The impact of climate change on water stocks

By Felicity Checksfield – Art in Tanzania internship

Climate change is having an instrumental impact on water stocks in Eastern Africa. This is consequently impacting many citizens’ enjoyment of their human rights. The United Nations suggests that ‘water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change’ (United Nations, 2018). This is because higher temperatures and more extreme, less predictable, weather conditions are projected to affect the availability and distribution of rainfall and further deteriorate water quality. As of 2019, 12% of the world population drinks water from unimproved and unsafe sources and more than 30% of the world population, or 2.4 billion people, live without any form of sanitation (United Nations, 2020).

Specifically, in Eastern Africa, 75% of Africa’s population could be at risk of hunger. This is because 75 million hectares of land currently suitable for agriculture is being lost in sub-Saharan Africa due to drought. This is a matter pertaining to human rights for a number of reasons. Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and polio. Inadequately managed water and sanitation facilities expose individuals to health risks that would be otherwise preventable. It is predicted that approximately 842, 000 people are to die each year from diarrhea as a result of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation and hand hygiene.

This post with consider potential climate policies from a variety of time scales and their effectiveness at combating the issue of water scarcity in Eastern Africa. Some of the policies to be assessed will include the re-use of wastewater, to recover water and improved sanitation.

Population data

The current population of Eastern Africa is approximately 451, 600, 500. However, 37% of people in the world that do not have access to safe and clean water live in this region. Access to sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa is in fact declining with only 31% of people able to access a toilet (6% less than that reported in 2006). 

In Tanzania, the population is approximately 60,712,700, with 80% of people living in rural areas. These rural areas are especially sparsely population, with as low as 1 person per square kilometers. This increased to approximately 53 people per square kilometer in the water-rich mainland highlands. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of Tanzania’s rural population relies on use of natural resources to sustain a livelihood, which makes stewardship of these resources a fundamental priority for Tanzania’s continued stability and growth. However, 4 million people in Tanzania lack access to an improved source of safe water, and 30 million don’t have access to improved sanitation.

Agricultural Production Data

These statistics have instrumental implications for the production of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and Tanzania. This is because approximately 93% of water withdrawn from the Tanzanian environment is used for agriculture. It is therefore of great importance that Tanzanian communities have access to safe and clean water. Agriculture accounts for 27% of Tanzania’s gross-domestic product (GDP) and provides employment for the majority of the nation’s population. Moreover, the livestock sector contributes 7% to the country’s GDP. The sector is severely constrained by low livestock reproductive rates, high mortality and high disease prevalence.

By the 2080s, land unsuitable for agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa due to severe climate, soil or terrain constraints may increase by 30 to 60 million hectares (United Nations, 2019). It has been projected that, as a result, there will be a 4.9% decrease by 2080 in agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, 2020). This will have a detrimental impact on the economy of rural Tanzania that relies considerably on agriculture production and livestock to supports livelihoods. 

Human rights and vulnerable groups in rural Tanzania

Climate change, and its effects on water stocks, has a variety of impacts on individuals. Some of the factors include whether they live in rural or urban areas, whether they live in an area that receives high rainfall or whether they belong to a group that is particularly vulnerable or marginalized. 

a) Children

Children and young adults are particularly vulnerable to climate change and water scarcity. Children make up approximately 44% of the Tanzanian population and all are vulnerable to poor health, malnutrition and to the general lack of basic needs, at different levels depending on the structure and assets commanded by their families. Children under-five are mostly vulnerable to diseases, malnutrition, and inadequate care.

By 2002, 4.1 million out of 10.2 million children in Tanzania aged 5-14 years were not attending school. The often-long distances to primary school is a problem to about 30% of households. That may discourage children from attending school and receiving an education which commonly includes information about the importance of access to water and sanitation. As we shall see later on, schools are also increasingly becoming an important place for children to access clean water and sanitation facilities.

b) Women

Women are especially vulnerable to the implications of water scarcity due to their existing lack of social mobility. When this is paired with food insecurity, limited access to health, sanitation and education, the result is a low income. This perpetuates social isolation and as a result it puts powerful constraints on their capacity to make a living. Moreover, poor access to water and other household services, often results in women spending long hours and walking long distances to collect these amenities. Finally, many women experience stressful childbearing and rearing due to inadequate or poor-quality maternal health care, sanitation and a clean environment. 

c) Disabled individuals 

One of the core characteristics of persons with disabilities is their limited mobility, which reduces their opportunities for participating in income generating activities to increase their wealth. This consequently limits their access to basic needs such as food, health services and education. When this preexisting vulnerability is paired with intense water scarcity, disabled individuals can become some of the most marginalized in rural communities.

d) Individuals with a long-term illness

Finally, individuals with a long-term illness are at an acute health risk which water scarcity can perpetuate. In 2001, approximately 28% of the rural people fall into this category. In Dar es Salaam and other urban areas, the figures decreased to approximately 19%. By any means this is an enormous figure as more than a quarter of the population falls into this category. Poor nutrition and health services that weaken the health status of the members of poor households exposes them to the risks of contracting diseases and living with ill health. These individuals could be vulnerable to poverty, as they cannot work. Access to clean water is therefore instrumental in preventing the decline of their condition. 

