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A recent publication by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that water scarcity in Africa will reach dangerously high levels by 2025. According to the report, about two-thirds of the world’s
population may suffer from freshwater shortage by that year. In Africa, access to this essential resource is far from being universal, with 1 in 3 Africans facing water scarcity and approximately 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to basic drinking water.1 Access to water remains a pervasive development issue across Africa, as a 2019 report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) revealed. Addressing poor management of water resources and services, and climate change are paramount to tackling Africa’s water crisis.
In Africa, climate change, rapid population growth, and physical and economic scarcity are some of the main causes of water shortages. As temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, the continent is experiencing further dryness, while rainfall is increasingly becoming unpredictable, with long dry spells, dangerous floods, and in some areas, intense water shortages. Population growth is also leading to water scarcity as the number of people who need to use water resources is rapidly increasing. Unfortunately, the same water sources are diminishing as a result of population encroachment and habitation of traditional water sources. Economic paucity has a direct impact on water scarcity because finding reliable water sources on the continent is both time-consuming and expensive. Equally, physical scarcity is responsible for the unavailability of adequate water within certain regions.
The impact of this water crisis on the continent is evident in almost all spheres of life, with devastating effects in the health, education, agriculture, and development sectors. Lack of adequate water supply leads to people resorting to unsafe water resources which lead to waterborne diseases. For example, people’s health is adversely affected by lack of adequate clean water which gives rise to diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid, to name a few. Water insufficiency also leads to loss of food security as agricultural production depends on water availability.
As the effects of limited access to safe and affordable water and sanitation facilities are clear, it is imperative that more must be done to achieve the United Nations’ sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of clean water and sanitation for all. Various reports have confirmed that with the current trend, the water situation will worsen and that at least one in four people will suffer recurring water shortages in 2050. To reverse this trend and achieve this ambitious SDG, we must invest in adequate infrastructure, provide sanitation facilities, and encourage hygiene. Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems is highly critical.
Operation Water, one of our partner institutions is leading work and innovation to deliver clean water solutions to the greatest number of people in need, at the lowest cost per person, by developing sustainable infrastructure projects. By providing access to clean water, Operation Water is helping to create a pathway to mitigating mortality and morbidity while alleviating malnutrition, gender inequality, and disparities in economic opportunities.
Operation Water employs a unique model in addressing the water crisis by collaborating with strategic partners to raise financing for Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) that deliver water infrastructure solutions throughout the world, with a special focus on Africa. Their model aims to solve the water crisis by:
- Creating large scale water projects that reach many people in a cost-effective manner,
- Providing a new way to access funding, and
- Creating compelling reasons for governments and private entities to be interested in the water crisis.
Other institutions wishing to venture into solving the water crisis can learn from the unique approaches that Operation Water is using. First, using a business approach to engage with local
governments and utilities to develop sustainable water infrastructure projects on a Public-Private-Partnership basis will guarantee progressive outcomes. Institutions in this space should leverage their business development skills to work directly with government officials, utilities, law firms, financial institutions, and contractors to execute these projects.
Second, exploring Public-Private-Partnership models can ensure that the projects undertaken are well maintained over the life of the concession. Bigger projects achieve economies of scale which enable the sourcing of water from a sustainable resource. Additionally, solution providers need to focus more on creating large-scale water infrastructure projects not only to meet the needs of more people but to also allow for additional water treatment plants to be added to the network of pipes as funding permits.