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[NAIROBI] Despite Sub-Saharan Africa facing protracted water problems, only one per cent of universities in the sub-region offer water education programmes, a study has found.

According to the study, higher education related to water is key to building capacity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal that focuses on water and sanitation for all by 2030. Thus, the study assessed 28,077 institutions of higher education for water-related programmes.

Water education is a diverse set of skills in fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, geology, civil engineering, economics, political science, sociology and law, explains Colin Mayfield, author of the study and professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

“No comprehensive survey of the role of universities in integrating these skill sets to provide available programmes for students entering water-related fields has been performed.”

Colin Mayfield, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

“No comprehensive survey of the role of universities in integrating these skill sets to provide available programmes for students entering water-related fields has been performed,” says Mayfield. “To provide the skilled personnel required, more of the education needs to happen in the countries most affected and efforts should be made to increase the educational activities of local institutions.”

The study published in the Report Series 7 of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health last month (29 May) assessed only universities ranked in the Shanghai Academic Ranking System for 2019.

According to the study, 40 per cent of universities in North America and Europe offer a programme in water, with the figure for those in the regions West Asia and North Africa,  East Asia and South-East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean being 16 per cent each. Central Asia and South Asia have seven per cent of universities offering a programme in water, making Sub-Saharan the region with the least percentage of only one.

“In Africa, 115 people die every hour from diseases linked to poor sanitation, poor hygiene and contaminated water,” says Mayfied, adding that more than 300 of the 800 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in a water-scarce environment.

George Krhoda, a member of the African Groundwater Commission, African Union, tells SciDev.Net that in Sub-Saharan Africa schools of water science are few, poorly funded and have limited human resources. “These three factors are interrelated and determined to a large extent by the global market forces,” explains Krhoda, who is also an associate professor of geography and environmental studies at Kenya’s University of Nairobi.

Krhoda tells SciDev.Net that the UNESCO has established centres of excellence in water science throughout the developing countries, including those in Sub-Saharan Africa but there is a need for increasing these opportunities and directing their research focus on water challenges. 

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


Colin Mayfield Higher education in the water sector: A global Overview (UNU-INWEH Report Series 7, 29 May 2019)

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