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12 June 2014

Integrated approaches to addressing water issues in Africa

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Africa has one of the fastest urban population growths in the world and urbanization is known to be an important factor in the production of wastewater. It is estimated that 90% of the wastewater is discharged directly into rivers, lakes and oceans.

Given such a background, the African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW) dedicated a sub theme during the 5th Africa Water Week 2014 to Wastewater Management and Water Quality.

As part of the discussions the Global Water Partnership (GWP) in partnership with UN-Habitat and UNEP convened a number of technical working sessions. The working sessions aimed to raise awareness to the challenges, opportunities and positive experiences pertaining to wastewater management in Africa.

ICLEI Africa was invited as a panellist to the first working session which sought to set the scene on the status quo of wastewater management in local authorities in Africa. Additional panellists included representatives from:

i) Community level – Senegal
ii) Utilities – Cameroon; and
iii) the Chair of Mayors from Côte d’Ivoire.

ICLEI Africa’s input during the session focussed on local authorities in southern Africa, drawing specifically on lessons learnt from the six cities participating in the European Commission funded “Sustainable Urban Water Resilience for Africa: Developing Local Climate Solutions (SURe Water 4 Africa: Developing LoCS) project.

The panellists identified unreliable and/ or limited supply of water, flash floods, ageing infrastructure, wastewater and sanitation reticulation systems as common challenges that local governments and utility companies faced in efforts to improve management of wastewater. These challenges in turn compromised the quality of water made available to residents. The representative of the urban community of Senegal and Chair of Mayors from Côte d’Ivoire also highlighted the lack of formal institutions and clear water governance as critical issues hindering success in addressing the situation. ICLEI Africa added limited technical and human capacity as additional challenges drawing from findings emerging from the Risk and Vulnerability Assessment undertaken in 6 cities as part of the SURe Water 4 Africa: Developing LoCS project.

When asked to identify locally appropriate and feasible actions to addressing the situation, all panellists highlighted the importance of raising awareness at both the community and political levels and the value in demonstrating the potential economic value of wastewater. Such actions could trigger a behaviour change resulting in human and environmental health benefits as well as promoting efficient use of water.

The panellists further identified the need for an integrated approach to managing the urban water cycle. This could be achieved through the creation of an enabling environment to catalyse dialogue among the different stakeholders involved in the various aspects of the urban water cycle. These include relevant government offices, the private sector, WASH agencies and the voice of the community to effectively design approaches to ensure sustainable management of wastewater.

To conclude the session, UN-Habitat delivered a presentation emphasising the importance of an Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) approach which presents an opportunity for wastewater to be seen as a secondary input to the urban water cycle rather that as “wasted water”.

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