The critical importance of water in daily living cannot be overemphasised. World Water Day, an international day that celebrates freshwater, was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.
In Agenda 2063, Africa’s 50 year development strategy, Africans expressed in Aspiration number 1, the desire to see “a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.” This aspiration is underpinned by the wish to see an Africa in which its “cities and other settlements are hubs of cultural and economic activities, with modernised infrastructure, and its people have access to all the basic necessities of life, including shelter, water and sanitation.”
Key to Africa’s inclusive growth and sustainable development is the equitable and sustainable use and management of water resources for socio-economic development, regional cooperation and the environment.
The best way to push water and sanitation up on the political agenda is to find an obvious way to link water to development. This is why Goal 6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for clean water and sanitation for all. That SDG has 8 major targets to reach by 2030. Among them we find a commitment to “protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.”
That commitment is not something that people (and by extent governments) should consider as redundant. Indeed, water scarcity must be considered as a top priority risk: It is at the same time a major constraint to socio-economic development of nations, a growing problem for businesses, and a threat to growth and stability on a global scale. Thus, it is far from being a minor problem.
This is the reason why it is inconceivable to act with short-term financial interest as the only goal and not to look on consequences on the environment and water conservation. For instance, water is critical for successful climate change mitigation, as many efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depend on reliable access to water resources. This year’s focus on wastewater points to the need to reduce and reuse wastewater as a valuable resource. Increasing water recycling and safe reuse of wastewater is a key component of sustainable water management – that will go a long way in enabling us to have “The Africa We Want!”
We have a long way to go before water scarcity problems are solved across the globe but it is our strategic interest to act now, on our continent. I urge all stakeholders to rally together and get things done. Water is not a secondary issue – it is a social, human, and economic issue. Water is the lifeline for the 1.2 billion people living in Africa.