The challenge of sustainable access to water and sanitation services in African cities

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The challenge of sustainable access to water and sanitation services in African cities

The issue of water and sanitation is a major concern of all decision makers and leaders of developing countries in general and particularly those in Sub-Saharan African region .The challenge of providing sustainable access to water and sanitation services for populations constitutes one of the key priority for governments of developing countries as part of the formulation, development and implementation of their economic and social policies. The availability of drinking water with required standard norms of quantity and quality is closely related to hygiene and health. Water availability must be accompanied by sanitation even if basic services to ensure public health environment for people. According to the Joint WHO/UNICEF assessment (Joint Monitoring Program/ JPM Geneva 2012), one US dollar invested in water and sanitation services generates a profit of US dollar 5.5 on public health for people, hence the importance of sustainable access to clean water and sanitation services for people

The issues of access to water and sanitation in African cities
Back to these issues, one can say that the stakes are high, huge and varied and the challenges are very important. Several factors and contingencies, often not mastered constitute the obstacles to water management as well as satisfaction of the water demand and sanitation needs for populations. Demand of water and sanitation services is increasing day by day. Among others, the main issues of access to water and sanitation in African cities are summarized as follow: (i) rapid and unplanned cities accompanied by high population pressure urbanization, increasing demand for basic social services including water and sanitation, (ii) scarcity of water resources exacerbated by pollution and salinization, (iii) high negative impacts of climate change with cycles of drought and flood, (iii) effects of the global economic crisis with reduction of the development assistance and the difficulty of developing countries to mobilize sufficient foreign financial resources and internal capital budget of states to be allocated to water and sanitation programs and projects.

As a result, 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation according the UNICEF / WHO Joint Assessment report in 2007 on monitoring of the Millennium development Goals (MDGs), Water and Sanitation component. The Sub-Saharan Africa region remains the part of the world where the situation is more worrying. Despite progress in this area, the percentage of the population access to drinking water is still low, from 49% to 56% between 1990 and 2004. A significant effort in terms of mobilization of financial, material and human resources should be done to achieve the target of 75% of the rate of access to drinking water by 2015.
The situation is even more critical for sanitation with only an access rate of 49% noted in 1990 , which assumes the need to make significant efforts to reach the target of 75% set by the MDGs, while the sanitation is the poor sub-sector with a significant delay in investment.
Definition of access to water and sanitation for populations
Access to urban potable water for population as defined by the MDGs is generally through individual connections commonly known household connections on drinking water systems or standpipes .Populations with access to safe drinking water by standpipes are considered those that get their supplies of water from the standpipes to a distance not exceeding 300 meters. Access to sanitation is done by connecting to collective or semi -collective network sewer system or individual sanitation commonly called autonomous sanitation (latrines, septic tanks, sealed pits, public or individual toilets. ...).

In view of the issues raised above, one can say that there are many challenges of access to water and sanitation services for populations in African cities . The main challenges are summarized below:

Challenge 1: Problems of satisfying the water demand and sanitation needs
Due to the uncontrolled increase of population and the delay on implementation of infrastructure investments for drinking water and sanitation in African capitals, supply fails to meet demand. Faced with this challenge, African countries are increasingly putting in place institutional reforms with involvement of private operators (privatization) or other mechanism of delegation of services suitable for the water and sanitation sector. These institutional reforms are often accompanied by infrastructures investment programs involving new innovative mechanisms of funding in order to better boost investments and improve the Key Performances Indicators ( KPIs) of operational services and maintenance in water and sanitation sector.

Challenge 2: Problems of uncontrolled urbanization
The rapid and uncontrolled urbanization has resulted in the proliferation of slums poorly planned on the periphery of most African cities. This has as direct consequence the impossibility of laying drinking water and sanitation pipes network in the neighborhoods of these slums and consequently hinder people's access by individual connections. In this context, extension of water pipes network is made where possible and standpipes were built to supply water to the populations of these non-developed areas. Autonomous and semi-collective sanitation are generally used as design for sanitation access for populations living in these areas

Challenge 3: Absence or insufficient planning documents and regulations
In most African countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, there is no or insufficient strategic and operational planning documents as well as legal and regulatory documents in the sector. These documents help to harmonize and plan investments for drinking water and sanitation infrastructures in line with demand and to establish a legal and regulatory framework of the sector. In the water and sanitation sector, the following planning documents are usually developed, validated and used as document control in each country: (i) a letter of sectoral policy on water and sanitation, (ii) the policies and strategies for the development of water and sanitation infrastructures, (iii) investment programming for water and sanitation infrastructures, (iv) the master plans for water supply and sanitation infrastructures of cities, (v) documents for projects monitoring and evaluation.

Legal and regulatory documents are generally constituted by the Water Code, the Code of Sanitation, the Code of Environment as well as laws and decrees that regulate the water and sanitation sector. In addition to these documents, some African countries have implemented institutional mechanisms for regulating their water and sanitation sector.
Moreover, the cumbersome procedures for procurement and disbursement of donor funds and states often delays the implementation of drinking water and sanitation projects in African cities.

Challenge 4: Lack or poor capacity of the implementing agencies in charge of water and sanitation projects and programs
It was noted in most African countries especially those in south of the Sahara region, lack of qualified staffs within the implementing agencies who can effectively manage the implementation of water and sanitation projects. This results in: (i) poor quality at entry which is experiencing delays in projects implementation, (ii) a low absorption capacity of funds, (iii) a barrier to sustainability of water and sanitation infrastructures.
Moreover, even if this is not always found, it is often reported in many African countries, cases of fraud and corruption in the management of water & sanitation projects, which significantly reduced the investment in this sector and hence decrease the rate of access to water and sanitation services for populations. It is important, however, to clarify that the fraud and corruption in the water sector and sanitation is a universal phenomenon and is not confined to African countries. The commitment of all is needed to combat this scourge that plagues all the right and good initiatives in this sector.

