By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
With increased changes in weather patterns and increased competition for water resources, international organizations are warning that water infrastructure in Africa is currently below the level necessary to ensure water security for people.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Global Water Partnership in Africa are calling on governments, development organizations, civil society and donors to rally around the urgent need to accelerate investment in climate-resilient water and sanitation services in a statement released on Wednesday.
On top of that, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought an added sense of urgency, with “billions of people lacking access to handwashing facilities at home.”
The call to action comes just before the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought commemorated on 17 June. This year, the annual observance is focusing on the current commitment of several countries to restore degraded land into healthy land.
Children disproportionately affected
Illustrating the gravity of the situation, the statement noted that “more than 220 million children and their families in Africa are water insecure,” due to circumstances where 58 percent of children in Eastern and Southern Africa, as well as 31 percent of children in West and Central Africa, live in areas of high, or extremely highwater vulnerability.
Many of these children are likely to miss school to fetch water, the statement explained. They are also more likely to suffer malnutrition and stunting when droughts and floods impact agricultural food production and are prone to sicknesses when communicable diseases and infections spread due to contaminated water or lack of sanitation.
In addition, water insecurity limits economic growth and forces people to migrate due to increased water demand.
Under-funded water infrastructure
For the water situation to be under control, the African Development Bank estimates that US$ 64 billion should be invested annually to meet the 2025 Africa vision of water security for all; but the actual figure invested stands between US$10 -US$19 billion per year.
“The reality is stark,” said the joint call to action by UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, and Jakaya Kikwete, former Tanzanian President and chair of the Global Water Partnership Southern Africa and Africa Coordination.
“Urgent action is needed to transform the investment outlook for climate-resilient water and sanitation services in Africa,” they said.
Appeal for joint efforts
In the face of the situation, the UN Children’s Fund is calling for support to respond to the urgent need for investment in climate-resilient water infrastructure.
UNICEF encourages development partners, donors and the private sector to join efforts to “provide technical and long-term financial commitments through public-private partnerships and innovative co-financing mechanisms to support sustainable water and sanitation investments.”
The statement also insisted that “investment in water governance, as well as water and sanitation services, must be prioritized at the highest political level by Heads of States and Government” as the development community convenes for the 14th annual European Development Days from 15 – 16 June.
In this regard, the European Commission also has an opportunity to prioritize water governance, water and sanitation services, and hygiene as part of the comprehensive strategy with Africa in its programming cycle for 2021-2021.
The statement concludes with an appeal to jointly work to transform the investment outlook for sustainable water infrastructure in order to ensure water security on the continent and “contribute to a peaceful, prosperous, stronger and equitable Africa, now and in the future.”