Interview with Hon. Maria Mutagamba
In terms of water security what are the major challenges facing the African continent?
Africa faces serious water security challenges. The availability of freshwater in Africa is characterized by high variable levels of rainfall, resulting in extreme floods and droughts. The solution to this extreme climatic variability is increasing water- storage capacity and regulation of flows. Currently, the average storage capacity in Africa is about 200 m3/person/year, while, in North America, it is about 5 961 m3/person/year. Africa’s share of global freshwater resources is about 9 per cent or 4 050 km3/yr. Currently, only 3.8 per cent of water resources are developed for water supply, irrigation and hydropower use. The freshwater resources are distributed unevenly across Africa, with western Africa and central Africa having significantly more than the rest of Africa. By 2025, it is expected that 25 African countries will be subject to water scarcity or water stress.
Enhancing Africa’s food security, particularly of the poor and vulnerable, calls for intensive development of water resources. It requires creation of storage of water for meeting the demand during the dry season. Agricultural production has not kept pace with population growth in the Region. As a result, the nutrition position of the region is now worse than it was 30 years ago. One of the reasons contributing to this is the heavy dependence of African economies on rain-fed agriculture with the attendant risks of droughts and floods. Hence, the region is faced with a challenge to develop expeditiously the huge potential of irrigated agriculture as a strategy for eradication of absolute poverty and hunger. It has been estimated that a 3.3 per cent increase in annual agricultural output is needed to achieve the continent’s food security objectives.
Access to electricity in most African countries is less than 200 kWh/person/year and, in some countries, is less than 30 kWh/person/year. In comparison, access to electricity in North America is more than 12 000 kWh/person/year. The technically feasible hydropower potential of the region is estimated to be about 1.4 million GWh/year and so far only about 3 per cent has been developed. If Africa is to achieve its goal of regional food security, the energy supply for agricultural should be increased two- to three-fold.
In Africa, about 300 million people lack access to adequate water supply and about 313 million people lack access to adequate sanitation. This figure could double if the business- as-usual approach is maintained. Low access to sanitation and water supply is the root cause of many diseases that affect Africa. People with HIV/AIDS who are victims of opportunistic diseases are also affected by the situation. Innovative measures will have to be undertaken to deal with this crisis.
In order to address the above challenges, it is imperative that appropriate good water-governance systems are put in place that take into account the interests of all stakeholders in the management of water resources through appropriate legislative and institutional mechanisms.
Promoting peaceful cooperation and developing synergies between different uses of water at all levels within and, in the case of transboundary water resources, between States concerned, through sustainable river -basin management, are essential.
Efforts to deal with all the above issues require financial and human resources, which, unfortunately, are not always available. Lack of sufficient financial and human resources for water development and management continues to be a major cause of concern.
Which of these challenges do you consider to be the most serious and how would you like to see them addressed?
We need to recognize that access to safe and sufficient water and sanitation are basic human needs and are essential to securing food supply and for people’s health and well-being. We need a healthy population that can contribute actively to the economic development of the continent. The attainment of the water-related United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa by 2015 continues to be a major challenge. To meet that water target in Africa, an estimated additional 300 million people must obtain access to some form of improved water supply with an average of over 30 million every year, 577 000 every week and 82 000 every day, starting in January 2006. To meet that sanitation target in Africa, an estimated additional 313 million people must get some form of improved sanitation by 2015 with an average of over 31 million every year, 600 000 every week and 86 000 every day, starting in January 2006.
Africa has articulated the issues and challenges confronting the water and sanitation sector and has defined an agenda comprising desired measures through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) initiatives and programmes. Implementation of the agenda requires mobilization of adequate human and financial capacity for which Africa needs support. We need to forge strong partnerships and mobilize adequate internal and external funds to support investments in the water and sanitation sector to meet the financial requirement of about US$ 20 billion per annum to enable attainment of the MDGs and the African Water Vision by 2025. At the same time, we need to follow up closely previous pledges to existing water initiatives such as the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative and the African Water Facility.
