Africa: Can better wastewater management help Africa deal with its harshest drought since 1945?

Water is essential for many things, including supporting life – and yet, it is a scarce resource in many parts of the world. Due to climate change, Africa is in the grip of its worst drought since 1945, with Ethiopia, Northern Nigeria, Somalia, and Southern Sudan being the worst off.

Now, as Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) has written in an opinion piece published on Eco-Business, they need the world’s support – they need to build systems that are resilient, while also ensuring that potable water is accessible to all people. They need to improve the delivery of water as well as sanitation in Africa’s burgeoning urban areas.

With investment and proper management of the funds, Africa can harness wastewater, positively impacting human health, agricultural produce and productivity, and environmental sustainability, among others.

Over the last six years, the AfDB invested an estimated US$3.3 billion in numerous projects supporting water accessibility and to improve sanitation, reaching out to at least 17 million people.

The AfDB backs an integrated urban water-management model (IUWM) that keeps in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – and allowing communities to draw a sustainable income from the management of urban liquid waste.

However, IUWM’s efforts need a significant initial investment, and the projects come with high capital and operational costs. Due to this, only a handful of cities in Africa collect and treat more than a fifth of the wastewater generated. The remaining 80 per cent, however, represents a large source of liquid that could be valuable – and goes untapped, its potential unexplored.

But with foresight, commitment, and the right investment, treating the wastewater can create employment and drive sustainable growth in the country.

Thus, wastewater management is at the heart of AfDB’s strategies and priorities, which targets the improvement of quality of life in Africa, to realise gender equality, and increase resilience against climate change, among others. And water management is one of the main drivers of AfDB’s industrialisation, strategies and priorities.

All the wastewater management systems AfDB supports come with sustainable strategies that ensure economic growth and benefit the lives of the communities, all while remaining affordable.

But working alongside the AfDB and complementing its work is the AfDB’s African Water Facility (AWF), which is also in collaboration with the Global Water Partnership, where they are implementing IUWM systems in five cities, including Marondera in Zimbabwe. In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, the IUWM systems are expected to improve water delivery and sanitation for 17 million people by 2030.

In Africa, the challenges are unique, complex, and substantial, and all stakeholders must buckle down on efforts to ensure that the people in Africa are able to access clean and affordable water for all.