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"Managing water variability is becoming one of the key development challenges facing Africa"

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The African Development Bank provides concessional funding for various projects and programs to reduce poverty and economic and social development in the least developed African countries.

Poverty reduction and development is a central objective for the African Development Bank and to achieve this goal, the Bank has developed a Strategic Plan giving water high priority. Leading this fundamental division is Mr Osward Mulenga Chanda, appointed Director, Water Development and Sanitation in 2021. With over ten years’ experience in the AfDB, Mr Chanda brings nearly 30 years’ work experience in policy dialogue and investment programming. We speak to him about his new position and the challenges the African continent faces and how the Bank is working to ensure water security for all and thus contribute to the socio-economic transformation of Africa.

Appointed Director of Water Development and Sanitation at the African Development Bank Group in December of 2021, what are the main challenges and opportunities this new position represents for you?

The African continent faces three major and connected challenges, which are challenges that the new position presents. They include strengthening water and food security, supporting economic growth, and responding to climate change. In 2020, an estimated 387 million people (35% of the population) in sub–Saharan Africa did not have access to a basic water supply, 734 million people (67% of the population) did not have access to even basic sanitation services, and 810 million people did not have access to hygiene services, even though water and sanitation are fundamental to the realisation of all human rights. Water security is increasingly put in jeopardy by the effects of economic growth, urbanisation and demographic patterns. Climate change may potentially worsen the situation by increasing water stress as well as extreme events. Damages to infrastructure and assets caused by tropical cyclones or flooding are among the more obvious impacts but droughts, crop failure and instability brought by climate change may also result in rural-urban migration. The infrastructure needs are also immense, with a financing gap estimated at 3 to 4 times the current total level of commitments, estimated at $13.3 billion per year (ICA, 2018).

Published in SWM Bimonthly 11 - February 2022
SWM Bimonthly 11

This new position, guided by the New Bank Policy on Water (May 2021) and the Bank Strategy on Water (2021-2025), offers opportunities to strengthen and enhance access to sustainable services for everyone, especially the poor, but these will be contingent on strengthening sector governance, to improve service delivery, secure reliable revenue streams sufficient to cover operation and maintenance costs, regulating pricing, improving operational efficiency and improving access to investment capital.

Across  Africa, water is unevenly distributed. Over 50% of water resources concentrated in Central Africa, less than 3% in North Africa

Responding to challenges of improving water and sanitation access in cities on the other hand will be contingent on promoting integrated urban water management from a water security perspective. This would also include the mainstreaming of broader city resilience using instruments like the Africa Infrastructure Resilience Accelerator.

Mauritania - National Integrated Rural Water Project (African Development Bank)
Mauritania - National Integrated Rural Water Project (African Development Bank)

Across Africa, water is unevenly distributed, with more than 50% of water resources concentrated in Central Africa, and less than 3% in North Africa. This calls for fostering transboundary cooperation on information, infrastructure, and institutions which presents countries with an opportunity to promote basin-wide planning and development and build climate resilience effectively and efficiently, through strengthened institutions.

Innovation in the water sector is crucial because it is key to developing other sectors, like agriculture, industry, health, and energy

A gender-inclusive approach to water sector programming as advocated by the African Development Bank Group Gender Strategy 2021–2025, also offers the opportunity to reflect on the integral roles of women and girls as providers, users, and managers of water, specifically promoting equal economic opportunities in the water sector.

Last but not least, addressing the infrastructure gap calls for maximizing finance for development, through blended finance, and more specifically strengthening the enabling environment and investment opportunities that can attract private/commercial finance.

In 2009 you joined the AfDB and have led the design and implementation of some of the most transformational projects at the Bank. In this last decade, what are some of the water and sanitation projects across the continent you would highlight?

With a portfolio of water investments of over $6.2 billion and a pipeline of 123 projects in Africa (financed between 2011 and 2021), the Water Development and Sanitation department is uniquely positioned to customize local solutions by sharing global knowledge and amplifying the impact of financing through technical assistance. Most of the operations are catalytic and transformational and focus on (i) water supply and sanitation, (ii) agricultural water management, and (iii) sustainable water use for energy production. Further sub-sectors of the Bank Group’s intervention include: (iv) urban development, (v) transportation, (vi) industry and tourism, and (vii) water-related disaster risk management. The operations have notably reached millions of unserved Africans in rural and urban areas.

