Technology transfer to boost sustainability of water supply and sewerage services

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As part of the African Development Bank’s efforts to increase the transfer of technologies and skills to the African continent, Malinne Blomberg, Chief Financial Analyst in AfDB’s Water and Sanitation Department, joined the wide range of stakeholders including technology providers, venture capitalists, private equity firms, and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors at the World Water Tech Investment Summit in London from March 9-11, 2015.

The Bank’s participation focused on promoting opportunities in the African market and tangible actions to accelerate the uptake of advanced technologies in water and sanitation for more sustainable services. Africa’s water and sewerage utilities are not coping with the ever-increasing demand and the adoption of appropriate technologies is an opportunity to reverse this situation. While there are examples of advanced technologies, such as desalination plants in Morocco and waste-to-energy programmes in Uganda, it is safe to say that the African utilities do not take advantage of the technologies that exist on the market.

AfDB stressed the need for technologies and solutions that respond to the needs of the African utilities. The greatest immediate needs are in the areas of water loss reduction and energy efficiency. Opportunities also include more effective treatment technologies, allowing for re-use of wastewater and sewerage by-products.

The Summit’s private sector participants were keen to scale up in Africa; however, the lack of project opportunities is a bottleneck, and project designs still primarily rely on traditional technologies that have not changed much over the past decade. Scaling up innovative technologies is perceived as risky by the public entities that are almost exclusively responsible for WSS investments on the continent.

AfDB’s Blomberg noted that one of the keys to accelerate the update of innovative technologies is to shift some of this perceived risk from the public to the private sector. In its continuous efforts to grow its US $3-billion water supply and sanitation portfolio, the Bank is creating space for the private sector to assume some of the responsibilities for water and sanitation services, which includes build/operate/transfer (BOT), design/build/operate (DBO) and performance-based contracts. Stakeholders at the Summit confirmed that AfDB’s role in identifying and preparing such projects is instrumental, and that dedicated facilitation efforts are needed to bridge public and private partners to generate solutions in this area that has long been holding the sector back.

AfDB’s Water and Sanitation Department advocates for a two-pronged approach: Firstly generating greater awareness of existing technologies and their benefits across the sector. In this regard, the Summit allowed the AfDB and key participants to conceptualize a platform for bringing and assessing appropriate and best practice technologies to the African utilities. Secondly, AfDB will identify and create specific project opportunities for integrating such technologies at scale its project design, thereby generating an evidence base and demand for more. 

Blomberg, for her part, stressed that this is a continuous process that the Bank is fully committed to and where it is actively establishing collaborations with a broad network of partners.