Interview with Dr. Kodwo Andah, Scientific Coordinator, Water Resources Research and Documentation Centre (WARREDOC), University for Foreigners of Perugia, Italy
"In Ghana, if within 30 minutes a citizen can have water; it means the government has done its job. This means the person concerned has the right to safe drinking water. Each country has a system to determine how its citizens should have the right to access. Sometimes, it is determined by the distance to a water source," Water Resources Research Expert, Dr Kodwo Andah, explained to the Bank Group’s internal newsletter on the sidelines of the First African Water Week held in Tunis from March 26-28, 2008.
Question: What does water security mean for you?
Answer: Africans have finally realized that the socio-economic development of their countries depends on how much they are able to harness their water resources to ensure access to potable water, energy and food security. Of course, this year is the International year of sanitation and without a sound environmental sanitation programme; Africa will not attain water security.
Question: Why is Africa facing huge water scarcity issues?
Answer: Africa’s water scarcity does not derive from a physical lack of water resources. It is due, in part, to a lack of adaptive capacity and the political will and investments. On the whole, Sub-Saharan Africa uses only 4% of its annual renewable fresh water while rich countries of the North use about 700% of their internal resources. Renewable water is the quantity of water that can be turned into surface and ground water resources. Water security in Africa largely depends on how much infrastructure can be developed for use of our water resources.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has about 60% of the total resources of the continent, but has only 52% of the population having access to potable water. It is not a question of lack of water, but lack of political will for socio-economic development.
Libya, a desert country, has not got water because of the Sahara desert. It barely rains there, but they are able to mine water from the depth of the ground (about 500 meters). This effort is a clear manifestation of the country’s political will.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a general development problem. African policy-makers must direct more resources to water storage and rain-harvesting in order to overcome the variability of African rainfall. If African countries don’t capture excess rainfall in order to cover a deficit during droughts, their development efforts will be exposed to risks.
Question: What role should the AfDB and other development partners play in these efforts?
Answer: The role of the AfDB as a development finance institution, through the AWF, is to prioritize Africa’s water resources infrastructure needs and mobilize funds for development. In 2003 during the Pan African Water Conference in Addis-Ababa, a portfolio of African water resource needs was adopted and the AWF was created to lead the initiative on Africa water resources development. Though the AfDB is Africa’s leading development finance institution, it cannot take decisions for governments. In terms of sourcing financial means, governments have their own developmental priorities for which they must source for funding.
Question: As a water engineer and scientific coordinator at WRREDOC, could you explain to our readers how water access is determined?
Answer: In Ghana, for instance, access to water is determined by the time that you take to fetch water. It is 30 minutes. As far as the government is concerned, if within 30 minutes a citizen can have water, it means the government has done its job and that means the person concerned has the right to potable water. Each country has a system to determine how its citizens should have the right to access potable water. Sometimes, it is determined by the distance to a water source.
Question: But why must people pay high rates to have water connected to their homes?
Answer: If this happens in a country, it is just because the government does not have sufficient resources to guarantee home connection as a right to access potable water.
We have a dilemma. Water is described as an economic good and it has, at the same time, a high social value. Our challenge is to reconcile the two values. Of course, there is a cost involved. The connection fees are very high in certain African countries. This cost can be absorbed by governments through taxes or directly paid for by the population. In Africa in general, taxation is not effective. Many people don’t pay taxes. States don’t have a mechanism to have people pay taxes. We need to define at which level water becomes a right.
I am using the word "Right" as the indicator for guaranteeing water supply. The United Nations Socio-economic Council defines access to water as the first right to human dignity and all other rights come after. If a government says it wants to bring water to a village through boreholes it must define the distance.
Question: With poor people unable to pay huge amounts of money for home connections, do you think poverty is being reduced and do you think the continent can attain the MDGs in 2015?
Answer: Water has been found to be a cross-cutting element of the MDGs. Meeting the MDGs in African will depend on how much our governments invest in water and sanitation. The imaging role of AMCOW should be to mobilize governments to place water at the central of Africa’s socio-economic development. As I said earlier, the political will is needed to bring water to each and everyone in this continent.
Interview réalisée par: Aristide Ahouassou. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org