THE provision of water to entire citizens of the continent is a formidable task that can nonetheless be fulfilled.
This has the prevailing sentiment at the seventh Africities Summit ongoing in Johannesburg.
Chris Heymans, Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist at the World Bank, based in Nairobi, Kenya said although major challenges existed, World Bank research presently being undertaken found there were spots of encouragement on the continent.
It was these examples that could provide the impetus for effectively tackling water and sanitation problems across the continent by providing tangible examples of success to other local authorities and utilities.
The ideal delivery system for water was piping of the commodity into homes of users, said Heymans.
This had a profound impact on the quality of life of individuals, but -because of rapid urbanisation in Africa’s cities – this ideal was being hampered by growing slum settlements on the outskirts of cities where people still had to move long distances to find water.
Across the continent, the needs of settled, ‘richer’ communities and those of poorer consumers were tackled in various ways. Some authorities restricted themselves to piped delivery to more affluent areas, whilst other cities argued for not providing water at household levels.
“Whatever the arguments for and against, the fact was that it was the poor who suffered as they had to pay more for water than more privileged consumers. They also relied on ‘water merchants’ to supply what could be water of a poor standard. The impact on quality of life and health were obvious,” Heymans said.
He cited an example of Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, where a working compromise had been established and was working for the benefit of all parties.
Although city inhabitants received piped water, the city authorities had taken the decision to extend their water network by running pipes to the outskirts of areas dominated by informal settlements outside the city limits.
“Here, people who had been selling water, had been recruited as partners and were engaged in running the pipe network further into these areas and selling access to water piped closer to peoples’ homes,” Heymans said.
To ensure that these services could be supplied at a reasonable rate to the people, the delivery of water to the outskirts of these areas was subsidised by the utility.
“The result had been an increase in the quality of life for thousands of people,” said Heymans said.