Ihe World Water Forum opened in Dakar this week marks a crucial moment in the reflection between States, non-governmental organizations, associations, citizens and other whistleblowers to determine the initiatives to be taken for a vital commodity for all. viewpoints. Likewise, as there have been conflicts to access raw materials of all kinds, there is a great risk that one of the major explosions that threatens humanity will come from the battle for access to water. Aware of this reality, the Coordination for Tomorrow’s Africa (CADE) has published a booklet with forty recommendations for new partnership models around water and sanitation. Its president, Roland Portella, confided in Point Afrique*.
The Africa Point: The World Water Forum, which takes place in Dakar, the capital of a Sahelian country, is an opportunity to place this resource in its local and international contexts. What can you say about its geoeconomic and geopolitical significance for Africa?
Roland Portella: Water resources are often caught in the trap of State “sovereignty” issues when it is common sense and fair distribution between territories that should take precedence. It can be estimated that three factors will increasingly make access to water difficult and create tensions:
poor distribution of water infrastructure between cities, peri-urban areas and rural areas, particularly in the Sahelian countries;
groundwater pollution due in particular to certain industrial activities, particularly mining;
climate change, which dries up waterways and creates climate refugees. This can be seen around Lake Chad, the level of which is dropping dramatically. Some populations and communities will settle in other localities or on the part of the river and adjacent watercourses that have not yet completely dried up. This creates conflicts and constitutes a breeding ground from which fanaticism of all kinds takes advantage.
It should be noted how Egypt and Sudan are proving unable to agree in the application of negotiated rules to limit the filling of water from Ethiopia’s so-called “Renaissance” hydroelectric dam, especially during the periods of drought. 74 billion cubic meters of water should be retained. Egypt and Sudan want to restrict Ethiopia’s right to build more dams along the Blue Nile. The problem poisons relations between these three countries, despite some positive points of negotiations which have been followed by acts of retraction and informational warfare.
Included in the Sustainable Development Goals, water is in the middle of a debate on its nature as a universal good and on the risk of commodification that threatens it. How to find the means to put the cursor in the right place?
These are issues of civilization, types of societies that we build, human and societal values that we keep or not, since water is above all life, health, before t contributes to production and productivity. The original “status” of water as a common good seems to have been undermined. Water has become a commercial good, an ordinary product, due to liberal, even ultra-liberal policies, according to the opinions of certain development NGOs and citizen movements.
But the great danger would be that water resources and drinking water would become pure speculative goods in the future. Certain financial organizations, which we are not going to quote here, have already made scenarios and projections on the privatization of all the springs and watercourses of our planet. Water users or consumers, aware of economic realities, accept that water can no longer be free. But they ask to pay the “fair price”.
The subsidization by the States in Africa and the Mediterranean of part of the price of water will always be essential in the 30 years to come. This is why governance with a minimum of transparency, consultation and cohesion between the various stakeholders (State, local authorities, companies, users, consumer associations) is essential so that we can locate the realities of the costs of producing and distributing drinking water.
It is necessary to know how the chains of investment and responsibility are located in the infrastructures, the exploitation, the water treatment. Some users think that there are even hidden costs… What would they be then? Shouldn’t we “democratize” information more? It must be said that the asymmetries of information create suspicion, in particular towards the public and private companies in charge of the distribution and exploitation of water. However, if they have invested, they must make profits even if these must be reasonable.
What areas should Africa invest in to be able to meet its human and economic water-related needs?
One of the priorities would be to better invest in intangibles, i.e.:
the collection of data on the actual quantities, the water reserves, then on the quality levels. There is a big debate at the moment about groundwater extraction, but what are the environmental and geological risks?
States and local authorities must define climate prevention and adaptation policies, with warning systems, civil resilience engineering, in order to deal with climate deregulation and natural disasters that have an impact on the quantity , the quality and availability of water resources, as well as production and access infrastructures.
bring together water access/management policies and sectoral policies: agriculture, industry, energy, nature conservation, health and agriculture. All of these areas and activities use a lot of water. It is imperative that States and cities set up intersectoral coordination and planning, in order to find the right balance.
The CADE that you chair has published a report with around forty recommendations for new partnership models. What is the spirit?
The idea is to ring an alarm bell, at our modest level, with public and private leaders in Africa and the Mediterranean. We tell them that the lack of coordination between the various stakeholders in the management and distribution of water, as well as in sanitation, affects the quality and service paid by the user-consumer. The leaders know this, but the measures and initiatives to be taken are slow compared to the urgent needs for social and economic development.
It is also a question of making known in a simple way to the public of “neophytes”, beyond its statute of consumer of water, the structural problems and organization which slow down, in certain countries and territories, the accessibility and availability of drinking water.
How do you see the future of water in Africa?
The future of accessibility to quality water for all will depend on the organizational and technical capacity to manage the consequences of climate change and pollution. This implies a collective responsibility of companies and citizen-users, in particular with regard to respect for natural ecosystems and biodiversity linked to water resources.
The water and sanitation sectors, in Africa and the Mediterranean, can provide many green jobs and entrepreneurship, especially for young people. There are several segments of social and technological innovation. Hence the need to think in terms of sectors and identify the business segments of the future. For example, in wastewater recycling, innovative tools for water supply and sanitation, applied to local conditions; seawater desalination; the management of water leaks, particularly when the supply and distribution infrastructures are aging, solar kits for purified water, the transformation of waste into materials and energy, etc. In this dynamic, it would be desirable to create or consolidate partnerships between large groups (national and foreign) and innovative SMEs that have agile processes. These should have public procurement quotas with States and local authorities, within defined water and sanitation perimeters.
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