Mauritania - National Integrated Rural Water Project (African Development Bank)

The Gabal El-Asfar treatment plant in Egypt, is an example of a transformational project financed by the Bank. The project is financed through a $58 million loan, treats 2.5 million m3 of wastewater every day, serving 12.5 million people. It has contributed to the development of economic activities in the region, especially agriculture, where farmers use treated wastewater to irrigate agricultural land, produce organic fertilizer and generate electricity. The innovative system reduces the plant’s carbon footprint and electricity consumption. The plant has five generators powered by the gas produced as it treats sludge, which generates up to 60% of the electricity needed to run it. Innovation in the water sector is crucial because water is key to developing other sectors, including agriculture, industry, health, and energy.

The new Water Strategy (2021-2025) promotes the water-food-energy-ecosystem nexus approaches and focuses on four pillars

Another example is the Bulawayo City Water and Sewerage Services Improvement Project, a transformational $33 million project in Zimbabwe, which upgraded water production facilities, water distribution, sewer drainage networks and wastewater treatment facilities. Bulawayo has now reduced supply disruptions from six to two days per week, with a gradual plan towards a city-wide uninterrupted water supply. The increased pumping capacity has assisted the replenishment of the raw water reservoir, which had dried up in 2020 due to drought. The newly installed water pumps have increased the treatment capacity for the City of Bulawayo from 92 million m3/day to 145 million m3/ day – exceeding the city’s daily actual water demand of 135 million m3/day. The increased raw water capacity from the pumps, coupled with a refurbished water treatment system, means the city can now meet the daily water consumption demand of Bulawayo’s 770,000 residents in all its 165 suburbs.

In November last year, the AfDB approved a new Water Strategy for 2021-2025. Could you tell us a bit more about this new plan and its importance for the African continent?

The new Water Strategy (2021-2025) provides a general framework for the African Development Bank Group’s water sector. The water strategy, which promotes the water-food-energy-ecosystem nexus approaches, focuses on four pillars: (i) achieving integrated water resources management, through assessment of the resource and its ecosystems, as well as supporting institutions and the enabling environment; (ii) strengthening the delivery of water supply, sanitation, and hygiene services to become sustainable, resilient, and inclusive, through increased investments, institutional support, and sustainability; (iii) increasing the availability of sustainable water resources for food production and nutrition, including improved agricultural water management and investments which sustain fisheries and support ecosystems and (iv) increasing the sustainable development of water for energy in terms of hydropower potential, thus complementing the New Deal for Africa Strategy and acknowledging the importance of energy for water security.

The Water Development and Sanitation department has a portfolio of water investments of over $6.2 billion and a pipeline of 123 projects

The strategy is key given that water as a sector and enabler, is critical to the achievement of the Bank’s five strategic priorities, the High 5s. Water security underpins food security (agriculture represents 80% of total consumption), energy security, industrialization (water as a catalyst), regional integration (through transboundary waters) and improving the quality of life (impact on health, nutrition, education, gender equity and livelihoods).

The water strategy is designed to inform country programming through country and regional strategy papers (CSP and RISP). Whenever water is recognized as a constraint, the water strategy will support the development of approaches to tackle the constraint, in line with the Bank’s role in the provision of advisory services and finance to strengthen water security in Africa. Strengthening partnerships will be crucial for the water strategy’s implementation.

What role do smart water solutions play in the AfDB’s water sector initiatives?

Water and wastewater managers in Africa are dealing with acute infrastructure challenges, including (i) significant non-revenue water volumes – due to operating inefficiencies, apparent losses, and physical leaks in the network (pipe leaks, main breaks), (ii) increase in contaminants and pollution which create a need to treat water to safeguard human health (sewage overflows, storm water overflows), (iii) rising energy costs in an industry where energy for water distribution and treatment alone accounts for more than 10% of operating expenses and energy-intensive operations, and (iv) inefficient decision-making and asset management. Despite the urgency, disruptive technologies, remain largely underutilized.

Operational Priority 11 of the Bank’s Water Strategy promotes the use of modern and appropriate technology to reduce losses and improve water productivity. Smart water solutions – including physical equipment and treatment, wireless networks, cloud analytics, mobile computing, powerful data modelling, and the internet – offer new ways to address the industry’s challenges and opportunities.

