Water scarcity in Africa (and how you can help to make a difference)

As weather patterns shift and change over centuries, they determine the quality of life on the Earth below. Soil quality, wildlife and plant biodiversity, resistance to natural disasters; all of these are at the whim of climate.

Of the many types of transformations we’ve seen since humans began to take notice of such things, the process of desertification is perhaps the highest priority. Due to the huge public health and safety risks it poses in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, especially, many organizations are researching methods to combat and mitigate the process.

The process of desertification at work

The definition varies considerably, but it is generally accepted that desertification is process by which land becomes desert through excessive droughts or deforestation. Among the exhibited symptoms is water scarcity. When the demand for water in drylands exceeds what is available, water scarcity results in negative impacts on human health, livestock, fuel, and agriculture.

While drought happens less frequently than other natural disasters, it tends to affect a broad region for seasons or even years at a time, even after the drought ends. In a region with a sufficient support system, the effects may be somewhat mitigated. However, in a region with little support from neighboring communities, the effects can be much more devastating.

Additionally, desertification has long term effects well after the rains become more favorable. Over the course of time that desertification continues, cover vegetation is etched out, causing decreased ability for the soil to hold nutrients. Consequently, the loss of natural support systems is often so crippled that even with the reversal of the trend, flooding, dust storms, and other hazards are increasingly probable. When the land is degraded, it becomes less able to retain water, and water scarcity is increased.

This process has happened independently of human interaction for millennia but our contributions to climate change have shifted the responsibility into our hands. Climate change has seen a significant acceleration in this process, and there are few parts of the world likely to feel the impacts more than sub-Saharan Africa.

The effects of limited access to water need barely be enumerated, and limited access to clean water often result in a higher rate of water-borne illnesses. Despite held-beliefs that humans can adapt and thrive in almost any setting, many of these bacterial diseases can plague people over the course of their lives, skewing development and inhibiting their bodies’ ability to acquire nourishment from food, which results in the severe forms of malnutrition, kwashiorkor and marasmus.

Chronic illness also means severely interrupted, if not totally dismantled, opportunities at seeking education. Lastly, lack of regular access to water also limits agricultural prospects, which not only hold nutritional but economic value for communities.

In light of much of Africa’s perennial and increasing need for access to water, a great deal of research has already taken place on how to put the brakes on this problem. The man who revealed the great quantity of groundwater in Africa recently spoke out, revealing that there is more than previously thought, and public knowledge of this issue is at an all-time high. While accessing groundwater beneath the surface of the Earth can include several points of failure that need to be overcome, (from construction of a bore to access water and regular maintenance after it is complete) research continues to drive this field of study: How do we access groundwater safely and affordably?

A water bore system pumps up the water found in the cracks between soil, sand, and fractured rock, and at best, can be a clean source of drinking water. At the very least, having access to rainfall that has accrued throughout the year gives the recipients an opportunity to use water for cooking, cleaning, growing food, and more. In areas with very poor population, access to groundwater through a bore can act as a buffer to help ensure food security in a number of ways.

With these benefits in mind, two companies are now collaborating to take on an initiative to build a water bore in Tanzania. After creating a trip to, and having an invaluable experience meeting with the Maasai, Gondwana® Ecotours wanted to find a way to give back to the community in a meaningful way. They have set up a partnership with Lems Shoes®, a small, environmentally-conscious shoe company wherein every pair sold with the code Gondwana15 will have 15% of the cost donated toward this initiative. The small village of Engikaret will benefit hugely from this initiative. Maasai Robert Oltumure describes their present situation:

At the moment they…collect water during the rainy season but they only dig a hole on the ground for the rain water collection and there is no fence for water security, so the water is completely unsafe”. 

Recipients of the waterbore

In addition to helping this community tap into their groundwater, it is the two companies’ hope that this campaign will raise awareness about the desertification in the region. Their goals, apart from the bore itself are to spur similar action in other companies and to help push research to continue to make bores increasingly available and effective.

In the short-term, however, this project is a great model for how for-profit businesses can still incentivize and endorse global welfare concerns in a meaningful way. While the international community has taken steps on curbing climate change and its deleterious effects on the planet, immediate action is still absolutely necessary on a global-scale to create a safety-net for African regions to help secure them against disease, drought, and famine.

To learn more, check out the previously posted blog on water scarcity. For more information on desertification in Africa, visit the United Nation’s Convention to Combat Desertification. To get some shoes or plan your next Eco tour adventure, visit Lems Shoes or Gondwana Ecotours.

Maasai at Engikaret Village

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