Increasing Awareness of the Strategic Importance of Water for Africa’s Development

01/02/2008
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Key Facts Concerning Water in Africa

  • Approximately 300 million Africans are without access safe drinking and 313 million are without appropriate access to sanitation.
  • 5,400 billion of m3 of water is available on the continent, but only 4% is being tapped for irrigation, food production and hydroelectricity.
  • Africa’s exploitable hydroelectric potential is estimated at approximately 1.4 million gigawatthours/year, which is sufficient to supply electricity for the entire continent; only 3% of this hydroelectric potential is used.
  • Africa has 60 surface water basins and 38 aquifer tables shared among two or more countries.

In conjunction with the African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW), the African Development Bank (AfDB) is organizing the First Water Week, scheduled to run from March 26 to 28 in Tunis (Sheraton Hotel).  To find out more about this event, we spoke to the AfDB Director of Water and Sanitation, Mr. Kordjé Bedoumra.

Question: Why did AMCOW and AfDB agree on the organization of such a conference?

Answer: This is the first of a series of conferences with permanent focus on water-related issues and specifically dedicated to the African continent. There are, of course, other water forums, but they do not seek to focus solely on issues specific to Africa, whereas the continent is facing very particular challenges relating to water, considering the crucial need for equitable and sustainable development of our water resources to reduce poverty, bring about economic development and promote regional integration.  In addition, this Water Week is being initiated and organized by Africans themselves, through the African Ministerial Conference on Water (AMCOW). AMCOW contacted AfDB for the organization of this event, given the successful organization of the AfDB Water Week held in July 2004 in Tunis, and the strategic role of the bank in the Water sector in Africa. 

This event is right in line with the African Water Vision that was adopted by African Ministers in charge of Water in 2000, to take stock of challenges arising in the sustainable provision of water to meet food and energy security needs, improve access to drinking water and appropriate sanitation. The conference’s focus is all the more relevant and topical given the challenges emerging in relation to climate change, which is already taking a toll on the African continent.

Question: How different is this conference from other forums addressing the issue of Water?

Answer: Three factors should be considered here: Firstly, the subject itself is not being sufficiently studied on the continent, despite its crucial importance. There is a need to raise awareness of the stakes relating to water security in Africa. There is a need for efforts to improve the capacity of all the parties involved in this sector and also in working with national, regional and international decision-makers, so as to forge a commitment to water security. This will guarantee sufficient supply of sustainable water for human consumption and health, agricultural production, hydroelectric energy, industrial activity and the protection of ecosystems and the environment. This should be seen in conjunction with the need to protect human beings and their property as well as nature itself from natural disasters such as floods and drought. Secondly, there is a need for very substantial investment in infrastructure. A strategic and clear approach must be adopted, based on the broadest consensus possible and involving all stakeholders. Let me recall that only 4% of Africa’s water potential is harnessed, as against 70 to 90% in so-called developed countries. Lastly, one of AfDB’s objectives is to serve as an authority on Africa’s development challenges, including the fundamental issue of water.

Question: How do you explain the theme of this conference: «Accelerating Water Security for Socio-economic Development of Africa»?

Answer: The development of water conservation infrastructure is a pre-condition for the development of agriculture and guaranteeing food security as well as stock breeding. We have witnessed economic and social disasters following floods. For example, just consider a dam that can protect the riverside populations from the effects of flooding and sudden or heavy downpours that can make water available through the dry season. And we are not talking about drinking water and sanitation for residents of cities and in the countryside. We are, moreover, aware of the very limited access to electricity, despite the continent’s enormous hydropower potential. Africa is the continent where lakes, rivers and water tables are the most shared among countries. Protecting this common resource and developing it with a shared vision based on mutual interests necessitate a common approach to transboundary water management. 

Question: How will you judge the success of this conference or otherwise?

Answer: Its success will be measured in terms of greater awareness of the importance the countries and development partners give to further investment in the continent’s water security, including infrastructure. We also wish this event will lead to greater harmonization of strategies and actions in the sector and the partnerships supporting key water initiatives to enable Africa take another step forward in efforts aimed at developing water resources, especially in the context of climate change.


Speaker

Name: Kordjé Bedoumra Title: AfDB Director of Water and Sanitation