Thousands of the world's government representatives, water experts and industry leaders gathered in Stockholm from September 1-6, 2013 for World Water Week. With water cooperation on the agenda, participants have been discussing ways to foster greater collaboration between stakeholders to see that water remains at the top of the development agenda.
At a panel discussion with UN delegates, Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the Organisation of Economic Development, delivered a passionate call for action, reminding all of the seriousness of the situation. The OECD estimated that by 2050 there would be 55 per cent increase in demand for water because of population and economic growth. Will we be able to face the demand? "The pressure on water resources is projected to rise and this is bad news," said Gurria.
Yet, amidst the myriad concerns expressed by many participants throughout the week, there are signs of progress.
According to Bai-Mass Taal, Executive Secretary of the African Minister's Council on Water (AMCOW), advocacy efforts on the African continent that began in the mid-90s and culminated in the Africa Water Vision 2025 are starting to pay off.
"Africa is leading the way in terms of cooperation in a bid to deal with these pressing water issues. We established the African Water Facility, and with the support of the African Development Bank we are developing and improving infrastructure," said Taal.
In Africa, collaboration is crucial to ensuring adequate use and management of water resources, because much of the continent's water resources are shared between countries.
Africa is crossed by a complex network of 60 river basins which altogether contain 93 per cent of its surface water. And the continent's hydrological legacy is such that all countries share at least one of these river basins, with 13 shared by more than five riparian states. Adding to this, Africa is home to 38 transboundary aquifers containing very high volumes of water, particularly in North Africa.
Yet, despite the vast quantities of water, less than five per cent of Africa's surface and ground water is harnessed and fully utilized. Making better use of the precious 95 per cent left untapped will be critical to ensure Africa's future development.
The level of investment needed to finance the necessary water infrastructure for extraction, storage and distribution will be substantial; currently estimated at a conservative US $50 billion per year over the next 20 years.
In front of former President of Ghana, John Kufuor and the 11 African Water Ministers attending World Water Week, Keba Ba, Manager for the Water and Sanitation Department (OWAS) of the AfDB, talked about the Bank's support to help turn things around. "Through its lending programs in agriculture, hydropower, multipurpose water infrastructure, river transport, and water supply; and through various funds, notably the African Water Facility, the Bank has been making significant contributions to national and regional integration and development," he said.
Complementing the Bank's efforts, the African Water Facility (AWF) has shown leadership in providing support for a diversity of transboundary water resources management activities over the continent -- with 23 projects worth around €30 million, which constitutes 31 per cent of its total commitments.
Akissa Bahri, Coordinator of the African Water Facility, reminded the audience of the strategic value of the AWF. "The Facility is a key regional instrument for fostering transboundary cooperation," she said. "We have linkages at national, regional and continental levels and work closely with regional organizations and international partners to broker solid interstate partnerships around transboundary waters to ensure shared socio-economic benefits."
At Africa Focus Day, all agreed that cooperation in the management and development of transboundary water resources is one of the building blocks of regional integration and sustainable development, and key to increasing water security on the continent.