4 ways the African Development Bank is valuing water

Africa is home to some of the world’s most water scarce regions. Managing water must be at the heart of building strong economic and social foundations across the region. The African Development Bank Group’s new water policy aims to do just that.

Like everywhere in the world, water in Africa is a growing concern. By 2025, it is projected that around half of the continent will suffer from water scarcity. And it’s not just a lack of water, but a lack of access to it that can cause harm: in sub-Saharan Africa, just 56% of people living in cities have access to clean, piped water. Action must be taken now to adapt to a world of water scarcity, and to safeguard water systems across the African continent.

To this end, the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has approved a new policy on water security and sustainable water practices.

The AfDB is made up of 80 member countries, and acts as a development finance institution. It’s aim is to support the development of its member nations, to “help reduce poverty, improve living conditions for Africans and mobilize resources for the continent’s economic and social development.”

The new Water Policy will be used as a framework for the Bank’s engagement in the water sector. As countries weather the COVID-19 pandemic and build recovery programmes, the overarching goals of the AfDB’s policy is to foster sustainable, green and inclusive economic growth. So what are the priorities?

Achieving water security 

The notion of water security is central to the policy, and its importance is recognised at many levels: household, national and regional.

For the AfDB, water security is complex. Determining water security must take into account the wider environment and its available water sources, the socioeconomic situation in any given region, and the impact of climate change. There will be a special focus on regions where water insecurity contributes to fragility. This, it is hoped, will help bring peace to communities in regions where water scarcity is contributing to, or directly driving, conflict.

Balancing the interests of competing users 

A key challenge in developing fair and sustainable water policy is understanding that water is both an economic and a public good. This results in a complex interplay of social, economic and environmental interests. 

This means: striving for economic efficiency by bringing the greatest benefit to as many users as possible within available resources; ensuring equal access for all users (in particular marginalized groups); and including aquatic ecosystems in decision-making so as to safeguard the vital role of healthy water systems. 

Supporting the UN’s development goals 

Good governance around water challenges in Africa will be crucial in attaining the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although SDG 6 explicitly calls for clean water and sanitation for all, it is clear that access to safe and sustainable water sources has an impact across these key global objectives.

Water is essential for life, health, prosperity, dignity, empowerment, environmental sustainability and peace. By working to protect and manage water, the AfDB has pledged to support the SDGs, hand in hand with the wider international community.

Transboundary waters: building bridges

Water sources, such as rivers and lakes, often act as regional boundaries, both within and between countries. Sustainable water management is essential in ensuring that all people have access to clean, safe water. A key priority, then, is to foster good relationships between those who share resources, helping to enhance regional cooperation and economic integration. 

The Bank’s programs will seek to use good water policy to generate dialogue between regions, and reduce conflict. When dealing with transboundary water resources, this will mean listening to the needs and wants of all stakeholders.

This new policy from the African Development Bank is the result of collaboration between governments, the non-profit sector, academia, the private sector, and civil organisations across its member nations. By driving improvements in water management, the Bank is seizing the opportunity to strengthen water security and prosperity for everyone.

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