African ministers say water is vital to improving health and economic development on the continent. Africa placed high on the agenda at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France, March 12-17.
Bai-Mas Taal is the executive secretary of the African Ministers’ Council on Water, also known as AMCOW. He said African nations are committed to clean water and sanitation.
“We are putting up the economic case – investment in water – how it helps in the development of a nation. That water is the driving force for economic development,” he said.
Taal said there was a time when African governments were hesitant about investing in water and sanitation. They didn’t see what the return on investment would be. That’s changed.
“The heads of state have committed themselves to building the infrastructure of Africa - to move the economic growth rate of Africa from four to six percent to 12 percent by 2040. To do that, they have developed an infrastructure program for the development of Africa,” he said.
He said investing one dollar in water can bring a return of $4 to $12 in benefits. One of the benefits is better health.
“We know that in Africa over 60 percent of hospital beds are occupied with patients with water borne diseases. So if you invest in water and give them clean water, you are going to reduce your medical bill. Because they are not having clean water. They are drinking contaminated water from boreholes, from wells that are not treated. So, give them clean water then you will reduce the medical bill,” he said.
Clean water and sanitation also mean more children in school.
“The children and girl child, they are not going to school because they are going every day kilometers and kilometers to fetch water. But of you provide water at the village level they don’t have to go those kilometers to fetch water. Then they can go to school and become more productive in the future,” he said.
Taal added irrigation can play a major role in ensuring food security and development.
“If you depend on raid-fed agriculture in West Africa or Sahelian countries, it rains between two and three months and you don’t even know when the rains are coming. Sometimes they start, you plant, and the rains do not come for 3 weeks. All your seeds die. So, telling them that you need to lift the water from the ground or from the rivers by building infrastructure to water those plants. Once you do that you’ll have revenue from those agricultural products,” he said.
As for non-agriculture business, Taal said Coca Cola, Nestle and Africa’s beer breweries have been working to use water more efficiently. He says in South African bars, for example, the price of a drink depends on the cost of water used to make ice.
African heads of state, ministers and other officials have endorsed a position paper for the water forum.
“Commit ourselves to mobilize the required resources and commit all necessary efforts to achieve the MDGs, goal targets, for water supply and sanitation in Africa,” said Taal.
He said Africa’s message was heard loud and clear at the World Water Forum.
“Africa came here and Africa has made its voice heard. And Africa has come out with solutions that we take back to the continent and implement so that water will be available to our people,” he said.
Currently, Taal says, 340 million Africans do not have access to clean water and 500 million do not have access to decent sanitation. He says African nations are working hard to change that.