Water Scarcity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Heihe River Basin

Water scarcity is an environmental issue effecting many countries today.  Clearly, there are many reasons why water scarcity persists and  the two cases I have chosen today, The Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Heihe River Basin in China, will show that. These cases represent the fact that water scarcity can vary in reasons from lack of water in general to lack of infrastructure. The bigger population, the more at risk that country is at facing water scarcity which is a clear problem in both of these cases.

Water scarcity can be summed up to mean a lack of water for human or environmental uses (White , Chris). Unfortunately, water scarcity and the repercussions it creates is not going away. Scientists, Mesfin Mekonnen and Arjen Hoekstra, say “The increasing world population, improving living standards, changing consumption patterns, and expansion of irrigated agriculture are the main driving forces for the rising global demand for water” (Mekonnen, Mesfin M., and Arjen Y. Hoekstra). The first area I would like to analyze is Central Africa, specifically, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the world bank, the DRC has an estimated population of 78.74 million people (“Population, Total.”). To put this population size into perspective, Canada has a population of 36.29 million people (World Data Bank). The DRC has roughly 42 million more people living in it and is roughly 1/4 the size of Canada (“Country Size Comparison.”). Due to its huge population, the DRC faces water scarcity on a regular basis. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, only around 26% of the DRC’s population of 67.8  million have access to clean drinking water (based on a 2010 study) therefore 51 million people do not have access to portable water in the country today (Partow , Hassan). The UNEP also addresses another reason as to why the DRC is facing water scarcity issues. Geographically, 1 in 3 urban residents have access to safe drinking water, while the ratio in rural areas is almost 1 in 6 (Partow, Hassan). Also, although urban residents have relatively higher access to safe drinking water, it is important to note that high urbanization rates are causing people in urbanized area to experience less drinking water. In the rural sector, a poor infrastructure is the key reason for water scarcity. According to UNEP, “An estimated 60% of existing rural water works is no longer operational due to lack of maintenance and spare parts” (Partow, Hassan). Many rural areas depend on natural springs as a source for drinking water. According to UNEP, “For the most part, springs are exploited without adequate development and protection. (Partow, Hassan). With the continued use and reliability on springs as a source of water, this might to lead to the complete exploitation of them if nothing is done.

On average, Kinshasa the capital of the DRC, receives roughly 55 inches of rainfall per year (World Climate Guide). Compared to the capital of America, Washington, D.C, which is 40.78 inches, one might be surprised that the DRC is facing water scarcity (Data, US Climate). If the capital of the DRC receives roughly 14.22 inches more of rainfall per year than the capital of the United States, why is the DRC facing water scarcity? The answer to this lies in the information I presented above. Due to poor infrastructure, heavy urbanization, and a high population growth rate, many people lack the access to clean water even though the country is receiving enough water per year from rainfall.

In the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is not that the DRC lacks enough water, but the fact that the DRC lacks the means to produce clean water to the population that creates water scarcity. This, however, is not the case in the Heihe River Basin in arid Northwestern China. The Heihe River Basin receives anywhere from 10-20 inches of rainfall per year (Xiangzheng Deng and Chunhong Zhao). This is a stark difference compared to the yearly rainfall the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United States receive as discussed above. In the Heihe River Basin, the population and economy are concentrated in the middle of the river basin in places such as Shandan, Minle, Linze, Gaote, etc. In these areas, irrigation farming uses an immense amount of water. According to Deng and Zhao, “agricultural water use accounted for about 94% of the total social and economic water consumption in the year 2006, but the water efficiency and the water productivity were very low” (Xiangzheng Deng and Chunhong Zhao). Not only is water being used at unprecedented levels, but it is effecting the lower regions of the river basin who reap the consequences of the middle region’s consumption of water. While the DRC had enough rainfall to meet people’s needs it lacked the means of production to do so, the Heihe River Basin differs in that it lacks enough rainfall to meet people’s needs and it lacks the means to produce clean water.  While the people of the middle regions of the Heihe River Basin may be receiving adequate water, they are not using it efficiently to ensure that the lower population of the basin are receiving enough water, thus depriving them of water in general. This is especially seen in the disproportionate allocation of water usage in the middle of the river basin for agricultural use deprives others in the lower regions of the river basin of water. Deng and Zhao point to the middle counties of the river basin as consuming the most water, especially for agricultural use.

