Addis Ababa — Sustainable water supply is imperative for economic growth, but so often gets side-lined in the rush for development. The unanticipated consequence is a global economy that is increasingly stunted by water resource challenges, with worldwide predictions suggesting that global water demand will increase by approximately 75% more than global water supply in the next 30 years!
For most of Africa, economic development, urbanisation and food security have traditionally been linked by a strong but delicate bond, with poor management of national resources threatening to destroy this balance. In Ethiopia, extreme hydrological variability (climate change) has also been a key impediment to sustainable water management, resulting in periods of severe drought for this 'Water tower of Africa'. The Government of Ethiopia has set ambitious targets for broad-based economic growth in its Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP-II), with the ambition of becoming a lower middle-income country by 2025. These targets will heavily depend on and impact available freshwater sources. As a result, water efficiency increase and water conservation are now increasingly seen as critical for ensuring future water resources.
Based on the premise of 'increased water efficiency' as opposed to 'increased water resources', key policy and investment specialists from both the public and private sector gathered in Addis Ababa on 17 October to discuss Sustainable Water Management as a Lever for Green Growth in Ethiopia and the Region, as part of the Global Green Growth Week 2017. Co-moderated by Peter Vos (Global Water Sector Lead of the Global Green Growth Institute) and Kitty van der Heijden (Director of Africa and Europe of the World Resource Institute), the session attracted some 70 actors and stakeholders from the local and international water sector. Featuring six distinguished panellists, the primary question reiterated throughout the session was what are the main impediments to sustainable water management, and what innovative tools can be used to solve these?
The audience set the scene on the current water situation in their region, with 77% saying that they were very worried that the lack of water resources could impact economic growth (Figure 1). However, 84% also said that access to clean, reliable water resources has improved over the past 10 years (Figure 2), shining a positive light on the situation. This optimism was echoed by panellist H.E. Dr. Mary Kitutu (Minister of State for Environment of Uganda) and keynote speaker Tesfaye Fichala (Special Assistant to the Minister of Water, Irrigation, and Electricity of Ethiopia), who gave examples of large scale reforestation and wetland restoration success stories in Uganda, and the positive impacts of Ethiopia's Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) to date. Sustainable water management, particularly at the energy-water nexus, is essential for both Ethiopia and Uganda who aim to become middle income countries in the next 10 years.
Most participants agreed that sustainable water management is primarily a function of the government, with research institutions, civil society and the private sector also having a prominent role (Figure 3). Panellist Joy Busolo (Kenya representative of the 2030 Water Resources Group) stressed the importance for collective action and collaboration, as "the private sector has a role to play in terms of innovative financial mechanisms, and a main priority for 2030 WRG is to crowd more private sector finance". Panellist Tafese Refera (Director of Public Affairs and Communication of Coca Cola Sabco) shared similar sentiments, stating that water is a major worry for Coca Cola, and increasing the sustainability of water resources is a major concern. In the last two decades, four of the seven boreholes drilled in Ethiopia have completely dried up, and local bottling companies are committed to financially investing a large portion of their profits to sustainable water practices. He stated that it is not simply a case of raising the cost of water, as "by raising costs, we are ultimately marginalising the poor". Panellist Khalid Bomba (CEO of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, ATA) added that from his experience, ownership by local communities is far more important than putting a price tag on water, as local communities will ensure that water use is sustainable.
Both the audience and panellists agreed that effective water policies is one of the most influential tools for promoting sustainable water management. Panellists Khalid Bomba and Dr. Gete Eshetu (Director of the Water and Land Resource Centre, WLRC, Addis Ababa University) stressed the importance of evidence-based policy interventions as a powerful tool for change. An abundance of data is available, but is often scattered and not always easily translated into practical application. "Ensuring that the knowledge base and available data is fully robust, and that decision-makers have access to it and know what to do with it", is a key challenge that Khalid Bomba has identified for his organisation. In a region where the agriculture sector accounts for more than 70% of water demand, many organisations focus on quantifying water sustainability, with the ATA having mapped 70% of the shallow groundwater, and the WLRC addressing the challenges of land degradation and associated poverty in Ethiopia and the eastern Nile sub-region, to name just a few.
Ethiopia will undoubtedly be confronted by numerous water challenges on its path to economic transformation, but this session serves as a reminder to the wealth of ideas and opportunities that that can arise from collaboration. 'Accessible data, awareness on all levels, sustainable investments, political willingness, policy coherence, multi-sectoral partnerships, involvement of the private sector, water fees, and land restoration' are some of the suggested solutions that could guide Ethiopia on a path to sustainable water management.