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Visualizing the Water Accessibility Divide in Sub-Saharan Africa

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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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Mapped: Africa’s Population Density Patterns

We map out Africa’s population density, spotlighting the continent’s most populous countries and cities.

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A cropped map of Africa’s population density, spotlighting the continent’s most populous countries and cities, and the fastest-growing regions.

Mapped: Africa’s Population Density Patterns

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Africa, the world’s second largest continent, spans over 30 million km2, home to the not only world’s biggest desert but also the second-largest tropical rainforest, and of course, approximately 1.4 billion people.

In this infographic, we map out the continent’s population density patterns. It’s a prime example of how humans congregate near fresh water and around the edges of natural obstacles.

This population density data comes from the Gridded Population of the World dataset created by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) hosted by NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC).

Ranked: Most Populous African Countries

Africa’s second largest economy, Nigeria, is also its most populous: more than 220 million people live in this diverse West African country with 250 ethnic groups, speaking over 500 different languages.

And the nation is only growing. By 2100, it’s estimated that the Nigerian population could be more than three-fold its current size, at nearly 800 million residents, becoming the second-most populous country in the world.

RankCountryPopulation
1🇳🇬 Nigeria224M
2🇪🇹 Ethiopia127M
3🇪🇬 Egypt112M
4🇨🇩 DRC 102M
5🇹🇿 Tanzania67M
6🇿🇦 South Africa59M
7🇰🇪 Kenya55M
8🇺🇬 Uganda49M
9🇸🇩 Sudan48M
10🇩🇿 Algeria46M

Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects. (2022)

Across the continent, along its eastern side, Ethiopia, is the second-most populous country on the continent. Unlike Nigeria—which has nearly 20 cities with at least half a million residents—more than three-quarters of Ethiopia’s 127 million people live in rural communities.

Ranked third, Egypt (112 million) is the only North African country in the top five by population. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) comes in fourth (102 million), with Tanzania (67 million) rounding out the top five.

Ranked: Fastest Growing African Countries By Population

In the year 1900, Africa accounted for 9% of the world’s population. Currently its share stands close to 18%. By 2025, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects one in four people in the world to live in Africa, and says the continent’s demographic transition has the power to “transform the world.”

The most populous African countries (DRC, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Egypt) will contribute the lion’s share to this growth of course, but within the continent, other countries are also seeing relatively rapid population growth.

RankCountryGrowth Rate
1🇸🇸 South Sudan4.78%
2🇳🇪 Niger3.66%
3🇧🇮 Burundi3.59%
4🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea3.36%
5🇦🇴 Angola3.34%
6🇧🇯 Benin3.31%
7🇺🇬 Uganda3.22%
8🇨🇩 DRC3.13%
9🇹🇩 Chad3.05%
10🇲🇱 Mali2.93%

Source: CIA World Factbook.

In South Sudan, the world’s newest country, the population is growing at nearly 5% every year. The broader sub-Saharan population meanwhile is growing at half that rate. Aside from a higher fertility rate, the country is also seeing an influx of refugees from conflict areas in neighboring Sudan.

While no other African nation is quite matching South Sudan’s population growth, several of Africa’s poorer economies are also posting an annual population increase of more than 3% including Niger, Burundi, and Chad.

Ranked: Most Populous African Cities

About half of Africa lives in urban areas, which is less than the global average of 57%. The 10 most populous cities on the continent together account for about 115 million people, more than 1.5x the UK’s total population.

Egypt’s capital, Cairo, built along the banks of the Nile, is home to more than 22 million residents, and ranks as Africa’s largest city. This bustling metropolis has stood as an important trade juncture between continents for more than 1,400 years—and is still somehow one of Egypt’s younger cities.

RankCityCountryPopulation
1Cairo🇪🇬 Egypt22.2M
2Lagos🇳🇬 Nigeria21.4M
3Kinshasa🇨🇩 DRC 15.0M
4Johannesburg🇿🇦 South Africa14.8M
5Luanda🇦🇴 Angola9.0M
6Khartoum🇸🇩 Sudan6.9M
7Abidjan🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire6.6M
8Nairobi🇰🇪 Kenya6.6M
9Accra🇬🇭 Ghana6.4M
10Dar es Salaam🇹🇿 Tanzania6.0M

Source: Urban agglomerates (2023) Citypopulation.de.

Down south, across the Sahara desert, and near the shores of the Atlantic, Nigeria’s former capital Lagos has slightly more than 21 million people. The city’s name comes from the numerous surrounding lagoons, and its original name in Yoruba, “Eko”, also means “lake.” Population estimates for the city are often disputed because of several different administrative regions, but also because of how fast Lagos is growing: it’s estimated 2,000 new residents move in every day.

Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC ranks third with about 15 million residents, and is slated to become the fourth largest city in the world, with 35 million people, by 2050.

Johannesburg, South Africa (15 million), and Luanda, Angola (9 million) round out the top five most populous African cities.

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