Experts from the just concluded African Development Bank (AfDB) annual meetings have said that even with declining rainfall and unpredictable climate, African governments can still effectively manage and provide clean water.
The observation was made during a session dubbed ‘Building Water Resilience,’ where experts and government officials reflected on water-related challenges that Africa faces today and how they can be dealt with.
Key issues ranged from cooperation between countries that share same water bodies to water security.
“We can’t ignore the fact that water contributes highly to national economy. There are many public goods embedded in water, but the question here is how effective can it be allocated? The answer to this is devising a way in which the public sector can work with the private sector in water resource management and exploitation,” said Prof Mike Muller, the Infrastructure Advisor, Development Bank of Southern Africa.
Muller cited the construction of Rusumo hydro power plant as one of the few examples where the private sector has been involved in water management through involvement of local people in the construction of the plant.
The high rate of urbanization is another challenge. Latest reports indicate that over 400 million Africans live in urban areas – close to 40% of Africa’s population. In 50 years, about 65% of Africans will be living in urban areas.
To survive, governments have the prime responsibility of providing reliable water supply, however, they face challenges in exploiting cross-border water bodies.
“The challenge with cooperation is the imbalance of water consumption between the upstream and downstream countries. If countries fail to cooperate, they should use the law to test the international cooperation agreements and go to court,” said Muller.
According to Dr Mohamed Ait-Kadi, President of the General Council of Agricultural Development of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Morocco, countries have no option but to cooperate since water remains a controllable utility on the continent.
“Countries have no option apart from adhering to international laws that binds them with the duty to cooperate. The other problem here is that countries are not sharing information, they don’t want to tell each other how much water they are consuming,” he said.
Rwanda’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resource, Stanislas Kamanzi, said that although countries may use international laws for cooperation on water usage and sharing, it is paramount for them to have a mutual understanding.
“Countries sharing the Nile River are in process of coming up with a mutual understanding on cooperation. But unfortunately, we are yet to arrive at an agreement. We believe no country should be pushed into any venture unwillingly, but also countries must and should put in consideration the ultimate interest of that kind of cooperation and the general benefits,” said Kamanzi.
Several experts highlighted the importance of long-term comprehensive planning and development of urban water infrastructure that will maximize socio, economic and environmental benefits and ensure resilience against inevitable impacts of climate change.
They called for proactive and insightful long-term vision and planning in water management and sharing on a continental level.