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A four-day meeting, to address the challenges facing rural water supply and to share perspectives on best practices, started on 29 November 2016 in Abidjan, with full support from the African Development Bank (AfDB). The forum brought together more than 500 participants, comprising government officials, policy makers, scientists, researchers and private sector representatives.
The AfDB’s support to the Forum, falls within the strategic priorities of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative (RWSSI) – hosted by the African Development Bank – to accelerate access to water supply and sanitation services in urban and peri-urban areas with a view to fostering sustainable growth and reaching the overall MDGs targets for water and sanitation in Africa.
Highlighting the relevance of the meeting, African Development Bank’s Director of Water and Sanitation Department, Mohamed El Azizi, observed that the Rural Water Supply Network forum is a unique opportunity for global and regional players to exchange knowledge and identify practical solutions to address this challenge. "Delivering drinking water to over 660 million people in the world and 300 million people in Africa is no easy task. Nor one that any single institution can afford to tackle,” he underscored.
Known at inception in 1992 as the Hand pump Technology Network (HTN), this initiative was renamed the Rural Water Supply Network in 2003 in South Africa. It works primarily to raise standards of knowledge and evidence, technical and professional competence, practice and policy in rural water supply to fulfill the vision of sustainable rural water services for all. RWSN places a great premium on viable technologies and approaches that improve rural water supply.
The Rural Drinking Water Challenge in Africa
About sixty-two percent of Africans live in rural areas where less than half of them have access to rural water supply (47%). These populations endure preventable water-related diseases. Women and children spend considerable time and effort fetching and carrying water, which prevents them from embarking upon productive economic activities. These problems accentuate poverty in rural areas.
"The main challenges and constraints facing rural water supply services include inadequate policy and institutional frameworks, inadequate investments, inefficient management, inadequate capacity, poor cost recovery, and financial sustainability," according to a recent evaluation of the Independent Development Evaluation (IDEV) of the AfDB.
The AfDB has been at the forefront of providing rural water to households and communities since 1968. With the creation of the RWSSI Initiative in 2003 and the RWSSI Trust Fund (TF) in 2005, the Bank stepped up its work in rural water and sanitation. Since then, the Bank has gone on to approve 53 projects in 35 countries in rural water supply and sanitation. In collaboration with partners, RWSSI has facilitated access to drinking water to 134 million people and improved sanitation to 90 million people.
With about 300 million people in rural Africa still without access to drinking water, the AfDB through the RWSSI initiative is sharpening its focus through the development of the 2016-2025 RWSSI Strategy to continue scaling up activities while using transformative and innovative delivery approaches.
“The AfDB has a substantial experience in delivering rural water on the continent. It is looking to not only share this experience with participants at the RWSN Forum, but to learn and draw from emerging perspectives on how to efficiently and urgently tackle the water challenge Africa,” says Mohamed El Azizi.
Cote d'Ivoire is the first French-speaking country to host this global event which is taking place every five years. Though the country has made considerable progress in the delivery of rural water supply, much remains to be done.
"Côte d’Ivoire made considerable efforts to become the regional leader in drinking water services. Unfortunately, the various crises that have hit the country had a disastrous effect on the drinking water sector. The consequences included lack of capacity at the institutional level, as well as insufficient production and distribution capacity, a high breakdown rate in rural areas, and, at times non-respect of the drinking water norms," says Hon. Patrick Achi, Cote d'Ivoire's Minister for Economic Infrastructure and Chair of the local Organizing Committee of the Forum.
A Vision Rooted in "Water for Everyone."
The work of the RWSN is anchored in a vision that all rural people should have access to sustainable and reliable water supplies.
"Ensuring that water supply services are effectively managed to provide sufficient, affordable and safe water require the minds, skills, hearts and resources of political leaders, practitioners, and water users," says Dr. Kerstin Danert, Director of Rural Water Supply Network Secretariat. "The RWSN Forum provides an opportunity to learn from one another. It is designed to share experiences, innovations and challenges."
By bringing together players in the sector, RWSN hopes to facilitate the sharing and exchange of the latest knowledge and emerging approaches to transform rural water delivery in the world and Africa.