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World Resources Institute: “Less than 1% of the required climate investment goes to water services in Africa”

Exclusive interview with Hellen Njoki Wanjohi-Opil, Resilience Africa Cities Lead (Cities Programme) at the World Resources Institute (WRI). The WRI is an official institute partner of Africa’s Green Economy Summit and is participating in the session on “Water Resilience in African Cities” at the event from 21-23 February 2024.

Let’s start with a quick background about yourself and your current role.

My name is Hellen Wanjohi and I lead WRI Africa’s cities climate work, including leading our partnerships and engagement work. Over the past few years, this has included supporting our work around climate resilience in Africa.

Please tell us more about the World Resources Institute, its goals and current projects.

The World Resources Institute or WRI is a global research organisation that works at the intersection of people, nature and climate. And so we work at the global level but also within our focus countries and at the heart of how we operate is targeting to build trusted relationships with governments, civil society, research organisations so that we can bring about getting right change makers together in the form of either projects, coalitions or initiatives that then address the elements that the WRI is really passionate about.

What in particular with regards to green economy issues are you focusing on at the moment?

The WRI is focused on harnessing and recognises the power of nature, either in the form of ecosystem services, biodiversity, not only to address ecological and climate issues, but also to improve and meet the needs of people, which includes improvement in their livelihoods and economies and incomes. And so through our cities programme here in Africa, we have been working to promote and scale up the adoption of and investment in nature-based solutions in 11 African cities, particularly focused on the most vulnerable communities.

Additionally, the WRI has championed the establishment of the ACWA Fund. This is the African Cities Water Adaptation Fund. It’s a blended finance instrument that aims to drive forward investment in innovative solutions that address urban water resilience. It aims to attract blended finance towards a portfolio of bankable projects, which the WRI has been developing with local city stakeholders. From the technical assistance that we have been able to offer, we have been able to develop a portfolio of 48 projects across six African cities.

This year we will also be launching the Nature-Based Solutions Accelerator that’s designed to support city leadership and partners at any stage of readiness through the value chain of planning, preparing, financing, implementing and monitoring urban nature-based solutions (NBS) to ensure that they are resilient, including as well green-grey infrastructure across our partner cities. So, the aim here will be to target to support the creation of an enabling environment that then drives up the adoption and investment in NBS and green-grey infrastructure.

Tell us more about your specific research regarding Africa?
The WRI has conducted a lot of research around the area of green solutions. And this year we will be releasing a report that was done on nature-based solutions for water and climate resilience in sub-Saharan Africa, regional status and strategies to scale investment. So the WRI has co-authored this report with the World Bank, the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction, AfDB, and working closely with other partners that include Sida. We have evaluated the current status and extent of existing nature-based solutions that have been adopted and have managed to create an inventory of over 200 nature-based solutions and green-grey infrastructure projects from across sub-Saharan African countries.

In addition to this, we also have interviewed over 50 project developers, investors and public funders to be able to inform and understand what the key barriers for adoption in NBS are and also identify potential opportunities to increase buy-in in these activities.

The WRI is moderating a session on “Water Resilience in African Cities” at the upcoming Africa’s Green Economy Summit. How important is water as a resource that is under strain in your advocacy work and research?

The WRI is really excited to be moderating a session on water resilience in African cities at the upcoming Africa’s Green Economy Summit. Particularly because 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.

However, we also acknowledge that 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, we acknowledge that 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, as I mentioned, a major climate change hotspot. And so we think for us that this is an exciting session to be a part of acknowledging the role of water within our advocacy work.

As an official institute partner, what will be the WRI’s message at AGES?
The WRI’s message at this particular summit will be to push for bold moves from investors, including to get involved in the funding of project preparation and piloting of projects, as this is a significant gap in green projects that are required in our African cities. We will also be dwelling on our ACWA platform and our ACWA Fund to see and to share how it aims to bridge the gap between urban green-grey solutions with investors and public investments. Thank you.


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