The strategy is key given that water as a sector and enabler is critical to the achievement of the Bank’s five strategic priorities

A recently approved Bank financed €70 million project in Morocco, to Strengthen Drinking Water Production and Improve Technical and Commercial Performance is doing just that. In addition to an expansion of water production, the smart water system will: provide information to generate water bills; identify abnormal usage to notify customers about their high consumption or potential leaks; determine total demand to quantify non-revenue water; and where water supply zones are metered, identify zones that have high leakages. These solutions strengthen the performance of utilities by enabling operators to shift resources to data-driven preventative maintenance which minimizes expensive emergency interventions, such as infrastructure repairs, water quality alerts, or flood management. Smart technology also enables water managers to meet the needs of the growing customer base.

According to WRI, nearly 63% of urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to basic water and sanitation. How is the AfDB working with cities to plan for water security?

Access to water and sanitation services remains unequal: piped water is available primarily to upper-income residents (56% of the urban population) in 2020, while the poor rely on untreated wells and surface water (The Future of Water in African Cities, Why Waste Water? Jacobsen, M., M. Webster & K. Vairavamoorthy, 2012). Sanitation services are also dependent on income, with upper-income groups (an estimated 16% of the urban population) serviced with water-borne sewers, and the poor resorting to open defecation or latrines (JMP, 2021). Outside South Africa, few cities have functional wastewater treatment plants (Ibid). A lack of stormwater drainage infrastructure, poorly maintained stormwater drains, and settlements in low-lying areas also contribute to recurrent urban flooding.

  • Zaria Water Plant – Nigeria (African Development Bank)
  • Zaria Water Plant – Nigeria (African Development Bank)
  • Zaria Water Plant – Nigeria (African Development Bank)

The Bank is thus promoting Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) at city wide scale to ensure access to water and sanitation infrastructure and services; manage rainwater, wastewater, stormwater drainage, and runoff pollution; control waterborne diseases and epidemics; and reduce the risk of water-related hazards, including floods, droughts, and landslides. For example, in Sierra Leone, the Bank is supporting the Freetown Water Supply and Sanitation Master Plan preparation. The project will provide three main outputs: (i) an established IUWM with a co-ordination mechanism is operational, (ii) a Freetown Integrated Water Supply Master plan is enacted, and (iii) prioritized investment projects are prepared.

IUWM is also a potentially powerful approach to water security through option diversification in Nairobi, where rivers are polluted with uncollected garbage, human waste from informal settlements, industrial wastes in the form of emissions, and point source pollutants from flowing sewers and non-point pollutants like agro chemicals from the watersheds.

Countries interested in expanding irrigation capacity are advised to consider modernizing and upgrading existing irrigation schemes

The Bank financed Nairobi Rivers Basin Rehabilitation Program aims to improve the access, quality, availability and sustainability of wastewater services and restoration of the Nairobi Rivers Basin. Activities include: (i) rehabilitation and construction of wastewater treatment facilities at Dandora, (ii) construction of 220 km of sewer reticulation network including faecal sludge management infrastructure, and (iii) construction of 50 ablution blocks and rehabilitation of 50 ablution blocks in informal settlements. The beneficiaries of the project are the Nairobi city inhabitants and the surrounding areas, including people living downstream. As an adaptive system, IUWM options in Nairobi’s future water system can provide water security within a much wider range of future water demand and supply scenarios and can help offset or defer bulky investments in conventional water resources.

Agriculture is the single most important economic activity in Africa, and it is also the biggest user of water. How is the AfDB working with African countries to make this practice more efficient?

In Africa, reliance on irregular rainfall is one of the major causes of continent-wide low crop yields. In irrigated areas (only 3.4% of farmland in SSA is irrigated (FAO, 2016)), the insufficient irrigation infrastructure and the lack of harmonized water management lead to considerable water losses that are eventually translated into lower productivity levels (Data-driven improvement of water use efficiency in small-scale irrigation. FAO, 2018). Improved Agriculture Water Management (AWM) plays a key role in addressing these issues above. Crop water productivity and water use efficiency are considerable measures of AWM, therefore, finding approaches to enhance them is particularly important.

The Bank through Pillar 3 of the Water Strategy (2021-2025) supports RMCs to increase the availability of sustainable water resources for food production and improved nutrition, including improved agricultural water management and investments which support ecosystems. However, many of the RMCs suffer from significant data gaps, while data is essential to understanding the high-efficiency mechanisms of each irrigation system.

