Prioritising Water Infrastructure In Africa's Post COVID-19 Recovery

Water Diplomat Voices Guest Article

9 Mar 2021 by The Water Diplomat


The water Diplomat Voices is a series of guest columns written by participants in different parts of the international water community. 

His Excellency President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, 4th President of the Republic of Tanzania, writes here in his capacity as Chair of Global Water Partnership Southern Africa - Africa Coordination Unit:


The unprecedented events of 2020 have laid bare the systemic inequalities that hold back progress on our beloved continent. In the face of the overwhelming challenge that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to Africa, the need for urgent and significant investment in African water and sanitation resources has never been clearer. 

Clean water and sanitation are the first line of defence against infection and disease. And yet more than 300 million Africans are without access to potable water, and over 700 million are without access to adequate sanitation. 

Access to sustainable and reliable clean water is an indispensable social and health need. Resilient economic development, of the sort that will be critical in the post-Covid-19 era, is dependent on water security. We know Africa’s economic resilience will be tested in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The OECD has warned of multiple shockwaves, both short- and long-term, due to lower trade and investment, demand slumps for our exports, and a continental supply decline. As we stand today, our current investment levels in water infrastructure to meet our social and economic needs are insufficient.

The African Development Bank estimates that $64 Billion USD in water infrastructure investment is required annually to achieve water security for all. Actual investments stand between $10 and $19 Billion USD per year. 

Compounding the social and economic water challenges we are facing is climate change, which will wreak more frequent and more severe havoc on our cities, our villages, our crops, our live stocks, our built infrastructure – our livelihoods. The African Climate Policy Centre at the United Nations Economic Commission Africa (UNECA) expects our collective continental GDP to decline by as much as 5% against a 2% increase in average temperatures.

To rebuild a fair, prosperous, and peaceful society, and achieve our Sustainable Development Goals, we must address our deficit in water infrastructure investment – from private and public sources.

Opportunities for positive change do exist. During the 34th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Africa Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia earlier in February 2021, Heads of African State formally adopted the progressive Continental Africa Water Investment Program (AIP), as part of the second phase of the Africa Union Development Agency’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa Priority Action Plan (PIDA-PAP 2).

PIDA-PAP 2, a strategic continental portfolio of projects shortlisted for implementation between 2021 and 2030, is an opportunity to accelerate investment into climate-resilient regional, transboundary, and national water infrastructure – such as dams, water transfer systems, irrigation systems, water management information systems, water supply, and sanitation infrastructure – which is critically needed to meet Africa’s growing socio-economic needs.

With the full weight of support and leadership from our continent’s highest leadership, the AIP can leverage and influence $30 Billion USD in climate resilience SDG 6 water investments and create at least 5 million jobs.

The programme is designed to directly address two significant obstacles African countries face in attracting investment in water: lack of financing and inadequate preparation of bankable projects, which are intrinsically interlinked.

African water projects fail to attract funding, specifically from the private sector because planning, testing, reporting, and implementation at various stages of the project cycle falls short of financiers’ requirements. That is one of the chief reasons why just $3 Billion USD of private sector funding was invested in Sub-Saharan African water projects since 1990, compared to $41.7 Billion USD in East Asia and the Pacific, and $36 Billion USD in Latin America and the Caribbean over the same period

In order to make African water projects more attractive to the private sector, the AIP will facilitate accelerated project preparation, develop regional and country investment programmes, and develop a business case for high-level policy, decision makers, and investors. The goal is to catalyse investments that improve economic opportunities, create jobs, and better people’s lives.

Equally important is accountability, transparency, and access to reliable up-to-date data. We have seen the success of public accountability tools such as the Africa Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) Scorecard for Accountability and Action, which measures country progress in malaria interventions, maternal and child health, and neglected tropical diseases. The AIP proposes a similar accountability instrument to track and support country-level progress in attracting water investments and delivering essential water services.

The opportunities presented by the AIP are not linked to achieving water security alone. The gains we stand to make can contribute to a more prosperous continent, through industrialisation and economic growth. January 2021 marked the momentous start of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, the largest in the world by the number of countries participating, which has the potential to generate $450 Billion USD in income gains for our continent, bringing 30 million people out of extreme poverty and increasing the incomes of 68 million others who are living on $5.50 USD/day or less.

But trade cannot flourish without industry, without robust economic growth, without infrastructure. Investment in climate-resilient water infrastructure that meets our economic and social needs must become a priority to our leaders. The AIP presents us with a roadmap to achieve our potential for present and future generations of Africans.