The table above highlights the middle counties of the river basin and their farmland irrigation water usage. I will use this information to provide a percent of the total farmland irrigation that these middle counties use. The five counties in the middle of the river basin that use the most water for farmland irrigation are Shandan, Minle, Ganzhou, Linze, and Gaotai (highlighted in the table). To find how much water they consume for farmland irrigation I added the highlighted numbers (214360.0 + 404498.1 + 640706.5 + 380011.4 + 278336.0) which equals 1,917,912 m^3 of water consumed by these five counties per year (in terms of year 2000). I then divided this number by the total farmland irrigation consumed by all of the counties (2028755.5) and multiplied it by 100 to get 94%. This percentage shows that 94% of the water used for farmland irrigation is being used by five counties alone. This number was given in the article by Deng and Zhao but it confirms their findings and shows the disproportionate water usage occurring in the Heihe River Basin. Along with the lack of rainfall, the Heihe River Basin needs to work on conserving water in their farmland irrigation sector to ensure that the lower, more arid parts of the river basin survive.

Through my research, I have found that water scarcity can occur for a multitude of reasons. The example of the Democratic Republic of the Congo showed us that countries with enough rainfall per year can still experience water scarcity due to the lack of means to produce clean water and distribute it. In the case of the Heihe River Basin, one can conclude that the lack of rainfall along with counties using a disproportionate amount of water can exacerbate water scarcity, especially in lower, more arid regions that lack enough rainfall to begin with. Finding solutions on water scarcity will differ with each country considering that each country is unique in the amount of rainfall it receives per year and the means of producing and distributing clean water. If both regions had access to better technology the problem of water scarcity could be greatly reduced. However, this involves the political conditions of each area. If the areas are constantly subjected to conflicts this will reduce the help they can receive from greater powers.



Data, US Climate. “Temperature – Precipitation – Sunshine – Snowfall.” Climate Washington – District of Columbia and Weather Averages Washington, US Climate Data , 2017, www.usclimatedata.com/climate/washington/district-of-columbia/united-states/usdc0001.

Mekonnen, Mesfin M., and Arjen Y. Hoekstra. “Four Billion People Facing Severe Water Scarcity.” Science Advances, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1 Feb. 2016, advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/2/e1500323.full.

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N/A. “Country Size Comparison.” Size of Canada Compared to Congo, Democratic Republic Of, MyLifeElsewhere , 2017, www.mylifeelsewhere.com/country-size-comparison/canada/democratic-republic-of-congo.

N/A. “Population, Total.” Population, Total | Data, The World Bank Group, 2017, data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL.

Partow , Hassan. “Water Issues In The Democratic Republic of the Congo .” Jan. 2011, postconflict.unep.ch/publications/UNEP_DRC_water.pdf.

White , Chris. “Understanding Water Scarcity: Definitions and Measurements.” Global Water Forum, Global Water Forum , 26 Dec. 2016, www.globalwaterforum.org/2012/05/07/understanding-water-scarcity-definitions-and-measurements/.

World Climate Guide. “Climate – Democratic Republic Congo.” Climate in Democratic Republic Congo: Temperature, Precipitation, When to Go, What to Pack, Climates to Travel , 0ADAD, www.climatestotravel.com/climate/democratic-republic-congo.

World Data Bank. “Population, Total.” Population, Total | Data, The World Bank Group , 2017, data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL.

Xiangzheng Deng and Chunhong Zhao, “Identification of Water Scarcity and Providing Solutions for Adapting to Climate Changes in the Heihe River Basin of China,” Advances in Meteorology, vol. 2015, Article ID 279173, 13 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/279173

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