Access to Clean Water vs Access To Mobile Phones in Africa

I've accidentally caused a little Twitter storm over my remarks at Update Conference yesterday.

During my talk, I mentioned the following statistic:

In Africa, there is better access to mobile phones than there is access to clean drinking water.

However, on Twitter, that's got mangled into:

There are more people with access to mobile Internet in South Africa than have access to clean water.

Understandably, there's been a bit of questioning of that statistic!

So, I had researched the stat before trotting it out and I am confident it is accurate - but here's what I've found out specifically in South Africa.

"Statistics SA said [...] that 93% of South African households in 2010 had access to safe water in 2010."

That doesn't account for how far away the safe water was - and a whole host of other factors like inside plumbing etc.

"The South African mobile market broke through the 100% penetration barrier during Q3 08 to finish the quarter on 101.8%. The total market reached 44.51m customers."

100% penetration could mean only 50% of the population each with two phones (one for personal use, one for work etc), there's a lot of fudge factor in those numbers.
But the growth rate in South Africa is stunning - estimated at 120% penetration in 2011.

What this means is that the vast majority of South Africans have access to both safe water and a mobile phone. It may not be their own tap, they may have to travel a few miles to send an SMS - but the access is there.

For the whole of Africa, access to clean water is estimated to be 46% - whereas mobile phone penetration is estimated to be 50%.

I wasn't able to specifically find any statistics about GPRS / mobile internet use which I could quote with any confidence.

So, I hope that clears that up a bit!


Some thoughts from Twitter

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