Solving Water and Sanitation challenges in Africa is key to socio-economic development

BY: Donald Cog Senanu Agumenu

Socio-economic growth and evolution in Africa cannot be overemphasized as the continent moves into the future. Africa has over the last decade become one of the fastest growing and attractive regions in the world, with a $1.96 trillion economy growing at about 6 percent. Yet there are also undeniably daunting challenges facing the continent. These are most notable in the areas of industrialization, water and sanitation, technological advancement, conflict and food security.

The growth has therefore called for a critical need for the continent to strategically develop a blue print strategy to addressing the situation holistically.

The McKinsey Global Institute, in a study called Africa at Work, summed up Africa’s impressive economic potential and prospects, by noting that the continent “is poised to reap a demographic dividend”. It’s sad to note, however, that in this growth process, water remains a critical area as yet untapped and unattended to. The continent is bedeviled with the menace of a water crisis and the situation will get worse if proactive steps are not taken to mitigate the crisis.

More than half of Africa’s population is aged under-25, and in 2050 Africa’s population is set to double reaching 2 billion people, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB). In this decade, Africa will add a further 122 million people to its workforce.

This revelation calls for building a solid socio-economic infrastructure vital for sustaining the population boom and critical needs and demands the continent is faced with and water remains top on the list to serve as a necessary catalyst needed for championing the projected socio-economic, industrial, political and technology growth of the continent.

Growing water demand
Africa’s rising population is driving demand for water and accelerating the degradation of water resources in many countries.

By mid-2011, Africa’s population (excluding the northern-most states) was 838 million and its average natural rate of increase was 2.6 percent per year, compared to the world average of 1.2 percent. The PRB estimates Africa’s population will grow to 1,245 million by 2025 and to 2,069 million by 2050.

Sub-Saharan Africa has a relatively plentiful supply of rainwater, with an estimated total average annual precipitation of 815 mm, according the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but it is highly seasonal, unevenly distributed across the region, and there are frequent floods and droughts. The greatest amount of rainfall occurs along the equator, especially in the area from the Niger Delta to the Congo River basin. The Sahara Desert has virtually no rainfall. In western and central Africa, rainfall is exceptionally variable and unpredictable.

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The water problem in Nigeria has reached crisis point. In Lagos, about 90 percent of the residents do not have daily access to clean and safe water. Findings by Good Health Weekly reveal that for an average family of 4 in Lagos, a sizeable portion of their income is utilized to meet water requirements.

To adequately address the issue of water scarcity in Africa, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa emphasizes the need to invest in the development of Africa's potential water resources to reduce unnecessary suffering, ensure food security, and protect economic gains by effectively managing droughts, floods, and desertification. Ongoing efforts to achieve this include an emphasis on infrastructural implementations and improvements of wells, rainwater catchment systems, and clean-water storage tanks. In addition, one area where there is much to gain in solving the water crisis is through the use of technology and with the growing number of mobile users on the continent there’s much to gain through technology right from the billing systems to the distribution of the water and the entire value-chain.

Key interventions

Africa for all these years has benefited from loans and grants from development organizations, developed countries and donor agencies towards the provision of safe and clean drinking water. That notwithstanding, much investment is needed for this sector to meet the exponential growth of various sectors across the economy. The contributions of the African Union, World Bank, the United Nations, African Development Bank (Water Facility), Danish International Development Agency, Netherlands, China, U.S., UK cannot be overemphasized. Corporate organizations and other NGOs have also played critical roles in addressing the water menace.

The water situation in Africa can only be mitigated if all the stakeholders in the value-chain could map-up a strategic roadmap with needed investment and priority focus, in addressing it as global security threat to humanity.

Key areas of focus should include, but not limited to the following:

  1. Re-evaluation of available water resources both surface and underground water.
  2. Creating a database of specific indicators negating the free distribution of water
  3. Putting in effective and efficient water management system
  4. Analyzing the entire demography and necessary factors propelling the growth especially in the area of housing, consumer attitude, industrialization and culture.
  5. Technological advancement- Water recycling, reverse osmosis, desalination technology should be encouraged
  6. Water harvesting technology
  7. Water Treatment and quality control
  8. Monitoring and evaluation should be central to the actualization of government plans.
  9. Government budgets should increase
  10. A proper project costing for water and sanitation projects should be put in place, tagging it to the expected growth of population and industrial activities
  11. Drilling and equipping of boreholes, borehole repairs, the implementation of water restriction systems, awareness campaigns, and the facilitation of disaster funding

    In the above reflections, Africa’s problem is not unavailability of water, but rather unavailability of safe drinking water. In most cases, it’s a leadership failure. In that light, putting in an effective and efficient governance system would go a long way to harness the water resources and add value not only to human dignity but the entire ecological system.

    There is the need therefore, to enshrine best practices in quality controls, water management, water conservation, and policy frameworks and directions needed to address this issue. It is one of the biggest disasters to have faced humanity. Investment in this sector should remain a top priority across every spectrum of life.

    Above all, stringent measures are needed to drastically reduce and fight corruption in the water value chain. Corruption remains one of the greatest underpinning variables negating access to clean and safe drinking water and if this is managed well, many Africans would have access to clean drinking water, which is a basic requirement for human health, and the deficit in this sector will be drastically reduced.

Dr. Donald Cog Senanu Agumenu is President of Water for Rural Africa
Source - ChinAfrica Magazine