Make investment in Africa’s water security a priority

Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Published Mar 17, 2022


While the war in Ukraine absorbs the world’s attention, there is another war going on that is taking the lives of around 10,000 people a day. It is the decades-long war for clean water.

Next week, thousands of people who care about creating a water-secure world will be meeting in Dakar, Senegal, for the 9th World Water Forum. For the first time, this triennial gathering meets in sub-Saharan Africa, where water problems are prevalent across the continent – and getting worse.

Water is the connector that is common to all of society’s greatest challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic underscored the need for good personal hygiene, and therefore, for clean water.

The climate crisis, which is expected to worsen with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, is mainly felt by human societies through changes in rainfall patterns, leading to increased floods and droughts.

Famine is a growing concern given the increasing world population, while food production is already the biggest user of water around the world, with 70% of water extractions.

A growing population will also need more energy, while energy production uses large quantities of water for cooling, extraction, or growing crops for biofuels.

Finally, economic growth will require ever greater quantities of water because every single sector of industry depends on the availability of water of appropriate quality for current operations and future growth.

Quite simply, without water, there can be no life, no society, no development. In Africa, this growing pressure is exacerbated by the existing annual water investment gap, which is estimated at between $49 and 54 billion (R732 and R807.7 billion), according to data from the African Development Bank. Because of water scarcity, contaminated water, or poor sanitation, Sub-Saharan Africa loses an estimated 5% of its GDP annually. So, the lack of investment negatively affects the economy, further reducing the opportunity to reset the course towards sustainability.

The lack of investment also impacts the most vulnerable, adding to the continent’s economic and political insecurity and compromising its prosperity. For example, the African Development Bank estimates that every year 40 billion hours of otherwise productive time is spent just collecting water in Africa.

Furthermore, the World Health Organization estimates that on average, every dollar invested in water and sanitation returns $4.3 and an estimated gain of 1.5% of global GDP through reduced health care costs, as well as providing benefits such as reduced pollution, greater workplace productivity, increased school attendance, and greater dignity, privacy, and safety. That’s a return on investment that should appeal to any government, investor, donor, or other organisation willing to contribute towards this most essential of all goals!

Clearly, Africa needs a coordinated and collaborative approach to ensure that developed nations honour their financial commitments and that all investors contribute to meeting the continent’s greatest needs. It is of the utmost importance that water security and climate resilience are a key part of regional and national development plans in Africa.

Fortunately, there is now a blueprint in place that will help the continent to increase sustainable investments in water. In February 2021, the African Union Heads of States adopted the Continental Africa Water Investment Programme (AIP), as part of the second phase of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), with a goal to leverage and influence $30 billion per year in climate resilience SDG 6 water investments annually by 2030, creating at least five million jobs.

To fulfil this ambition, the AIP will make use of the AIP Water Investment Scorecard, launched this month, which will rally political leadership and commitment to transform the investment outlook for water and sanitation towards the realisation of SDG 6 by supporting countries to track progress, identify bottlenecks, and take action. The Scorecard will enhance mutual accountability for results in the mobilisation of water investments.

The need to engage the highest level of leadership in Africa to solve the water crisis resulted in the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW), along with UNDP, UNICEF, AUDA-NEPAD, the African Development Bank, Global Center on Adaptation, and the Global Water Partnership (GWP) establishing a partnership to mobilise international commitment for water investments and SDGs in Africa, by convening an International High-Level Panel on Water Investments for Africa. This High-Level Panel will drive global political mobilisation and international engagement to narrow the water investment gap on the continent. The Panel is expected to be launched this month at the 9th World Water Forum.

Based on this tremendous mobilisation of political, technical, and financial resources, public and private, investors will now have a clear investment pathway that will increase the efficiency and impact of their investments while also allowing funding sources to be blended in a way that mutualises risks by increasing multi-sector collaboration, in the spirit of SDG 17, on Partnerships for the Goals.

With a long-term vision, the AIP is here to stay, further increasing investor confidence. Frameworks like the AIP reduce the transaction costs for investors while providing a scalable approach through which everyone can contribute within the scope of their possibilities.

Currently, many corporate investors are unsure of where to best provide support. The increasing focus on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria is generating further interest and commitments from investors, but the pathway towards optimal ESG investments can be a minefield. If corporate investments are not grounded in the public good as defined through good governance arrangements, there is a risk of mal-adaptation or even unwitting green washing, which is certainly not a good investment for anybody.

Africa desperately needs investments in its water resources to boost its drive towards sustainability, reduce health risks, increase climate resilience, create jobs and livelihoods, and grow its economies. To do this, corporates need to sit at the table along with other stakeholders in shared action mechanisms. We invite all businesses concerned with sustainability to support the AIP to help support Africa’s development.

* Colin Herron is GWP’s Global Coordinator for the Sustainable Development Goals.

* Alex Simalabwi is the Executive Secretary of GWP Southern Africa and GWP’s Global Head of Climate Resilience.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media/IOL

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