Challenge 5: Problem of mobilizing financial resources
The global economic crisis, the poor political will to consider the financing of water and sanitation as priorities have resulted in the failure of internal and external resources allocated to this sector, but also problems of financial balance sector. In addition most of water and sanitation projects susceptible to be funded under official requests funding prepared by states and addressed to donors, lack of maturity meaning do not have available acceptable quality of feasibility studies, Design Detailed Engineering (DED) or tender documents allowing final decision for funding these projects. In many case, even projects are approved and funds available, projects meet often delay in their implementation due to poor quality at entry when these said studies documents are not available or available with poor quality

Challenge 6: Poor knowledge of water resources and protection of water resources
Despite the development of water science including development of water prospecting, hydrology , hydro-geology, geophysics, knowledge of mobilized water resources and water quality, thorough knowledge of water resources remains still low in many areas in Africa. Uncontrolled discharges of domestic and industrial waste water as well as the proliferation of septic tanks leaking in the slums are the main causes of pollution of ground and surface water. In many African countries, the culture of protection of water resources is very poorly developed. Dwellings and other sources of pollution get along with water sources without any technical protection measures or boundary perimeter protection.

Challenge 7: Poor access to water and sanitation services for poor, displaced and marginalized populations
The poorest people, displaced and marginalized populations constitute the majority of the segment of the population without access to water and sanitation in African cities. Hence the need and priority for governments to develop special policies for these categories of population dedicated to access to water and sanitation services. These policies and strategies include: (i) putting in place mechanism of targeting the poorest, (ii) development and extension of social connections (state subsidized connections), (iii) development of a tariff policy with prices, economically viable, politically and socially acceptable by all populations. However, regardless of the tariff established, it must maintain globally the financial stability of the sector through a mechanism of cost recovery for operation and maintenance allowing sustainability of drinking water and sanitation infrastructures.

Challenge 8: Information -Education- Communication (IEC)
During the last decade , it was noticed that despite the expansion of water and sanitation infrastructures constructed after projects completion, the use and consumption of drinking potable water and sanitation provisions by the beneficiaries did not increase following the trend of raise of capacity availed by these infrastructures. To address this issue, the Information -Education- Communication (IEC ), commonly called science of social engineering is increasingly used by governments, deciders and implementing agencies to support the implementation of drinking water and sanitation projects in Africa. It is based in recruiting a firm or individual consultant in charge to liaise with the beneficiaries of the project through a proactive and participatory approach and inform, educate them in order to raise awareness on the importance and benefaction of using potable drinking water and sanitation in relation with hygiene and public health. IEC allows also to trigger and increase rapidly the ownership of the beneficiaries and hence push them to take care of water and sanitation infrastructures constructed within the projects implemented . It also allows people to better manage facilities, reduce waste as part of saving water. The IEC is often used for population to push them to get their own household water and sanitation connection and boost access to water and sanitation rates of populations

Challenge 9: Storm Water Drainage and Flood Management
The storm water drainage is a major challenge for the security of properties and people in worldwide in general and in the developing countries including in Africa in particular. As waste water, drainage of rainwater is very underdeveloped in African cities. The existing drainage networks are undersized in capacity of storm water drainage and does not even cover a third of the surface area of the cities. The open water channels are often old, poorly operated, and maintained. In most cities, they constitute also garbage dumps for solid wastes
With the impact of climate change noticed nowadays, punctuated by very serious flooding, drainage is essential. The lack of drainage leads to flooding causing many disasters and damages
To get an idea of the extent of the damage, we can cite the example of Senegal where the World Bank has assessed the damage caused by the floods of 2009. The evaluated amount of loss and damage are estimated at 55.8 million U.S. dollars.

Challenge 10: Lack of coordination and dissemination of data and information

As water and sanitation issues cover several sectors, it should be addressed through a crosscutting approach involving diversified actors within the technical departments and ministries. Data and information are often disseminated in different institutional bodies within countries. In most African countries, there is no special framework in charge to collect and centralize available data and information dealing with water and sanitation issues. In addition, many actors and stakeholders are involved in water and sanitation projects implementation without any coordination and synergy on their intervention. To address the lack of coordination some countries had set up a unified framework in charge of coordinating interventions of all actors with a mechanism of monitoring and evaluation. Based on results of assessment available, with this solution, significant achievements are made in terms of coordination, synergy and centralization of data and information within countries experiencing this institutional framework.

Based on issues raised above dealing with water and sanitation in the World and particularly in African cities, one can say undoubtedly that the challenges to address these issues are very high, enormous and important . Despite this, it is clear that significant efforts have been made over the past 10 years in African countries to increase sustainable access to water and sanitation services. This has been done with the assistance and commitment of the international community to support this sector considered as vital for the economic and social development for African countries. Although many African countries will not achieve their MDG targets for water and sanitation by year 2015, with this new dynamic, optimism is allowed for universal access to water and sanitation as part of the new post MDG initiative that the International Community is in the process of formulation.


About Author:Mr Diouf is a Civil Engineer, Water and Sanitation Specialist with more than 24 years of international experience in technical, administrative and financial management of various programs and projects, especially in Africa. In addition to this, he hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA), majoring in Management and Finance. Mr Diouf is currently working within the Islamic Development Bank as a Senior Officer, Water and Sanitation Sector Specialist covering member countries in the Africa Region. Reach out to authors other articleshere