Water: New approach needed



Africa cities can be more sustainable and resilient by better resource management. 

As Africa urbanises at a faster rate than any other region in the world, a more integrated approach to urban water management is needed to solve complex water challenges in Africa’s teeming, thirsty cities, making them more sustainable and resilient, says a World Bank report presented on December 6th at the AfriCities Summit in Dakar, Senegal. The report collates lessons of experience from 31 cities in Africa and globally, and shows how such approaches are leading to home-grown innovative solutions that could help guide the design of plans elsewhere.

The World Bank report, “The Future of Water in African Cities: Why Waste Water?” aims to change the way policy makers think about urban water management, planning, and project design in Africa. It argues that by adopting integrated urban water management (IUWM) approaches, policy makers in African cities have a real chance to address diverse issues such as increased competition for water with upstream water users, improve urban planning by understanding water’s interaction with other sectors, and in the face of a changing climate, secure resilience in an uncertain future by relying on a diversity of water sources.

“Solving the challenge of urban water management is critical to unlocking the economic potential of Africa’s cities and improving the lives of city residents,” said Alexander Bakalian, World Bank Sector Manager for Urban Development and Services in the Africa Region. “We need to understand how water is linked across sectors and innovate in the way we do project planning and implementation. It is noteworthy that some cities in Africa have started to consider integrated planning of water resources as part of their city development strategies.”

African cities are growing at 3.9%  annually, the highest in the world, and existing water management systems cannot keep up with growing demand.  Studies project that over the next 25 years, water demand will almost quadruple — a much faster growth rate than any other region in the world. Currently, about 320m Africans live in urban areas, a number projected to rise to 654m by 2030.  Population growth and growing water needs – for municipal, industrial, and ecological purposes – will all combine to put greater pressure on already scarce and dwindling water resources.

The IUWM approach seeks to improve urban water systems by urging policy makers to adopt a holistic view of all components of the urban water cycle and ask critical questions such as:  How is upstream land use and irrigation impacting water availability and quality downstream? Are pit latrines and poor sanitation conditions contaminating groundwater? Is solid waste clogging drains and thus causing flooding? Does water for street cleaning and parks have to be potable? Is water optimised for its multiple uses – drinking irrigation, and manufacturing?  Policymakers should recognise that IUWM is about “doing things differently,” rather than about “doing different things.”

“Urban water infrastructure in the future will look quite different compared to now. It will consider water scarcity and quality, as well as energy use and generation in an entirely different way,” said Julia Bucknall, Sector Manager, Water Unit at the World Bank.  “While most cities in Europe and North America will have to rebuild, the fast-growing cities of Africa have a chance to do it right first time. This will require bold leadership but we have seen many African leaders who see the opportunities this new approach offers and we are excited to support them.”

The book provides examples of how African cities can implement IUWM approaches leading to innovative solutions.

Windhoek, Namibia: Driven by pressures on water resources, 26% of Windhoek’s water supply comes from wastewater reuse making the city one of the few systems in the world that recycles treated wastewater for drinking water.

Arua, Uganda: Arua is proposing a low-tech system to treat wastewater in the expanding outskirts of the city. The system will combine decentralized wastewater treatment systems (DEWATS) with soil aquifer treatment (SAT).

Nairobi, Kenya: An integrated approach for reducing leakages, better management of water demand, stormwater and rainwater harvesting, and greywater recycling could provide added flexibility and resilience for the city.  (World Bank website 6/12)

Water Preservation: State of Watershed Payments 2012

As soaring temperatures and rapid urbanisation threaten water security, countries are beginning to invest in the protection and preservation of their water sources, a new report reveals.

The efforts – such as planting trees along the shorelines of rivers to prevent soil erosion – are also creating jobs, the report, State of Watershed Payments 2012, says.

Produced by the non-profit Forest Trends, the report is the second instalment of an inventory of initiatives around the world that are paying individuals and communities to revive or preserve water-friendly features of the landscape, including wetlands, streams and forests that can capture, filter and store freshwater.

Countries are seeking to protect watershed services – the benefits, like clean water, obtained from healthy watershed ecosystems – by incentivising the maintenance and improvement of watershed areas.

Of the 205 “payments for watershed services” programmes tracked around the world, more than half are in China (61) and the United States (67). Forest Trends discovered watershed investment programmes in 29 countries, but a staggering 91% of the payments in 2011 took place in China.

According to the UN humanitarian service, IRIN, there are, however, massive initiatives underway in Africa. South Africa runs the continent’s largest water conservation programme, Working for Water, which since its inception in 1995 has employed at least 20,000 people to uproot water-hogging invasive plants such as water hyacinth and eucalyptus. Studies estimate that the programme has saved South Africa more than US$50 bn in avoided costs from invasive plant impacts.

The government has been paying people employed by the programme out of its poverty relief fund. The programme, through the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is now working with private companies in South Africa to offset their water consumption “footprints” and improve their water efficiency by investing in watershed services.

Around the world, there are at least 73 new investments in watershed services (IWS) programmes under development. Countries like Bulgaria, Gabon, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi and Romania are “in line to implement their first IWS mechanism in 2012 and the coming years”, the report said.

But sustainable funding is critical. China is doing well in this regard because all of its initiatives are state-funded. The report found that in many regions, particularly Africa and Latin America, new or developing programmes identified in 2008 no longer existed by 2011, largely because initial grant funds ran out.

One of the authors of the Forest Trends’ report, Nathaniel Carroll, told IRIN that this report, and other products like http://www.watershedconnect.org – will share some of the elements of success and project design (such as feasibility assessment, local buy-in, long-term local financing as opposed to foundation support alone, etc.) with other projects in early stages to improve likelihood of success.

Researchers Maryanne Grieg-Gran and Ina Porras, from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), say they have been recording “faltering progress of payment for watershed services initiatives” in their reviews of such schemes in developing countries. One such review, All that Glitters, published in 2008, found that only three of the 17 proposed schemes reported in 2002 proceeded to a pilot stage. Of the 25 schemes reported as being pilot or mature programmes in 2002, only about half were still ongoing by the review’s publication.

The schemes that survived were flexible and adapted to changing conditions, said Grieg-Gran.

For countries that cannot afford to keep these programmes alive, “engaging the private sector is one piece of the puzzle”, said Carroll. “Redirecting more of the government, multilateral bank and aid dollars away from grey infrastructure [concrete, manmade infrastructure] and towards watershed payment systems and natural infrastructure is another piece of the puzzle.”

Greig-Gran and Porras say governments can raise funds from the private sector for payments schemes in other, more indirect ways, directing revenue from taxes on energy and water. Costa Rica, which has been running an IWS scheme since 1997, provides a model for this approach that other countries can learn from.

The IIED researchers said more evidence is required about the impact such payments have on livelihoods and on improving water sources to strengthen the case for long-term investments in such schemes.

An evaluation by the World Bank estimates that 700m people in 40 countries face water shortages. Today, one third of the World Bank’s loan portfolio involves water projects. And though investments in watershed services are growing rapidly, they are tiny compared to the estimated $1 trn per year that will be needed through 2025 to meet water supply and sanitation demands.   

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today