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In view of its important contribution to the achievement of all the MDG goals and therefore its unique contribution to poverty reduction on the continent, the water sector has received major attention as a strategic priority of the Bank.
Since 2000, following the adoption of its Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Policy, the Bank has increased its focus on the water sector as a way of assisting regional member countries achieve the objective of poverty reduction and economic growth because of its potential for contributing to achieving the other MDGs for poverty, health, education, and gender.
The Bank has adopted a strategy of significantly increasing its interventions in rural water supply and sanitation while continuing to support urban and peri-urban water supply and sanitation and promoting integrated management of water resources.
In summary, the strategy will:
The Bank adopted the Integrated Water Resources Management Policy (IWRM) in 2000. The IWRM principle is based on the recognition that water has an ecological, social and economic use and that water management has to be optimised within these systems. The central objective of IWRM policy is to promote an integrated approach in the management of water resources in order to achieve sustained economic development and attain the goals poverty reduction in RMCs.
The Bank’s first Strategic Plan (2003-2007) was built around four core objectives:
The strategic priorities at the country level were agriculture and rural development, water and sanitation, and human capital formation. Consequentially, water and sanitation lending grew 5-fold during this period, and accounted for 10% of lending. Three complementary water initiatives, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative, African Water Facility, and Water Partnership Programme, were launched to address key challenges such as accelerating access to drinking water supply and sanitation, improving water governance, strengthening institutions, and knowledge management.
A dedicated Water and Sanitation Department was established in 2006 to provide greater focus in the coordination of sector activities.
Under medium-term strategy 2008-2012 the Bank will also continue to focus on accelerating access to improved rural water and sanitation services while addressing the needs of Africa’s growing peri-urban and urban populations. The RWSSI will provide the vehicle for scaling up rural water and sanitation delivery during the medium-term strategy period. The Bank will strengthen partnerships to improve, water, sanitation and hygiene delivery and water security in RMCs; it will support RMCs to mainstream Integrated Water Resources Management in sector programmes and step up support to strengthen sector monitoring and evaluation in RMCs.
Water security is essential for growth and poverty reduction. The water sector provides wide benefits across other sectors and is one sector that has important linkages to the attainment of all the other MDG goals. Africa unfortunately is off-track in its progress towards achieving the MDGs in water and sanitation and every effort must be made to scale up delivery of basic water and sanitation services to ensure the targets are met by 2015.
The social and economic cost of inadequate access pertaining in several African countries is high. It is estimated that at any given time, about half of the population in developing countries are sick with one water-related disease or the other. Productivity is directly impacted and enormous pressure is placed on the health infrastructure, not to mention the huge economic costs incurred. For example, the 2006 United Nations Human Development Report estimates that Sub-Africa loses about 5% of GDP, or some $28.4 billion annually from inadequate investment in water and sanitation, a figure exceeding total aid inflows to the region in 2003.
Water also provides a range of productive opportunities, so investments in water for agriculture, hydropower and industry, for example, can be seen as drivers of growth. These issues were extensively discussed and recommendations made in the outcomes and Minmisterial declaration of the First African Water Week organized and hosted by the Bank in collaboration with AMCOW and other development partners.