Africa: Providing Clean Water and Sanitation While Adapting to the Climate Emergency

Makeshift tents surrounded by water at Kigaramango IDP camp. Displaced persons have been living in this camp since the floods in Gatumba in April 2020. This camp has been completely flooded in May 2021 and people who were still living there were displaced to another site.
15 November 2022

Sharm el-Sheikh — Water is life as the saying goes, but for many households across the continent finding their daily supply of clean water remains a struggle. They also face the risk of contracting water-borne illnesses like cholera and diarrhea, which according to the WHO Health Organization, remains a major killer but is largely preventable. Better water, sanitation, and hygiene could prevent the deaths of 297 000 children aged under 5 years each year. To add to their troubles climate change is heightening water and sanitation concerns as increasingly frequent storms, floods, and droughts threaten access to these critical services.

UNICEF has warned that "if current progress trends continue, very few African Union member states may achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water, safely managed sanitation or basic hygiene services by 2030."

An Afrobarometer survey shows that Africa's water situation actually appears to be worsening. "Results from 48,084 face-to-face interviews in 34 African countries conducted from 2019 to 2021 show that more than half of Africans have experienced shortages of clean water in the past year, and 1 in 7 have no access to sanitation facilities of any kind. The numbers of people experiencing these challenges has been on the rise and citizens expressed considerable disappointment with government efforts to address them, it reported. As a result of unreliable water supplies, children's health is particularly at risk, and women lose valuable time they could use to earn money, resulting in an increase in poverty.

The outbreak of cholera in Nigeria has remained persistent, occurring annually mostly during the rainy season and more often in areas with poor sanitation, overcrowding, lack of clean food and water, and areas where open defecation is a common practice. Sanitation is a major concern in many developing countries. Thousands of cases of cholera have been reported in Nigeria between January and June 2021. A global survey has identified Nigeria as the second in the world among countries where open defecation is prevalent. Only India ranked worse than Nigeria.

Nigeria's water crisis has gone backward, says Jennifer Sara, the Global Director for the World Bank Group's Climate Change Global Practice and a water and sanitation specialist. Sara also spoke about some of the strategies or designs that governments can use to expand access to water and sanitation for some of the poorest communities while bearing in mind the disruptions that climate disasters will bring. "The good news is that many countries, especially in Africa, many governments do see this as a priority. There was a big World Water Forum in Senegal, in March ... the forum was the ninth World Water Forum, a week-long series of conferences and workshops aimed at accelerating universal access to water and sanitation".

"There are many countries that do have big programmes, but the most important thing is for government to prioritise it and to look, what are the needs if I want to give everyone in my country access to water, and safe water and sanitation, in the villages, in urban areas. How much is this going to cost? What's my strategy? Who do we deliver it with? And that's the work we do. For example, in Tanzania. Many countries have these big national programmes, which we call Program for Results (PforR) ."

"The PforR financing instrument was developed by the World Bank Group to address the growing demand for programmes that help deliver sustainable results and build institutions. Using a country's own institutions and processes, PforR links the disbursement of funds directly to the achievement of specific program results. This approach helps build capacity within the country, enhances effectiveness and efficiency, and leads to the achievement of tangible, sustainable programme results. It also supports government programmes and helps leverage World Bank development assistance, by fostering partnerships and aligning development partner goals and results to national programmes."

Sara explained how the funds have been disbursed based on the delivery of services as the local government level once the work was completed. "So we give the money to the government. But then a lot of it goes down to local governments, and they deliver the water and sanitation services. And they get paid once it's delivered. So the incentive is for them to implement the projects quickly. But the most important thing is, of course, the sustainability that you put in place in these systems. So in Africa, we actually have quite a number of projects in Benin, Niger, Tanzania, and Senegal. And in Niger, it's one of our best, we're helping to reform the urban utility so that it's profitable because you might know many utilities, right? There are sinkholes or the waters leaking, people pay their tariffs, but they don't get water. So how do you fix the utilities in urban areas, but also how to expand services? So we've even got some of the best examples of how to do it. And it really is political will and commitment, and to be able to map out a roadmap that people can come and support."

Sara also highlighted the importance of adaptation projects.

"Climate change is wreaking havoc on the water cycle. So the too much water, the too little water, the floods, polluted water, most of the adaptations, a lot of it is about water management. So when you think of adaptation, you start thinking about what are the development benefits we're trying to achieve. Is it irrigation for farmers? How do we work with farmers, and irrigation, now that we need to deal with adaptation? We have to not just deliver the irrigation benefits, but is there going to be water to put into the pipes?"

"The same thing, if we're talking about cities and extending just water sanitation or other services, you really need to build an adaptation angle into it, you need to think that the city might flood. Or it might even be separate from a lot of jobs. How do you redesign cities ... we do a lot of work supporting urban upgrading, how to do it already bearing resilience in mind, so you're doing the development impact, and you incorporate adaptation..."

This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

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