With sub-Saharan Africa achieving an implementation level of just 46% in integrated water resources management, there is considerable scope for the region to improve its performance in meeting citizens’ water needs.
A third of the people in Africa remain without access to clean, safe water and there is a need to deal with this through a robust water management system, which will build resilience against increasing demand on limited water resources, says SRK Consulting principal scientist Avril Owens.
“Effective water management needs a tailored water management plan, with pragmatic actions to address current on-the-ground challenges and develop and sustain the system. This plan must, in turn, be based on validated information, as well as sufficient human and financial resources, so that it can be implemented and kept relevant,” she says.
People are severely impacted on in sub-Saharan Africa, and many risk contracting diseases, owing to poor sanitation, poor hygiene facilities and contaminated water.
Highlighting the water plight in a recent webinar, she outlines how Africa has 16% of the world’s population, yet only 9% of the world’s fresh water. Some one in three people do not have access to clean or safe water and, in many African countries, more than 50% of people are without access to a basic water supply, which is a barrier to handwashing and hygiene.
“The current reality presents some major challenges,” she says, noting that droughts impacted on access to food for more than 45-million people across 14 countries in Africa in 2019, with climate change leading to major crop failure and landslides and coastal floods becoming more frequent.
A significant portion of potable water is lost through leaks from deteriorating infrastructure and there is significant pollution and contamination in rivers and groundwater.
All these constraints, collectively, lead to huge economic pressures.
The continent faces significant challenges that require a response incorporating an understanding of strategic linkages, systematic planning and the adoption of an integrated approach.
“A vital first step is to take a strategic perspective, which helps to achieve water management goals regardless of the scale at which you are operating. This would apply as much to high-level transboundary catchment issues as it would at project-specific levels,” says Owens.
She outlines how SRK Consulting navigated the complex web of global, regional and national goals, policies and laws that influence water management planning.
At continental level, for example, it is the African Water Vision 2025 of the African Union (AU), while the United Nations’ (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals are applied at global level.
“Along with international treaties, conventions and agreements, these frameworks provide guidance for any water management plan. These international legal obligations also inform national water laws, and guide each country’s regulatory authorities on how to apply their laws and regulations, such as through licensing and permits,” she says.
She highlights the AU Agenda 2063’s intention to harmonise sustainability efforts across Africa, while the African Water Vision focuses on improved water management, including the achievement of access to safe and adequate water supply and sanitation.
“The AU Agenda is Africa taking control of its own destiny, by informing a framework of action which has milestones to be achieved by adequate planning and funding,” Owens adds.
“The framework and milestones are implemented by a range of structures, including national Ministries, institutes and local authorities tasked with generating policies and strategic plans.”
This provides the foundation for projects to pursue the involvement of financial institutions such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, funders such as the Global Environment Facility and the Southern African Development Community Water Fund, and development agencies such as the UN Development Programme and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
“An integrated approach to water management ensures that the project design is well-rooted in the strategic framework, so that it links firmly with the aims of the funders,” she continues.
This paves the way for developing actions and targets based on modelling, data analysis and results, with responsibilities and timeframes clearly assigned.
“There is a very high level of integration required when planning at a strategic level, but then you need to follow this through to the rest of the plan to get the best results. SRK planning incorporates the coordination of a number of things, including policy alignment, the tasks that are required, the resources you need, both human and financial, and stakeholder engagement.”
The approach is informed by a roadmap of vision, policy, strategy, baseline investigations, planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation.
This refines and improves an overall water management plan.
“It is not ground-breaking. However, in reality, we are not implementing water management as well as what we should, so it is back to basics and putting in the hard work,” Owens adds.
Integration paves the way for greater water management success, she says, emphasising that an integrated approach to water management from the start and throughout the entire water management phase and execution is required.
She highlights the need to link and bring all the elements together, align the policy, vision and strategic objectives with current realities; involve the multidisciplinary team through the process; develop continual communication between specialists and all stakeholders; take into account existing capacity, structures and mechanisms for implementation; and consider the source and avenues of funding.