The 21st African Water Association International Congress and Exhibition, and the 7th Faecal Sludge Management Conference have opened in the Ivorian commercial capital, Abidjan, with a call for stronger commitments to ensure universal access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.
The conferences, taking place together for the first time, opened on Monday, and are co-sponsored by the African Development Bank Group. They bring together public and private sector experts: government officials, development partners, engineers, and researchers to discuss water and sanitation challenges in Africa under the theme “Acting for sustainable management of resources and access to water and sanitation for all. Government ministers from Senegal, Malawi, Niger, Madagascar, Togo, and Bangladesh attended the opening ceremony.
In opening remarks, Ivorian Prime Minister Patrick Achi stressed that tackling the challenges of water and sanitation in Africa have become more imperative as the continent continues to experience the highest population growth. “We do not really know the value of water until we lack it – without it, there is no life, no peace, no prosperity,” he said.
Prime Minister Achi called on industry advocates to put more spotlight on sanitation and to how the sector has showcased water. “The question we do not ask often enough is whether drinking water is like eating – what happens afterward? It is quite strange that we have spent a long time before associating water and sanitation. We have shown water, but we must insist upon sanitation.”
Ivorian Minister of Hydraulics, Sanitation and Health Bouake Fofana, noted that most African countries cannot meet the 2030 SDG 6 target and stressed that the congress provided a timely opportunity to explore new solutions.
Fofana also stressed the need to prioritize the rural communities, which currently represent more than 50% of the continent and where open defecation is still a major issue. “We still have progress to make in delivering water and sanitation for all,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of financial partners, the Country Director of the Islamic Development Bank, Ouattara Oumar, highlighted the benefits of investing in water and sanitation – contributing to 1.5% of the global GDP and generating at least 200% for each dollar invested.
He urged greater response and awareness, including more funding to improve access to water and sanitation for all. Oumar said: “Water and sanitation are at the heart of sustainable development and key to the survival of all people; access to water and sanitation reduces the cost of health for people and society. Children are more likely to be enrolled at school if they have access to water and sanitation.”
Oumar reiterated the commitment of The Islamic Development Bank to working with member states to address challenges in the sector. “The Islamic Development Bank is highly committed to tackling the challenges in the water and sanitation sector. We are ready to listen to our member countries, and we are asking member states to prioritize water and sanitation to improve livelihoods, and social and economic development.”
Dr. Silver Mugisha, president of the African Water Association, highlighted five focus areas for the congress to deliberate on: technological innovation, evolving sustainable infrastructure financing options, strengthening people and systems, streamlining corporate governance and enabling conversation, and inculcating a strong culture through relevant capacity building and learning systems.
He said the water and sanitation sector is grappling with strategic plans with inadequate clarity, aging infrastructure, rapid urbanization which stresses the water system, and insufficient infrastructure financing, resulting in operational inefficiencies. “In the next three days, we have a great opportunity to make a significant contribution to address these challenges.”
He announced the change of the Association’s name to the “African Water and Sanitation Association” to include sanitation, and called for solutions building for both water and sanitation. “It is our actions that hold the real reward. Our actions have the power to change the African water and sanitation sector and inspire others to get up and take action.”
Jennifer William, Executive Director of Fecal Sludge Management Alliance, reiterated the need to do more to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 of clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.
She called for the preparation, engagement, and mentoring of women and youth in the sector. “We must prepare our leaders of tomorrow to let them be seen, heard, and give them space to lead us. The younger generation can teach us how to set aside our differences and work together.”