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African Water Week 2016

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Since it first took place in 2008, Africa Water Week has been increasing in its relevance. The African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW), which has been in charge of its organisation since 2009, has set and led a common ground for all the African countries around water and sanitation. AMCOW is also in charge of organising AfricaSan. Even though some of the initiatives launched within the framework of AMCOW don't enjoy the momentum of others at more global level, the fact is that the sense of ownership by the member states seems to be very high. The Africa Water Vision for 2025 was as present, if not more, as the Sustainable Development Goals, and the importance of the N'gor commitments set at the last AfricaSan and their translation into specific goals were highlighted.

Senegal has chaired AMCOW over the last two years and the experiences and progress that were shared by the Senegalese delegation led by Amadou Mansour Faye were seen as benchmarks by the other countries, for example:

  • the announcement of the launch of the new Blue Fund aimed to attract new investments and aid for the water sector
  • and the summary of the national water and sanitation planning for the next period integrated in the existing social policies, with focus on inequality reduction and own resources mobilization.

Financing mechanisms and access to these was one of the most crosscutting topics in a good number of sessions. Several times it was stated that, currently, ‘numbers don’t match’: If estimations for attaining water and sanitation targets of SDG agenda globally display that the investment needed is three times higher than the current one, in the case of Sub-Saharan Africa that factor is well above.  We should not forget that in this region the Millennium Development Goals were not achieved and that the progress regarding sanitation was very little.

As increasing public aid (external) for development is not enough a) own resources mobilisation (internal funds from within the country itself) or b) private sector involvement were proposed as additional sources.  Joint programmes on water security are proving to be one of the best ways of involving private sector. The private sector is naturally keen to contribute if they realise that their services are potentially at risk due to scarcity, misuse or wrong allocation of water.

In relation to specific technical demands, some of the ones standing out were: higher availability of accurate climate predictions that allow designing long term projects, and more applied research that guides complex decision making.

Sadly, communities, social organizations and vulnerable groups were not given great direct prominence at the conference. In the four hour long opening ceremony, civil society organisations only had symbolic intervention of 3 minutes.

Gender was not given a priority either. Despite the fact that during the preamble to AMCOW’s general assembly that took place on Thursday 21st the audience applauded that Tanzania’s vice-presidency is being held by a woman (Samia Hassan Suluhu) for the first time in the country’s history, just one unique session during the whole week was dedicated to present initiatives and experiences from projects that include gender as its main focus.

On Friday 22th of July, Tanzania’s Minister for Water and Irrigation, Eng. Gerson Lwenge took over as chair of AMCOW for the next two years. This is an opportunity for the country to increase its visibility and accelerate progress in the realization of human rights to water and sanitation, a key area for a country where only 16% of the population benefits from improved sanitation and just 56% consumes water from improved sources.

Alfonso Zapico is Programme Manager Adviser at ONGAWA.

This blog originally appeared in Spanish on ONGAWA's website on 2nd August 2016.

Date: 16 September 2016