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Visualizing the Water Accessibility Divide in Sub-Saharan Africa



chart showing water accessibility in rural and urban populations across sub saharan africa

Visualizing the Water Accessibility Divide in Sub-Saharan Africa

According to the United Nations, having access to safe drinking water is a universal human right.

Yet, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 39% of the population has water connected to their homes—and in the region’s rural areas, this figure drops to just 19%.

This graphic by Gilbert Fontana uses data from the United Nations to compare water accessibility in different countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. The data specifically looks at water on-premises, which is defined as water that’s connected to a person’s dwelling.

The Water Accessibility Gap

In Sub-Saharan Africa, water accessibility varies greatly both within and across countries.

For example, Ethiopia has one of the widest gaps within a single country—while 75% of its urban population has access to on-premises water, only 5% of its rural population has water piped to their homes.

While it is one of the most populated countries in Africa, with more than 115 million people as of 2020, Ethiopia is also one of the poorest. It has a national income per capita of only $890, and about 20% of Ethiopia’s population lives in rural areas of the country, leaving about 4.5 million people without access to on-premises water.

Here’s a breakdown of water access in other countries across Sub-Saharan Africa:

CountryPopulation Type% of population with drinking water on premises (2020)
🇲🇺​ MauritiusUrban99.9%
🇲🇺​ MauritiusRural99.8%
​🇦🇴 AngolaUrban54.7%
​🇦🇴 AngolaRural7.5%
​🇧🇯​ BeninUrban39.9%
​🇧🇯​ BeninRural10.4%
🇧🇼 BotswanaUrban95.1%
🇧🇼 BotswanaRural50.2%
​🇧🇫​ Burkina FasoUrban57.9%
​🇧🇫​ Burkina FasoRural3.1%
🇧🇮 BurundiUrban58.5%
🇧🇮 BurundiRural3.0%
🇨🇲 CameroonUrban54.7%
🇨🇲 CameroonRural7.5%
🇨🇻​ Cape VerdeUrban92.2%
🇨🇻​ Cape VerdeRural80.1%
​​🇨🇫 Central African RepublicUrban11.5%
​​🇨🇫 Central African RepublicRural2.3%
🇹🇩​ ChadUrban30.5%
🇹🇩​ ChadRural2.0%
🇨🇮 Côte d'IvoireUrban73.0%
🇨🇮 Côte d'IvoireRural14.6%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the CongoUrban40.4%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the CongoRural1.0%
🇩🇯 DjiboutiUrban58.2%
🇩🇯 DjiboutiRural4.5%
🇸🇿 EswatiniUrban93.1%
🇸🇿 EswatiniRural37.3%
🇪🇹 EthiopiaUrban75.1%
🇪🇹 EthiopiaRural5.2%
🇬🇦 GabonUrban76.3%
🇬🇦 GabonRural18.9%
🇬🇭 GhanaUrban60.3%
🇬🇭 GhanaRural16.1%
🇬🇳 GuineaUrban77.5%
🇬🇳 GuineaRural21.5%
🇬🇼 Guinea-BissauUrban40.9%
🇬🇼 Guinea-BissauRural4.7%
🇰🇪 KenyaUrban57.7%
🇰🇪 KenyaRural23.4%
🇱🇸 LesothoUrban78.1%
🇱🇸 LesothoRural8.9%
🇱🇷 LiberiaUrban23.5%
🇱🇷 LiberiaRural4.8%
🇲🇬 MadagascarUrban38.2%
🇲🇬 MadagascarRural13.7%
🇲🇼 MalawiUrban54.4%
🇲🇼 MalawiRural10.2%
🇲🇱 MaliUrban61.5%
🇲🇱 MaliRural16.5%
🇲🇷 MauritaniaUrban54.4%
🇲🇷 MauritaniaRural28.7%
🇲🇿 MozambiqueUrban65.2%
🇲🇿 MozambiqueRural13.7%
🇳🇦 NamibiaUrban74.9%
🇳🇦 NamibiaRural48.2%
🇳🇪 NigerUrban65.8%
🇳🇪 NigerRural7.7%
🇳🇬 NigeriaUrban39.9%
🇳🇬 NigeriaRural17.7%
🇨🇬 Republic of the CongoUrban69.2%
🇨🇬 Republic of the CongoRural19.1%
🇷🇼 RwandaUrban45.5%
🇷🇼 RwandaRural5.0%
🇸🇹 São Tomé and PríncipeUrban40.1%
🇸🇹 São Tomé and PríncipeRural24.7%
🇸🇳 SenegalUrban87.5%
🇸🇳 SenegalRural59.0%
🇸🇱 Sierra LeoneUrban24.6%
🇸🇱 Sierra LeoneRural9.2%
🇸🇴 SomaliaUrban68.1%
🇸🇴 SomaliaRural9.1%
🇿🇦 South AfricaUrban91.2%
🇿🇦 South AfricaRural51.3%
🇸🇸 South SudanUrban3.7%
🇸🇸 South SudanRural2.6%
🇹🇿 TanzaniaUrban65.9%
🇹🇿 TanzaniaRural19.9%
🇬🇲 The GambiaUrban67.6%
🇬🇲 The GambiaRural7.6%
🇹🇬 TogoUrban36.8%
🇹🇬 TogoRural6.7%
🇺🇬 UgandaUrban42.8%
🇺🇬 UgandaRural8.0%
🇿🇲 ZambiaUrban56.9%
🇿🇲 ZambiaRural8.6%
🇿🇼 ZimbabweUrban67.9%
🇿🇼 ZimbabweRural12.9%

As the table above shows, the rural population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is facing some of the worst water scarcity issues across the region, with less than 1% of its rural population having access to on-premises water.