Mauritania - National Integrated Rural Water Project (African Development Bank)

Countries interested in expanding irrigation capacity are advised to consider modernizing and upgrading existing irrigation schemes, which is more cost-effective and more efficient than investing in new largescale schemes, with the objective to improve resources utilization and water service for farmers. RMCs are also encouraged to set up accessible and affordable databases on every aspect of agricultural water use to maximize water use efficiency. The Bank financed investments strengthen irrigation efficiency, through investments in water storage, improving water services, raising water use efficiency and increasing water productivity. The institutional side involves decentralization and farmer involvement.

An example of a Bank-financed scheme is Kenya, Thwake Multi-Purpose Water Development Program (Phase I), financed through a EUR 225 million loan. The Thwake dam, a strategic water supply project for the large semi-arid area of Makueni County and surrounding regions, comprises a multi-purpose dam for water supply, hydropower generation and irrigation development. The completion of the 80.5-meter-high multi-purpose dam will enable the storage of 681 million cubic meters of water, of which 625 million cubic meters will be used for electricity production and downstream irrigation of agricultural land, 22 million cubic meters for modernized upstream irrigation and 34 million for human use as part of measures to strengthen water, food and energy security and mitigating climate variability in the Tanathi basin. The target beneficiaries are the 674,700 people in the rural areas of Kitui and Makueni (who suffer poverty rates of 62.5% and 63.8%, respectively) and the 640,000 people in the new city of Konza. Other beneficiaries will include institutions managing the water resources in Athi River Basin and, on a broader scale, the economy of Kenya.

Mauritania - National Integrated Rural Water Project (African Development Bank)
Mauritania - National Integrated Rural Water Project (African Development Bank)

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that costs associated with climate-change adaptation across Africa could hit $50 billion annually by 2050. What projects is the AfDB working on currently to tackle the increasing effects of climate change?

Managing water variability — including its nexus with food and energy — is becoming one of the key development challenges facing Africa. Extreme climate events are already exacerbating health risks, damaging water infrastructure and leading to water scarcity. Countries and communities with a lack of water infrastructure, poor water management and governance will suffer the most (Water Infrastructure for Climate Adaptation: The Opportunity to Scale up Funding and Financing. WWC, 2018). The Bank contributes towards the achievement of SDG targets in synergy with climate investments.

New and existing funding models must be scaled up, for providing adaptation finance. The Bank deploys several instruments and has stepped up the use of concessional tools, through blended finance to mobilize additional capital flows. First and foremost, climate adaptation is mainstreamed into program design for all water sector projects. Between 2009 and 2020, the Bank invested an estimated USD 6.2 billion in WSS services delivery, with 70.8% supporting investments in urban areas and 29.2% for rural areas (AfDB, 2019).

Efforts are ongoing to scale up climate adaptation investments in partnership with the African Infrastructure Resilience Accelerator

The Bank also mobilizes dedicated co-finance for water sector projects. Over the last decade, the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) administered by the Global Environmental Facility, and the Nordic Development Fund (NDF) provided co-financing estimated at USD 80 million towards strengthening water security through sustaining water resources, service delivery and resilience towards climate extremes in 14 countries.

In Lesotho, under the Climate Change Adaptation for Sustainable Rural Water Supply in Lowlands program (LDCF), an estimated 65,000 beneficiaries (40% women) will be provided with improved access to WASH services. While in Zambia a Transforming Rural Livelihoods in Western Zambia program, financed by the NDF, has benefited 745,000 persons in 16 rural districts through improved climate resilient WSS adaptive capacity to withstand climate variability. In Tanzania and Malawi, the GEF financed Songwe River Basin Management Program is enhancing the delivery of climate and weather services to deliver forecasts and warnings to the “last mile” communities and foster regional cooperation through the exchange of meteorological data and products that enable forecasting. The program also focuses on investments in landscape management (e.g., soil conservation, watershed management, reforestation, rehabilitation of eroded lands) that have direct effects on climate mitigation.

Efforts are ongoing to scale up climate adaptation investments in partnership with the African Infrastructure Resilience Accelerator, through (i) acceleration of adaptation for green and resilient cities, (ii) financing nature-based Solutions, (iii) mainstreaming climate risk in national plans and water sector investment pipelines and (iv) leveraging private investments for resilient infrastructure. The replenishment of the Green Climate Fund is an opportunity to scale up funding and finance for climate adaptation in the water sector.