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Addressing water resilience while protecting the environment

“The right to water entitles everyone to have access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic use.” – UN Water

On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution A/RES/64/292 declared safe and clean drinking water and sanitation a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights.

According to the WWF, “Africa appears blessed with abundant water resources: large rivers include the Congo, Nile, Zambezi and Niger and Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest. But Africa is the second driest continent in the world, after Australia, and millions of Africans still suffer from water shortages throughout the year.”

Three key facts about water scarcity in Africa:

  1. 1 in 3 African citizens are impacted by water scarcity.
  2. 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africalack access to basic drinking water.
  3. Citizens in sub-Saharan Africa travel 30 minutes on averagedaily to access water.

Nigeria has the worst water supply on the continent. With approximately 199 million people, 86% of Nigerians do not have access to a safe source of drinking water. UNICEF reports that over half of the basic water services for 70% of Nigerians are contaminated.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), investments in resilient infrastructure are far below the required annual $64 billion, as estimated for water security by 2025.

Water central to economic activities
“We recognise that water is a basic human right that is central not only to human health but dignity and a driver of economic activities and industry,” says Hellen Njoki Wanjohi-Opil, Resilience Africa Cities Lead (Cities Programme) at the World Resources Institute (WRI).

She continues: “African cities really have been facing the impact of water-related risks such as flooding and water scarcity that have been exacerbated by climate change that have negatively impacted human lives, environmental health, business and industry in the cities. Therefore, addressing water resilience presents an opportunity for job creation and wellbeing while protecting the environment.”

“However, I think, as a caveat, we note that under 1% of the required climate investment goes to water services in Africa. Yet this is the fastest urbanising region and  a major climate change hotspot.” [Read full interview here].

Benefits of PPPs for water projects
A session focusing on “Urban Water Resilience” at the recent Africa’s Green Economy Summit in Cape Town heard that private-public partnerships (PPPs) are popular for accessing private capital for water projects.

This session focused on actions that are underway to revamp investments, establish climate-resilient water systems, and foster cross-regional collaborations for reliable, affordable water in urban areas.

Ernest Poku, Executive Director at Africa Water Infrastructure Development Ltd (AWID), based in Dubai has seen the many benefits of developing water projects through PPPs.

“We provide a quarter of the water supply in Kigali. It is a project we built from scratch and that has been operating for two years now and has transformed the water sector there.” They also supply water to a number of hotels in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt. Poku said that the private sector is increasingly interested in getting involved in water projects.

Poku explained that performance standards are one of the key advantages of PPPs in water development and raising the standard of water projects.

“In Kigali, we have performance standards which are 10 times higher than the city. We can be penalised, so we are incentivised to perform.” He added that thanks to the improved water quality in that part of the city, people are moving there and property prices are going up.

More pro-active
“Governments need to be more pro-active in structuring programmes that will facilitate PPPs,” was the opinion of Johann Lubbe, Head of the Water Partnerships Office for the DBSA in South Africa.

“We are often sitting back and waiting for projects to come to us. That is what South Africa is doing now with its Water Partnerships Office. We are structuring programmes that are designed to accommodate the private sector.

“Hopefully over time, we will be able to build a stronger pipeline of PPPs in water projects.”

Water is available
On the topic of water security and transboundary collaboration, Cecil Nundwe, Principal Water Resources Management Officer at the AfDB said “there is a huge opportunity to address the water security situation within the region.”

He said that both South Africa and Botswana experience water security challenges. “But if you look at it regionally, extending northwards into Zambia and other countries, water is available, and there is an engineering available for it.” An example of this is the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Project.

“The constraints I see,” Nundwe explained, “is with the transboundary discourse itself. It creates limitations through the basic concept. We really need to rethink some of these theories that we have been applying.

“I don’t see why South Africa shouldn’t confidently seek to access water from the Zambezi. I don’t see why South Africa shouldn’t positively seek to secure hydropower development on the Zambezi River or any other source. It all depends on the right kind of relationship you can have with the countries; on the right kind of benefits you share with the countries, and of course, the distribution of the benefits and burdens of the economic activity.”

Nature-based solutions
“Why is water being underinvested?” asked Kerry Max, Deputy Director Partnering for Climate, International Development Partnerships and Operations, Global Affairs Canada. According to Max it is because both water and climate change adaption are seen as non-income generating.

“Water is seen as a public service. So, it is very hard for private investors outside of the PPP structure to get a line of sight on an income stream.

“That is why I am thumping this nature-based solutions bible in this room right now, because I think if you marry what you do in water with other climate agendas, such as pollution and biodiversity, and you add nature-based solutions into the mix, you end up having revenue streams that might make it far more appealing as an investment.”

This article first appeared in the GREEN ECONOMY EXPRESS, issued by Africa’s Green Economy Summit.

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