Africa and the challenge of achieving access to clean water and sanitation

Mr. Bai-Mass Taal Infrastructure & Energy News & Analysis

Africa presently reels under serious water challenges. Water-based challenges such as widespread shortage, pollution, degradation, flooding and poor water management in cities and rural centres are problems which dot the African landscape today. This state of affairs is further compounded as the world gets warmer, the rains pour heavier and oceans rise, making rural inhabitants migrate to cities in their millions. African cities are under dual pressure from uncontrolled urbanisation and flooding, worsened by climate-induced water stress.

From Lagos in the west to Dar es Salaam in the east, from Cairo in the north to Cape Town in the south, slum dwellers, the middle class and the elite alike are engaged in the water race. More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. Of the additional 2.4 billion people projected to be added to the global population between 2015 and 2050, 1.3 billion will be added in Africa and the difficulties African cities currently face in providing sustainable water services will be further exacerbated.It is also estimated that Africa loses 5% of its annual GDP due to poor access to clean drinking water and sanitation; 5% to 25% to droughts and floods in affected countries; and 2% to regular power outages. In addition to the cost of insufficient water security, the cost of climate change in Africa is estimated to be 1.5% to 3% of GDP by 2030, and is expected to reach 10% by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.

The above extant challenges have propelled African leaders into taking many steps, including the adoption of a Common African Position (CAP) with origins soaked in Agenda 2063, an African Union-driven agenda aimed at creating the Africa which Africans want to see by the year 2063. The Common African Position also fed into the UN Post-2015 development processes, which culminated in the historic adoption of the 2030 Agenda by 193 UN member states. The New Global Development Framework, anchored around 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a total of 169 targets covering economic, social development, water security and environmental protection, comes with the overarching goal of eradicating global poverty in all its forms by 2030.

Nine months down the line, the SDGs continue to interface with growing challenges in the interlinked economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Approximately 340 million people in sub-Saharan Africa still do not have access to potable water, and a further 508 million do not have access to improved sanitation. The African Development Bank estimates that Africa needs US$11 billion per year to achieve the SDG6 of ensuring that everyone has access to potable water and sanitation. Added to Africa’s apparent lack of financial resources to meet this goal is a gaping lack of capacity and weak institutions, non-implementation of commitments and weak policies.

The water challenge in Africa calls for newer and innovative ways of ensuring water security for all Africans. The equitable and sustainable management of all the continent’s water resources remains a credible key to achieving a prosperous Africa, as there is no doubt that Africa is blessed with a blue economy.

The African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) recognizes the fact that, without regional and international solidarity laced with a shared vision, strong cooperation between different countries and strong partnerships, the noble objective of eradicating poverty and ensuring access to water and sanitation by 2030 will remain a mirage. Hence AMCOW, in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and other development partners, is providing the sectoral leadership needed to tackle the water challenge in Africa with a cocktail of innovative solutions and strategies.

One of these is the adoption and implementation of the N’gor Declaration on Water and Sanitation by Africa’s Water Ministers. The N’gor Declaration, Africa’s implementation platform for SDG6, seeks to commit African countries to updating national water and sanitation management policies, regulatory frameworks and programmes, as well as preparing national strategies and action plans for achieving SDG6; adopting innovative mechanisms to manage demand and improve efficiency in the production, supply and utilisation of water in all sectors; prioritizing the implementation of programmes that seek to extend access to water supply and sanitation services, and increase the productivity of water used in various sectors, while working to close the gap in Africa’s infrastructure deficit, especially by prioritizing the implementation of water projects under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). Other focal emphases of the N’gor Declaration include ensuring that appropriate national spending targets for quality investments in water and sanitation are consistent with national sustainable development strategies; and further prioritising the development of institutional and human resources capacity.

Also, the Rural Water and Sanitation Initiative and African Water Facility, both AMCOW initiatives hosted by the AfDB, have contributed immensely in building the momentum towards achieving the Africa Water Vision 2025. This sees the effective and efficient management of water resources as a precursor to the provision of adequate and equitable access to safe water and sanitation, thereby making a critical contribution to Africa’s progress towards sustainable growth and development.

It is AMCOW’s belief that the current funding landscape for the water sector is grossly insufficient to meet the financial deficit and, most importantly, achieve SDG6. This calls for innovative approaches for financing water and sanitation infrastructure, as a huge challenge lies in the mobilisation of financial resources to achieve the SDG6 target of ensuring that everyone has access to potable water and sanitation.

In order to meet the SDG6 targets, AMCOW consistently advocates the implementation of new and innovative financing mechanisms by governments, the private sector and development organisations. These mechanisms, combined with and supported by Official Development Assistance (ODA), must also take into account the issue of redressing inequalities in access to water and sanitation.

Another strategy identified and advocated by AMCOW as a key priority in moving the innovative financing agenda forward is the development of sector financing plans. In the design and implementation of financing mechanisms, Africa requires the support of development partners in identifying available guaranteed funds, and exploring commercial and development banks’ opportunities to leverage additional resources for ongoing programmes in the region.

The most recent WHO Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Water (GLAAS) report shows that financing for the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector is still a significant barrier to increasing access to water and sanitation. To address this gap, there is need for new global financing mechanisms which will prioritise investments and funding for water and sanitation-related projects across the world. This is where the growing call for the establishment of a Global Blue Fund becomes imperative. Other equally important opportunities for innovative financing of water and sanitation identified by AMCOW for application in Africa are; the establishment of water banks, based on domestic resource mobilization (such as pension funds and insurance companies) using repayable finance to bridge the financing gap; National Water/WASH Financing Facility, a mechanism for domestic resource mobilization for the WASH sector with characteristics of pooled investment projects, good governance framework and opportunity for blending private capital with public funding to promote pro-poor policies; blended funding, commercial financing and private equity; and special taxes such as sanitation tax and the use of 1% of taxes for WASH.

Achieving universal access to water and sanitation calls for intensive capacity building. Development partners will have to support Africa’s quest to develop its capacities for the implementation of SDG6, especially in the development of bankable water and sanitation projects. Governments must, however, lead the efforts while external agencies work in a way that supports and builds government capacity to lead and to succeed. All stakeholders must therefore commit to work collectively and adhere to key behaviours that strengthen countries’ capabilities to deliver permanent and accountable access to water and sanitation services.

With these strategies, AMCOW is convinced that Africa can achieve lasting universal access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.

As Africa embarks on implementing this transformative agenda, it is hoped that the international community, working with governments, the private sector and civil society, will mobilize to create a water-secure future for all.

Written by

Mr Bai-Mass Taal, Executive Secretary of the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), is an environment and water specialist. He has served as a cabinet minister in his country, The Gambia, first as Secretary of State for Fisheries, Natural Resources and the Environment and later as Secretary of State for Fisheries and Water Resources. Mr Taal has an illustrious record in national and international civil service arenas, including the United Nations, where he rose to become Head of Interagency and Intergovernmental Processes of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).