This is particularly worrisome because the DRC has the most fresh-water resources of any country in Africa.

Yet, due to poor infrastructure and conflict-related damage to facilities, hundreds of thousands of people in the DRC do not have safe running water in their homes.

What’s the Impact on the Population?

Without water connected to their homes, people have no choice but to walk to the nearest water source, to collect and carry it back to their homes.

Often, the burden of collecting water falls onto women and children, which can impact their access to education and opportunities to study.

In Chad, where 2% of the rural population has running water in their homes, female literacy rates sit at 14%. According to data from UNESCO, more than 700,000 children weren’t in school in 2019, and of those children, almost 500,000 were female.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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When Will the Global Population Reach Its Peak?

Population projections from the UN suggest that there will be over 10 billion people by 2060, though other organizations disagree.



Comparing Global Population Projections to 2100

When will the world reach its peak population?

According to data from the United Nations’ 2022 Revision of its World Population Prospects, we could see a peak of over 10.4 billion people sometime in the late 2080s.

While the UN’s projections are the most widely used, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most accurate. Several alternative models have predicted an earlier and lower peak, suggesting that the world’s population could decline sooner than expected.

In the UN’s latest revisions, it lowered its own estimates for global population in 2100, from 10.9 billion (as of 2019) to 10.4 billion (as of 2022).

In this graphic, we’ve visualized population projections to 2100 from three organizations: the UN, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Data and Highlights

The population projection data we used to create this graphic is listed in the table below. Note that UN projections are as of 2022, IHME are as of 2020, and IIASA are as of 2014.


From this data we can see that the UN expects the world to hit peak population in 2086, as well as maintain above 10 billion people in 2100.

On the other hand, neither the IHME nor IIASA models expect global population to reach 10 billion, instead forecasting a peak of 9.7 billion in the 2060s (IHME) or 9.4 billion in 2070 (IIASA). Both models also predict population to fall back to the 8 billion range by 2100.

The differential at 2100 is substantial, with IHME’s forecast lower than the UN’s by 1.6 billion people, for example.



What Is the IHME and IIASA, and Why Do They Differ?

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is a Seattle-based research institute founded in 2007 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its mission is to “deliver to the world timely, relevant, and scientifically valid evidence to improve health policy and practice.”

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), on the other hand, is an international research institute based in Austria, dating back to 1972. It was established to improve scientific cooperation between the Soviet Union and the U.S., and today has members in over 20 countries.

To understand why the IHME and IIASA models differ from the UN’s, let’s look at each organization’s projections for fertility rate, which is measured as the number of children per woman.

fertility rate projections

Based on this chart, the IHME and IIASA expect global fertility rates to fall at a quicker rate pre-2050, then stabilize as we approach 2100. This contrasts with the UN’s projections, which expect fertility to decrease at a slower, steadier rate all the way to 2100.

Generally speaking, a country’s birth rate declines as it becomes more developed. This is due to many factors like higher education rates for women (and thus more women in the workforce), greater access to contraceptives and family planning, as well as higher childbearing costs.


How Fast Will Fertility Rates Fall in Africa?

Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest fertility rates in the world, but this is quickly falling as the region experiences rapid economic growth.. For instance, GDP per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa has climbed from $632 in 2000, to $1,690 in 2022.

Because of this economic transformation, some researchers believe that Africa will undergo a fast demographic transition similar to East Asia, in which population growth falls off sharply. For instance, a UNICEF survey from 2021 found that fertility rates in Nigeria had fallen from 5.8 to 4.6 (a 17% decrease) in just five years time.

ℹ️ Consider this July 2023 article from the Wilson Center for more context on the evolution of Nigeria’s demographics.

Now going back to the question at hand, let’s see how the UN and IHME’s fertility rate projections for Sub-Saharan Africa differ.

Sub-Saharan Africa Fertility Rates

These differences may seem small, but even a few decimal places can have a huge impact. For example, let’s revisit the UN’s population projection for the year 2100, which was 10.4 billion people.

Under the UN’s low fertility scenario (birth rates remain 0.5 lower), population in 2100 would be a significantly smaller 7.0 billion. Meanwhile, under the high fertility scenario (birth rates remain 0.5 higher), population would balloon to 14.7 billion.

As a result, how birth rates change in high fertility regions like Sub-Saharan Africa will have a significant influence on when the global population will reach its peak.


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