall of water, conflicts and violence are becoming more common. As people say, they can live without food for a day or two but cannot live without a few drops of water to quench their thirst. The problems of environmental pollution are also on the rise aggravating the misery of poor not only in Africa but also in India and elsewhere.

Recalling a well known poem:

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink…”

Let some brave and truthful people help in making this poem redundant.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 May 2022.

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