At the same time, Africa urgently needs to accelerate development of water resources for increased water supply, food and energy security, increase storage capacity, assist in mitigating the effects of climatic changes and water-related natural and human-induced disasters. Support should be extended to national governments to develop adequate policies and strategies that can make the above a reality.
The lack of adequate financial and human resources for water development and management continues to be a serious challenge facing Africa. Under the given global economic framework, the majority of African national economies continue to be weak. Different public sectors and services commonly have to compete for the meagre national resources available. Consequently, budgetary allocations for water development and management are always inadequate to meet the required needs. Government bodies and individuals involved in water-management programmes must provide the funds needed for water-management activities.
It is also worthwhile to mention that water-resources development and management require well-trained and skilled people in engineering, hydrology, chemistry, the environment and other related disciplines, who are commonly lacking in many of our countries. We need to build sufficient capacities through appropriate training of staff in these fields. Africa must also create an enabling environment which will keep and retain the trained human resources and not lose them through “brain drain”.
The institutional framework for water management should include the policy-making bodies that establish the rules or legislation on the development and use of water resources, and the legislative bodies and agencies with regulatory and political functions and responsibilities. These bodies should strive to reconcile the various interests of water users at any given time. They should ensure that, for water management to be effective, it should be envisaged in an integrated form, through an integrated water-resources management framework.
How do you expect these challenges to be affected by climate change and are decision-makers taking the issue seriously enough?
Africa is a wide continent and its climate needs to be addressed on a regional basis. The potential for adequate rainfall on the continent depends on the response of the African atmosphere to prevailing global patterns of seasonally varying climate variables.
There is evidence that, with or without climate change, both droughts and floods have increased in frequency and severity over the past 30 years. The Sahelian zone, in particular, is now experiencing continued decline in rainfall compared to the average of the pre-1960s. Lake Chad, for example, has shrunk to 5 per cent of its size 35 years ago.
Climate change is projected to increase the risk of floods over much of Africa and drought over much of southern Africa in the 21st century, partly through altering the frequency of El Niño events. Decision-makers have to take the climate change issue seriously, as it is likely to continue affecting the African countries economically, environmentally and socially. Although our larger problem is the climate now with its variability and extremes, we have to adapt our water-resources plans to this emerging new reality.
How important is the role of women in African water security and is this role adequately recognized?
In the African context, the woman and the girl child are the ones who bear the greater burden of ensuring that families are provided with water for cooking, washing and other amenities. Mainstreaming gender within the context of integrated water-resources management is therefore critical to attaining the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the targets of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. Government bodies should ensure gender-sensitive water and sanitation infrastructure and services and equal access, voice and participation of women and men in decision-making at all levels of water-resources management. At the grass-root level, however, we are far from involving women in the planning processes. This requires a great deal of effort in education and building awareness of the issues involved and a move towards changing the culture of decision-making.
How can decision-makers use meteorological and hydrological services more effectively?
If you allow me, I would put the question in a different perspective. Decision-makers have to perceive the importance and usefulness of meteorological and hydrological services. They have to be more aware of the economic value of meteorological and hydrological services and should allocate adequate amounts of resources for such services. They have to be convinced and should appreciate that resources allocated for these services are not expenditures but creditable investments with high-quality future returns. However, the onus for all this lies with the departments providing the hydrological services. National Hydrological Services have to interact with the user departments and clients to study their requirements of such services that could help decision- making processes at various levels not only at the top. They have then to prepare themselves and make their services available.
This is necessary in order to increase the ability of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) to provide long-term data and information on the condition, characteristics and trends in water resources and develop information needed to assess various alternative development options, especially under increasing water -stress conditions. Inadequacy of data on water resources in the past has resulted in inefficient design of water infrastructure, thereby negating the expected benefits from the investment made in such schemes.
Early warning systems (EWS) would become more and more critical in the context of global warming. The NMHSs can provide better and more accurate flood forecasting and predictions, flood risk assessments, flood hazard maps and flood and drought warnings to enable appropriate flood- and drought-mitigation measures to be undertaken. Various sectors, countries and individuals need help in adapting to, and mitigating, global change. Effective EWS would reduce their vulnerability and minimize the risk from those disasters that undermine their very survival.
