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World Water Day 2021: Development partners must mobilize support to achieve a water-secure Africa

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On World Water Day, we reflect on the impact that the African Development Bank has made over the past decade in this sector through various projects, which are helping communities all over Africa protect themselves against the coronavirus.

The African Development Bank prides itself in making investments that make a tangible difference and improve the quality of life of the people of Africa, in keeping with one of our High 5 strategic priorities. The water sector is, of course, a priority given the importance of this natural resource.

The Bank has been recognized for the impact that its water investments are having all over Africa. Recently, the Bank won a “People’s Choice” Water Change Maker award for a climate resilience project in Zambia, which provided reliable water supply to a farming community that had for years battled droughts and flooding.

The Bank also won the prestigious Prince Talal International Prize for Human Development(link is external) for a water project in Mzimba Town in Malawi, which improved the lives of residents in multiple ways. Aside from the health impact, 1,000 people gained jobs as a result of the project. In addition to that, the project delivered an enormous social benefit to women in the community, who had in the past walked long distances to collect water and were therefore often caught on the road after dark, leaving them vulnerable to attacks.

These projects are a small sample of the consistent investments the Bank has made in this crucial sector. Between 2010 and 2020, the Bank invested an estimated $6.3 billion in water supply and sanitation services. Of this, 70.8% went to investments in urban areas, catalyzing industrial and business developments, and enhancing resilience to climate change risks. A little over $1.8 billion provided water supply and sanitation services to communities in rural areas.[*] As a result, an estimated 30 million people in urban areas and nearly 55 million people in rural areas are expected to gain access to improved water and sanitation.

Despite Bank and other private and public sector efforts, financing universal access to water remains a challenge. The sector has historically relied on public financing to meet its investment needs – through concessional funds and/or lending. Institutionally, many parts of the sector are government departments where mobilizing private finance is almost non-existent. Valuing water is an essential part of the policy agenda, if we are to bend the curve towards a water-secure Africa.

COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities caused by under-investment in water, sanitation and hygiene services, also known as WASH. The Bank’s water sector response is premised on building back better to achieve a resilient future that can withstand other pandemics and crises. In order to accomplish this kind of resilience, we must coordinate financial resources with other development partners.

It is estimated that only 24% of the Sub-Saharan Africa region have access to safely managed drinking water, with more than 150 million people worldwide, most of them in the region, still using surface waters as their primary drinking water source. Nearly 750 million people, or 69% of Africa’s population, did not have access to basic sanitation services in 2017. This is a challenging baseline for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 in Africa[†].

In collaboration with UN Environment, and GRID-Arendal, the Bank recently produced a Sanitation and Wastewater Atlas of Africa, which highlights the current situation related to wastewater management and sanitation in Africa, proposing how gaps can be filled to achieve universal access to sanitation.

On World Water Day, the Bank remains committed to supporting our regional member countries to achieve the goal of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

[*]Approximate USD figures converted using average exchange rate of SDR - USD in the period of 1 January 2009 to 31 December 2018 = 0.676797.

[†] UNEP, 2021