Impressions from the African Water Association Congress

Posted 30 Mar 2016 by Rémi Kaupp

A regular event attended by water utility managers, AfWA 2016 was very different from the global UN, African Union or AMCOW summits or conferences.

It was a unique opportunity to understand the concerns and ambitions of African decision makers, bringing together those at the ‘coal-face’ of water supply and sanitation service delivery.

Following the high-level declarations of intentions by the UN in the Sustainable Development Goals, this is where the reality of action on the ground takes shape and where, potentially, the question of how poor urban residents can finally obtain water and sanitation services is solved.

At first sight the congress exhibition hall was a bit of a shock, as it largely comprised companies proffering pipes, pumps and other equipment for a myriad of processes in water treatment and supply.

This scenario reflected the discourse and concerns that surfaced in many of the thematic sessions – water and large infrastructure projects were key focal areas, closely followed by financing and public-private partnerships, and capacity issues.

These are all very important issues, of course, yet slightly at odds with our ambitions to discuss sanitation (especially faecal sludge management in low-income settlements) and how to focus on the poorest in water supply.

Few sessions addressed these topics, the exceptions being those convened by the World Bank and the few civil society actors in attendance. As at previous AfWA conventions, we saw that poor residents’ views are rarely considered except in a few utility projects.

Putting the poorest at the centre

The challenge to achieving universal access is really to make services for poor people or those living in poorer neighbourhoods a central mission of utilities and a responsibility of the state.

This was the focus of our session and documentation on Low-Income Customer Service Units. Many good experiences were shared during the session around reaching the poorest, raising interest from utility managers from countries including Burkina Faso.

On-site sanitation is a complex and neglected topic, compared with sewerage, which typically reaches only the better-off and some industrial areas of African cities. Our session on decentralised services was a way to examine solutions for poorer urban areas.

Clare Haule from WaterAid Tanzania presented their innovations in the sanitation chain, and Abdullah Al-Muyeed from WaterAid Bangladesh presented work on new treatment technologies (including the presentation below, looking at a co-compost plant at Shakhipur Municipality). 

A key question that arose was about the mandate of utilities on non-sewered sanitation, and how to better plan such services.

Final impressions

No conference would be complete without a collection of anecdotes. 

The most striking ones for us were the murmur of agreement to stop watering lawns in cities when residents do not have enough water themselves (ironically, outside the conference centre many large fountains were in full flow); the revelation of who drank from that famous glass of water just before Bill Gates did; and the underwhelming ambition of the new leader of an international water organisation to help achieve “intermittent water supply” for all in Africa, as, after all, “electricity is often rationed”. Surely the Global Goals are compelling us to do much better than that!

Beyond anecdotes, a dominant feeling among our group was the palpable ambition of these professionals to serve everyone in their cities with water and sanitation.

To get there, hearing directly from the poorest and most marginalised will be essential, to make sure they are not left aside, and we will need to prioritise forgotten issues such as on-site sanitation.

Abdullah Al-Muyeed is WASH Technical Advisor at WaterAid Bangladesh (@WaterAidBD); Aditi Chandak is Learning and Knowledge Advisor at WaterAid UK; Clare Haule is Urban Programme Officer at WaterAid Tanzania; Rémi Kaupp is Urban Sanitation Specialist at WaterAid UK (@remkau); and Timeyin Uwejamomere is Urban Technical Support Manager at WaterAid UK (@TimeyinUweja).


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  • Banadzem Derick Sangnyuy said:

    29 Apr 2016 13:17

    In Africa we have many cases of waterborne diseases which records a number of death on daily basses. Looking at countries where WaterAid works in Africa, i saw countries from all the regions but central Africa and Northern Africa. my plea is for waterAid to be extended to such Countries or carry out a feasibility studies in these countries and assist in anyway. am pleading on behave of my own Cameroon which after working in some communities i have seen the poor water and sanitation conditions. please am ready to work with you on this.


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