JOHANNESBURG, SA, Water is a critical resource and has a tremendous impact on Africa’s development. Unfortunately, climate change, together with a soaring population, has led to an increase in the demand for water – a demand that in many countries, outstrips the available resources.
As the availability of water declines, the facilitation of water for domestic consumption, agriculture and other uses is becoming critical, as is the modernising of water infrastructure to meet the growing demand. Bear in mind that Africa is a continent with 1.2 billion people, and a population expected to double by 2050. It will be made up of 89 cities of over 1 million inhabitants by 2030, 17 cities of over 5 million by the same year and boasts 400 companies with annual revenues of over a billion dollars. At the same time, 40% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to safe water.
Simply put, managing Africa’s limited water resources is becoming increasingly critical to not only meet a rapidly growing population and increasing demand for farming and energy, while guaranteeing the health and longevity of water ecosystems.
As a continent, Africa is unique and diverse, in terms of its variety of cultures, societal structures, economic development and natural resources. There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to Africa’s water challenges, but rather specific solutions tailored for each region. This is also true for water related issues which, despite their overarching nature, are governed by the multifariousness of the continent’s landscapes and climate.
There have been a number of initiatives by countries in conjunction with the international community to meet the safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities requirements of the Millennium Development Goals, yet many African countries have failed to meet their targets. This is a huge problem, because water is used directly or indirectly in almost every economic sector on the continent, including agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transport and tourism.
Citizens need access to clean drinking water, as well as water for crop irrigation and hydropower – its importance cannot be underestimated. All environments, whether rural, urban, and peri-urban environments each have specific requirements with regard to the availability, as well as the use and management of water resources, and these nuances need to be top-of-mind when formulation of policies related to the modernisation, as well as development and management of water resources.
There are also a finite number of sources of water available to provide clean drinking, and other water to Africa’s citizens. Too often, surface water sources are often contaminated or polluted, and the infrastructure that is required to pipe water from fresh, clean sources to dry and arid areas is prohibitively expensive. Groundwater is the most practical way to bring clean water into citizens’ taps across Africa, particularly those in rural Africa, as it is usually free from pollutants, and is a good source during the dry months.
The challenge here includes the high costs of drilling for water, as well the technical challenges associated with finding sources that are vast enough to meet the needs of the region’s population.
The Africa Water Vision 2025 is for “An Africa where there is an equitable and sustainable use and management of water resources for poverty alleviation, socio-economic development, regional cooperation, and the environment,” speaks to how the management and modernisation of water supply should be addressed. It covers sustainable management, as well as how to address the burgeoning population, a lack of proper water governance and regulation, as well as depletion due to pollution, deforestation and the degradation of the environment. Another major threat to water resources is the inadequate financing of investments in water supply and modernisation.
None of these challenges are being adequately addressed and maintaining the status quo will not successfully address the situation. What is needed is the adoption of good governance, innovative technologies, co-operation between the private and public sector, and well-developed frameworks driven by the Africa Water Vision and Millennium Development Goals.
At the same time, what is required, are pure-play water technology companies that can work with the public sector, and who possesses deep application expertise from decades of leading innovation in the global market, and can learn and adapt to local environments, working in true partnership with all stakeholders. Having diverse geographic and end-market exposure, brings the ability to solve water issues across the full water cycle, to solve Africa’s water challenges.
By ‘Chetan Mistry at Xylem Water Solutions SA
Xylem (XYL) is a leading global water technology company committed to solving critical water and infrastructure challenges with technological innovation. Our more than 16,000 diverse employees delivered revenue of $5.25 billion in 2019. We are creating a more sustainable world by enabling our customers to optimize water and resource management, and helping communities in more than 150 countries become water-secure. Join us at www.xylem.com.
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