Volume 43 Number 12
World Spotlight: Water for Africa: Healthy Partnerships with the Urban Poor
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Welcome to Kibera, the most densely populated, informal urban settlement in Africa. Located in Kenya's capital city – Nairobi -- between 500,000 and 750,000 people live in an area the size of a large city park, perhaps a mile or so in all directions. Walking the dirt paths of Kibera (it's unfair to call them "streets"), you feel swept up in the mass of humanity.
Life on the streets
Drinking water comes from water kiosks -- some run by families, some by self-help groups. Or, water comes in carts pushed by vendors who emerge out of nowhere to sell water of questionable quality at five to 50 times the price you might pay just outside the settlement. Property rights are unclear, skewed and complicated. There are no sanitation services. Sewage and solid waste flows where gravity decides is best.
The world of Kibera is not unique to Africa. You'll find these settlement conditions in the city centers throughout the developing world.
A shared response
The World Bank's water and sanitation program (see www.wsp.org) advocates the following as a shared response to urban water needs: --Established authorities need to plan new approaches and engage a wider array of players, in particular local communities themselves.
Water For People
In October 2000, WFP launched its "Water For Africa" initiative with a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). In light of many historic water programs, the Water For Africa initiative focuses on building local competencies, not building "bricks and mortar" projects. The approach is aimed at filling the knowledge gap that exists with urban drinking water and the urban poor.
Work includes supporting innovative approaches to assist the unserved and working with local nonprofit organizations and self-help groups to provide advocacy, training and community coordination on water-related issues. Work is also under way to foster water sector reform and strengthen local water associations as agents of change and resource centers for the respective water sector.
Initial efforts are focused in eastern and southern Africa. The following work in Zambia and Tanzania is provided to give a flavor for the Water For Africa effort.
A stronger water sector -- Zambia
Nine commercial utilities have now been created from what were once municipal water departments. New managing directors have been recruited, all with sound business experience but some from outside the water sector.
A lack of financial resources is a major obstacle; at a minimum, there's a need for an enabling institutional structure, well-trained staff and effective management. These must be in place before investors, public or private, can be confident in the viability of the utilities.
Water For Africa work in Zambia is focused on building capacity within the water sector through a unique partnership with the Water and Sanitation Association of Zambia (WASAZA), the University of Zambia and the International Water Association Foundation.
Project goals include:
The planned workshops include topics such as reducing non-revenue water, developing billing systems, improving customer relations, identifying appropriate private-public partnerships, and learning the essentials of regulation in the water/sanitation sector.
Capacity building in Tanzania
The first project focuses on helping WaterAid enhance its system of community-based management systems. These are the day-to-day "tool kits" that enable communities like the seven mentioned above to undertake integrated water projects and carry out research activities to support their advocacy work and decision-making processes.
The second project complements the first by focusing on the institutional development of PEVODE. The project will help the group become a formal non-governmental organization (NGO) with an established office, a trained board of trustee members and, ultimately, positioning PEVODE to fill a void in Dar es Salaam as a fully functioning, indigenous NGO focusing on urban issues.
One path forward
The path forward then is one of increased capacity building, collaboration and education. It entails bringing all the stakeholders to the table to find collaborative solutions to their drinking water problems. There is a dire need to share lessons and successes with other agencies and practitioners.
About the author
A thumbnail sketch of Zambia
Location: Southern Africa, east of Angola
Area: 451,568 square miles, slightly larger than Texas
Climate: tropical; modified by altitude; rainy season (October to April)
Natural resources: copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, coal, emeralds, gold, silver, uranium, hydropower
Population: 9,770,199 (July 2001 est.)
Religions: Christian (50-75 percent), Muslim and Hindu (24-49 percent), indigenous beliefs (1 percent)
Languages: English (official), major vernaculars—Bemba, Kaonda, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, Tonga, and about 70 other indigenous languages
Exports partners: Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Thailand, South Africa, United States, Malaysia (1997 est.)
Imports partners: South Africa 48 percent, Saudi Arabia, UK, Zimbabwe (1997 est.)