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AfDB Marks “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought” with Positive Balance sheet in Water Initiatives

The African Development Bank Group will on June 17, 2010 join other development partners and the international community at large to observe the United Nations' World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. The Day, which has been marked since 1995, will this year focus on the theme “Enhancing soils anywhere enhances life everywhere".

The theme clearly reflects the close relationship between ecosystems, poverty reduction, and overall economic performance of countries, particularly in Africa where two-thirds of the continent is either desert or dry lands. The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought annually puts emphasis on the urgent need to conserve water, to curb desert encroachment, to mitigate land degradation and the effects of drought which dramatically affect biodiversity in Africa.   

Commenting on World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, the AfDB Vice President in charge of Country and Regional Programs and Policy, Mr. Aloysius Ordu, noted that “with current developments re increasing food insecurity in the Sahel, greater assistance to poorer countries merits attention at this particular time”. For her part, the Head of the Bank’s External Relations and Communication Unit, Mrs. Antoinette Batumubwira, said “the world day of combat against drought is another great opportunity to position the Bank as a champion on climate change and related issues”.

It goes without saying that Africa is the region most afflicted by desertification and severe droughts. Many African countries are also landlocked, with widespread poverty and depending heavily on natural resources for subsistence. The vagaries of weather, notably drought, have compounded Africa’s difficult socio-economic conditions, insufficient institutional and legal frameworks, inadequate infrastructure, and weak scientific and technical capacities to deal with problems.   

As early as 1970, during its 7th Annual Board of Governors Meeting at Fort Lamy (Ndjamena), the AfDB drew the world’s attention to the effects of desert encroachment, drought and the perennial shrinking of Africa’s lakes including Lake Chad. The Bank’s message to the hosts emphasized the need for Africans to change attitudes that cause deforestation including their modes of farming, rearing and cooking, in order to protect their fragile environment from further degradation.

Today, in line with its poverty reduction mandate, the Bank Group finds itself more than ever combating desertification and drought from several fronts, including the provision of water, irrigation and agriculture investments and more recently commitments to environment, climate change and green development.

More specifically through its water initiatives the Bank Group has contributed immensely, not only to combating the effects of drought and desertification but to greater access to clean drinking water and reduction of poverty in Africa. In fact, by setting up three major initiatives, the Bank has made access to clean water one of the foundations of its development program in Africa.

The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative (RWSSI) remains a flagship Bank intervention, with the overall objective of extending safe water and basic sanitation coverage to 80 percent of the rural population by 2015, at an estimated cost of UA 9.22 billion or USD13.9 billion. Since the RWSSI program began in 2003, the Bank has approved 25 operations in 20 countries with total financing of UA 1.44 billion (USD2.2 billion).The rural population with access to safe water supply and adequate sanitation services through RWSSI increased from about 6.34 million and 4.48 million people in 2008, to over 27 million people for water and 22.16 million people for sanitation respectively, by end of December 2009.

In 2009, five new programs were approved by the Board for a total of UA 75 million (USD112.5 million) for Senegal (Phase II), Rwanda (Phase II), Central African Republic, Kenya (Phase II) and Comoros.

The Multi-Donor Water Partnership Program (MDWPP) was established by the Bank, in partnership with the Dutch, Danish and Canadian governments with the objective of assisting it to implement the 2000 Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) policy. The program was instrumental in the establishment of the African Water Facility (AWF) and formulation of the RWSSI, as well as the development of a number of guidelines, tools and handbooks for the water sector.  Among the main activities supported by the MDWPP in 2009 are:  Africa’s participation at the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul; the development of the Africa Regional Position Paper and the Action Plan for the Implementation of the Sharm El Sheikh Commitments for Accelerating Achievements of Water and Sanitation Goals.

The African Water Facility (AWF) is a key initiative led by the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW), administered by the Bank, to mobilize resources to finance water sector facilitation and investment activities in Africa. AWF has leveraged about UA 215 million (USD322.5million) to finance water sector interventions as a result of its project activities.

In 2009, two new donors, UK and Senegal, joined the Facility with contributions of £15 million and €175,000 respectively, increasing the number of donors to 11 and cumulative cash contributions to € 109 million (of which, € 74.1 million had been received by December 2009).  The Bank’s in-kind contribution through its hosting arrangement is valued at UA 1.24 million. The Bank also endorsed a UA 10 million financial contribution subject to approval by the Board of Governors. This will leave a gap of UA 89.5 million for the 2010-2012 Operational Program.

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