Wet yet thirsty: in these five countries with high rainfall millions lack access to clean water

Posted On: 
17th August 2018

It has been the driest start to a summer in over 45 years in the UK. Yet, much of the country had water in reserve when it began, ensuring a continued safe supply for drinking and washing. Millions around the world are not that lucky: despite high rainfall, they go thirsty.

In some of the wettest countries in the world - where rainy days bring a lot more water than the 1248mm average that falls yearly in the UK, according to World Bank data – clean water is extremely hard to get, especially for those living in poverty. 

Unlike the UK where it rains all year round, many of these countries face heavy rainfall in one season and severe drought in the next – both exacerbated by climate change – putting water resources under heavy strain.

In some regions, climate change is making water sources increasingly unreliable as flooding contaminates previously drinkable water. Yet, the problem is often not a physical lack of water: some places have significant underground reserves – known as ‘groundwater’ – because of abundant rainfall. Here, thirsty communities cannot get sufficient clean water because of a lack of investment in the infrastructure needed to deliver a reliable supply, indicating a lack of political prioritisation.

Jonathan Farr, senior policy analyst on water security and climate change at WaterAid, said:

“Not having clean water to drink is not, for most people, due to a lack of rain. For the one in nine people around the world - 844 million – who do not have clean water close to home it is usually because there is not enough investment in systems to ensure rainwater is captured, stored, treated and piped effectively.”

“WaterAid calls for governments to prioritise the provision of safe water, and works with decision makers to provide lasting services that ensure that no one is left behind.”

“In 2015, world leaders pledged to bring safe water and toilets to everyone, everywhere by 2030. In July, during a high-level meeting in New York, they renewed this promise and now it is time to act.”

Countries where rainfall is higher than in the UK, yet access to clean water is low include:

Papua New Guinea. The impacts of climate change – rising seas and extreme weather – have tainted groundwater, meaning that even though an average of 3055mm of rain falls each year, most of the water is unsafe to drink. The number of people with access to clean water close to home is decreasing: 4.83 million people (or 63 percent of the population) do not have clean water available within a half hour trip.

Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is twice as wet as the UK with 2427mm of rain on average each year, yet, 4 out of 10 people (42%) lack basic access to clean water. The Ebola outbreak was aided by a lack of clean water as health centres and communities struggled to maintain the high hygiene standards needed to halt the spread of the virus.

Liberia. High on the list of the world’s wettest countries with 2421mm of rainfall on average each year, a third of the population remains without access to clean water, or 1.36 million people. Liberia is still recovering from two devastating civil wars that wiped out much of the country’s infrastructure and the 2014 Ebola outbreak demonstrates the urgency to rebuild. 8 in 10 people don’t have toilets and go out in the open, risking contaminating water sources, many of which are already at risk from industrial and mining pollution.

Myanmar. After decades of military rule, high hopes generated by the reallocation of budgets to national services are frustrated by increasingly intense hot dry seasons, a decrease in rainfall – from 1981mm on average between 1961-1990 to 1566mm between 1991 and 2015 average a year - and depletion of groundwater reserves, which are contributing to water scarcity in Myanmar. Some 17.5 million people – or 32.5% of the population - do not have clean water close to home, including almost 40% of rural residents.

Madagascar. The fourth biggest island in the world gets 1422mm of rain on average each year and faces both severe drought and devastating floods at different times of the year – especially in the country’s southern region. Nearly half the country’s inhabitants do not have clean water close to home, leaving 12 million people without.