Tanzanian Government Policies for Climate Change

There is an abundance of legal provisions that support the securing of access to clean water. Africa is particularly advanced in comparison to the rest of the world in this respect. The African Charter of Human Rights was the first broadly ratified international document which stipulated the right ‘to a general satisfactory environment’ and referred to the right as one of ‘peoples’ in a community, as opposed to individuals. This has the effect of emphasizing both the rights and duties of individuals consistent with African conceptions of human beings as integral members of a larger community.

The Tanzanian government have provided the Environmental Management Act 2004 which aims to provide the goals of this charter. Section 4(1) provides that every person living in Tanzania shall have a right to clean, safe and healthy environment and section 4(2) states that this shall include the right of access by any citizen to the various public elements or segments of the environment for recreational, educational, health, spiritual, cultural and economic purposes. 

The 2004 Act established the existence of the Tanzanian National Environment Management Council. As per section 17(1) the object and purpose for which the Council is established is to undertake enforcement, compliance, review and monitoring of environmental impact assessment. As per section 17(2) the Council shall prepare and submit to the Minister a bi-annual report concerting how it has implemented the provisions of this Act and fulfilled the objects and the purpose for which it was established. 

However, these provisions provide of no more than a broad and general right. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has suggested five policy responses to implement such a goal.

  1.  Include adaptation and mitigation measures for agricultural water management in national development plans.
  2. Promote technical and management measures to improve the flexibility of rainfed and irrigated agriculture and reduce water losses in irrigated production systems.
  3. Improve knowledge on climate change and water and share good practice among countries and regions.
  4. Promote risk management in national policies through better monitoring networks and innovative insurance products.
  5. Mobilize adaptation funds to meet the challenges of water and food security under climate change.

5.1.      School Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (SWASH) guidelines

The School Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (SWASH) guidelines provide one example of the Tanzanian government adopting some of these policy responses. The guidelines aim to increase education and awareness of the importance of access to water and sanitation. It is a toolkit with both hardware and software aspects to bring about changes in the hygiene behavior of students and, through these students, in the community at large.

They suggest a number of systems and methods to improve sanitation, water preservation and water collection.

Protected springs offer a source of water that is often free from pathogens. If the dissolved minerals are within permitted parameters, they can provide good quality drinking water. SWASH advices that at the collection point of the spring, appropriate civil construction can prevent this water from being contaminated. Moreover, the surrounding environment of the spring should not be degraded, and advices against deforestation or contamination in this area especially. 

Shallow wells or hand dug wells are a simple method of making use of groundwater. They are only suitable for regions that have an especially high-water table and good water quality. However, SWASH provide two systems – one automatic and one manual – for the collection of water. Rainwater harvesting is another simple and yet effective way of collecting water. 

However, as SWASH highlights, the weakness in these methods often comes in the form of sanitizing the water before drinking it. It is necessary to follow the methods provided and removing any solid material and boiling the water to remove any bacteria. This reduces the chances of contracting waterborne diseases. 

With regard to sanitation, ventilation improved pit (VIP) latrines serve to provide a clean and cheap way to store human waste. A draft is passed through the collection area of the pit which means that the smell and insects cannot linger. This improves sanitation and the appeal of using the facilities. 

Finally, the guidelines significantly stress the importance of using hand washing stations. This is a simple but highly effective way in which students can reduce the likelihood of carrying diseases on their body and spreading infection. 

What next?

The SWASH guidelines provide an incredibly important educational tool for schools to implement these systems. However, a lot of the structures require advanced infrastructure in order for their long-term effectiveness. There consequently needs to be much more investment in these rural communities in order for these systems to be of the best quality they can be. For example, the VIP latrines require a high level of construction to prevent the human waste from contaminating the surrounding groundwater and soil.

Moreover, in order for the program to work as intended, its information and guidance needs to be spread beyond the school environment and implemented in rural communities. This distribution of information is arguably the most effective way of mitigating the impacts of water scarcity in these regions. The important work of Non-Governmental Organizations such as Art in Tanzania in distributing and educating local communities is an example of this. 

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