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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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Map Explainer: Sudan

This comprehensive map explainer covers both key facts about Sudan, as well as information on the violent power struggle unfolding there



Map Explainer: Sudan

The African nation of Sudan has been in the headlines, as intense fighting has rocked the country. As this bloody power struggle plays out, the map infographic above aims to provides key information on the conflict, as well as general facts and context about the country.

To begin, what exactly is happening in Sudan?

The 2023 Conflict in Sudan: A Primer

As explosions echo throughout Khartoum—Africa’s sixth largest urban area—many around the world are left wondering how the conflict escalated to this point. Here are five things to know:

  1. Two generals have been sharing power since a coup in 2021. The first is General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the Sudanese Army. The second is General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti), who leads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group. This power-sharing arrangement was meant to be temporary, with an eventual transition to a civilian-led democracy. Instead, the situation devolved into conflict.
  2. Fighting broke out around the country in mid-April, with Khartoum becoming a major flash point. Flames billowed over the Khartoum airport, and the city’s military headquarters was reduced to a burned-out husk.
  3. As violence began to grip Sudan’s largest city, there was an exodus of foreign officials and citizens. In one particularly dramatic scene at the U.S. Embassy, nearly 100 people were escorted onto an aircraft by Navy SEALs and flown to nearby Djibouti.
  4. There have been a number of ceasefire agreements so far, but they’ve done little to stem the intense fighting.
  5. The stream of refugees fleeing the violence continues to grow. There is growing concern that this conflict will cause further instability in the region, as most of Sudan’s neighbors have their own histories with recent conflict, and many areas are facing food insecurity.

Unfortunately, Sudan is no stranger to conflict, having been ruled by the military for much of its existence. As of the writing of this article, there is technically a ceasefire in place, but fighting rages on. It remains to be seen how far these warring generals are willing to push the situation to assert their power.

Fast Facts About the Country of Sudan

Beyond headlines of conflict, Sudan is not a well-known country to many in the West. In the map above, we’ve also included more general information about geography, climate, population centers, and more.

Geography and Climate

Sudan is the third largest nation in Africa (16th globally), so there is a lot of climate and geographic variance within the country’s borders.

The country is located in Northeast Africa, directly below Egypt. Roughly speaking, its climate changes along a north–south axis, moving from arid to tropical. About two-thirds of the nation is arid and semi-arid, which is typical of countries with territory that includes the Sahara Desert.

The further south one goes in Sudan, the greener the surroundings get. The map below (which also includes the relatively new country of South Sudan) shows the extreme difference in vegetation from the north to south in the region.

Sudan wood vegetation biomass map

The Nile River is a prominent feature running across this arid region, providing two-thirds of the country’s fresh water. In the south, the Blue and White portions of the Nile enter the country from South Sudan and Ethiopia, respectively. The rivers meet midway through the country and the Nile River flows northward, eventually reaching Egypt.

This flow of water from country-to-country can sometimes be a point of contention between Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt, who all rely on the river for power, fresh water, and irrigation.

Population Centers

Over 43 million people live in Sudan, which ranks it ninth in terms of population in Africa. Below, we can see that much of the Sudanese population is clustered in a couple of key areas, while much of the country remains sparsely populated.

sudan population density map

Khartoum, the capital and largest city, is located in the interior of the country at the strategic point where the Blue and White Niles converge. This fast-growing city is shaped by the three sections surrounding the river junction—with Khartoum, North Khartoum, and Omdurman making up a metro area of 6.3 million people.

Sudan is divided into 18 states, five of which form the Darfur region in the west. If the name Darfur is familiar, it’s for good reason. In the 2000s, the region experienced a conflict marked by widespread violence, human rights abuses, and displacement, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. One of the generals involved in the current crisis, Hemedti, previously commanded the Janjaweed militias, which carried out some of the most egregious atrocities of the Darfur conflict.

In the northwest, Sudan borders the strategic Red Sea route. Port Sudan serves as the main entry point for imports and the primary export outlet for Sudanese commodities, including agricultural products (such as cotton, gum arabic, and sesame), minerals (such as gold), and livestock. The city has also been tapped to host a Russian naval base in the near future, though the recent power struggle in Sudan has potentially complicated negotiations.

As violence continues to rage in residential areas and people flee for safer areas, it remains to be seen how this conflict will influence population patterns within the country. How many people will be displaced? And once the smoke clears, will they return?

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