What are your expectations from the United Nations specialized agencies and in particular WMO in relation to African water security?
As I said earlier, given the present realities of resources, both financial and human, we have an uphill task to meet our goals of ensuring water security. We have been receiving good support from various UN agencies under the banner of UN-Water/Africa. With their support, AMCOW has made certain progress. The African Water Facility has been established and we have a mechanism to support countries financially in undertaking certain projects, for which we are grateful to partners in the Facility. But it is not enough. It is still too little to address the gigantic task.
The United Nations and its specialized agencies, and WMO in particular, have a crucial role in developing the capacities of African countries to enable them to address these complex issues. They need to give special attention to African countries in their quest for solutions to attain water security. They can help us to adapt and adopt new technologies and avoid the tortuous path of learning through mistakes and thereby leapfrog over the adverse situations that are encountered in the development process. I call upon these agencies to facilitate the carrying-out of research on appropriate adaptation techniques to avoid catastrophic consequences of climate change.
We need WMO to help the NHSs of our countries in monitoring, evaluating and providing vital information on the state of our water resources. Use of climate outlooks for managing the water resources by building knowledge of the phenomena of droughts and floods in order to develop early warning systems and capability for timely and more accurate forecasts of their occurrence and magnitude, giving ample lead time for implementing mitigation interventions.
Meteorological and hydrological services are often low down on the political food chain, yet their supportive role is crucial for the well-being of other sectors such as agriculture, hydropower and tourism. How can this imbalance be addressed?
Effective water-resources development and management depend on the adequacy, quality and management of data on the various components of the hydrological cycle and the environment. Meteorological and hydrological services have to provide the scientific bases for effective water resources development and management in each country. Regrettably, NMHSs do not effectively convey the economic value of the services they provide and, as such, decision-makers are unable to appreciate or prioritize these services. Consequently, budgetary allocations for hydrological services have been systematically diminishing, particularly in developing countries and, above all, in Africa.
To address this unfortunate state of affairs, NMHSs need to sensitize politicians and decision-makers about the importance of meteorological and hydrological data and products, in the language they appreciate, as the necessary basis for proper and reliable designs and optimal management of water-related schemes.
This an area where an Organization like WMO has a vital role in demonstrating the value of meteorological and hydrological services to decision-makers, politicians, the private sector and the public at large.
As you may be aware, the WMO international Conference on Social and Economic Benefits of Weather, Climate and Water Services will take place in March 2007 in Madrid. What would you like to see come out of the conference?
I am happy that WMO is encouraging the NMHSs to interact with users. This is a very important conference. I see it as an opportunity for hydrological and meteorological service providers to have a better knowledge about how their products and services are used and where improvements are needed to increase their value to civil society and the economy; and for users and decision-makers to appreciate better the current capabilities, responsibilities and limitations of the various service providers.
What I would like to see come out of the conference is how governments can make more effective use of weather, climate and water information to reduce poverty, increase water and food security, improve health and ensure safety. I would like to see solutions for African nations to reduce and mitigate natural disasters, improve and sustain health, adapt to climate change, improve the management of energy and water resources, manage and protect ecosystems and develop sustainable agriculture.
What effective role could the private sector take in improving the water situation in Africa?
Traditionally, it has been argued that a good network of utilities and services such as water supply and sanitation are a prerequisite for investment. While this is largely true, the private sector can contribute proactively to programmes that will ensure a better environment for business, especially as regards improved water-resources management. Indeed, the private sector is already playing a part, albeit to a limited extent, in contributing to the improved water situation in Africa. Most of the equipment and instruments used in data collection, monitoring, operation and maintenance of water utilities are manufactured by private companies and firms. Most of this equipment and these instruments are not available in local markets in Africa and hence are purchased from overseas at high cost. These firms can make a significant contribution by investing in African local markets and producing the equipment within African countries, thereby reducing the financial burden of these countries.
There is also an issue of privatization of public water utilities, which is currently a subject of debate in some African countries. Where this has been adopted, it has attracted the participation of international institutions as shareholders in the capital of the operating company and has thus enhanced project funding.