National Policies Essential for Safe Drinking Water in Rural Africa

Policy brief outlines necessary actions to ensure safe and clean drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa

CIGI Well Water Water Treatment

A new policy brief recommended how governments, non-state actors and communities in sub-Saharan Africa can contribute to meeting the United Nations’ 2015 Millennium Development Goal on ensuring safe and clean drinking water.

Published by the Africa Initiative (AI) and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), "Keeping Water Clean Through Evidence-Based Policy in Northern Uganda" reported that “unlike urban water supplies, which are regularly tested for contamination by national authorities, rural water supplies are rarely tested in sub-Saharan African countries.” Written by Christopher Opio, an AI research grant recipient and professor of ecosystem science and management at the University of Northern British Columbia, the brief reveals that the transportation to and storage of water in households can cause clean water to become contaminated, demonstrating the need for water policies that extend beyond well construction. These findings pose a problem because a lack of clean drinking water “has direct and immediate consequences for quality of life, food security, long-term socio-economic development and the eradication of poverty.”

Opio’s findings are based on field research, specifically on water samples, collected from bore wells and storage containers in rural northern Uganda. Due to common practices, his recommendations are universal to rural Africa, despite the variety in “geology, climate, weather, infrastructure, government policy, land use practices, poverty, levels of education and many other socio-economic conditions that affect the quality and management of drinking water in the region.”

Opio argues that after constructing water wells, there must be ongoing efforts by countries and communities to develop water management policies to ensure clean drinking water. He offers suggestions for three categories of actors throughout Africa:

Actions for national governments:

  • Develop strong rural drinking water monitoring and surveillance programs to ensure that water quality is maintained.
  • Implement education programs that promote sound water management practices, with an emphasis on proper sanitation in the handling of water containers and storage facilities.
  • Engage communities in the planning, installation and management of borehole drinking water delivery systems and sanitation programs.

Actions for NGOs and other non-state actors:

  • Consult technical staff, public health authorities and a hydro-geologist when siting new wells.
  • Test newly constructed wells regularly to ensure the water is fit for consumption.
  • Support government initiatives to educate the rural public. Radio programs, videos and pamphlets are excellent methods of disseminating such information.
  • Plan the digging, site selection, installation and management of new wells in close consultation with the villagers that will use them.
  • Depending on available resources, check bore wells annually to determine whether or not they are working and to identify what is wrong with those that are not working.

Actions for communities and households:

  • Regularly clean and disinfect water storage and collection facilities.
  • Always keep water collecting cans and storage pots closed when not in use.
  • Assign a management committee (chairman, secretary and treasurer) for each water source.
  • Take ownership of the systems and programs to increase the likelihood of long-term success in providing clean water.

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