Water resource development in Africa: Interview with Gustavo Saltiel

Water security in Africa
Water security programs by CIWA and the World Bank will help poor farmers and support local development in Africa. Image: Muriel Lasure / Shutterstock.com

This feature news is part of Singapore International Water Week’s (SIWW) series of one-on-one interviews with global water industry leaders, Conversations with Water Leaders. In this edition, Gustavo Saltiel, program manager, Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA), shares with OOSKAnews correspondent, Renee Martin-Nagle, on CIWA and the World Bank’s water resource development projects in Africa and the Nile Basin.

Saltiel explained how developing water resources in Africa will unleash the potential for growth and reduce poverty, changing the fate of the continent. However, as many water resources are shared amongst different countries, cooperation to develop water resources is challenging. 

You are the head of the World Bank program called CIWA.  Would you please explain the purpose of CIWA?

CIWA was established in 2011 and stands for Cooperation on International Waters in Africa. We started operations in 2012, and the goal is to support climate-resilient growth in Africa through cooperation, management and development of water resources among riparian countries. Most of the water resources in Africa are shared among two or more countries, so the international, transboundary dimension is very important.  In order to harness the potential of water, you need the countries to have some basic agreements, be it formal or informal, on the use of water resources. CIWA won’t work on the whole continent because it has limited resource. We will try to support those areas where we might have the highest impact, and CIWA is already supporting the Nile basin, Zambezi Basin, Volta Basin, Niger Basin and is expected to engage with West African basins soon. CIWA does not finance investments; it does upstream work – analytical and planning studies, institutional design, and capacity building in river basin organisations. The World Bank, the African Development Bank or bilateral organisations as well as the private sector can then support investments resulting from CIWA’s upstream work.

In Africa, less than 60 per cent of the population has access to safe water supply, less than 10 per cent of the hydropower potential has been exploited, and only around five per cent of the cultivated land is irrigated. Those figures may seem unrealistic for people living in Europe and the United States, but it’s the reality in Africa

How does CIWA interface with the World Bank?

CIWA is hosted within the World Bank, and as such, CIWA uses staff, resources and methods of the World Bank.  Current donors are the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway. You can imagine that CIWA may grow.  Many donors prefer that the World Bank is the manager of these programs because there is harmonization and coordination and hence, more efficiency in the overall delivery of aid support. The Bank also brings more value in terms of understanding the technical issues in water resources management and development as well as economics.

Why is there a focus on Africa?

In Africa, less than 60 per cent of the population has access to safe water supply, less than 10 per cent of the hydropower potential has been exploited, and only around five per cent of the cultivated land is irrigated. Those figures may seem unrealistic for people living in Europe and the United States, but it’s the reality in Africa. Clearly, water resources development has a huge potential to enhance food security through irrigation, to increase energy security through hydropower generation, to expand access to water supply and also to protect populations from extreme water events through adequate management of water resources and adequate infrastructure such as storage. Hence, supporting African riparian countries to cooperatively manage and develop their water resources will squarely contribute to unleashing the potential for growth and reducing extreme poverty.

Why haven’t water resources been more developed in Africa for food and energy security?

Most of the waters in Africa are shared, and the countries have not reached an agreement on the use of shared waters. It’s not because the countries don’t get along well, but the situation is very complex. Sometimes even within a country, you have conflicts over water — between farmers, between cities, between industries and other users of water. If that happens within a country, can you imagine among countries? Let me stress that cooperation is not an end in itself. CIWA supports cooperation on water resources for growth.

Can you talk about the World Bank philosophy on water resources in Africa?

Yes, of course. It’s very similar to the objectives of CIWA, which is to support the riparian countries in using water resources for inclusive and resilient growth.The growth must consider climate shocks, such as floods and droughts, financial shocks and also demographic shocks, since the continent is urbanizing at a rapid speed. The migration of millions of people to the cities in Africa creates a lot of stress on the water resources. This also illustrates the contribution of water to development in the continent.

You also lead the World Bank’s program called the Nile Basin Trust Fund.  Would you talk about the Rusumo Falls project?

The Nile Basin Trust Fund is one of the predecessors of CIWA. One of its projects is a hydropower development called Rusumo Falls on the border of Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda to produce hydropower energy for these three countries. Preparation of that project required a lot of work among the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and these three countries with regards to the technical design, sharing and use of the energy, cost recovery, and resettlement of the population that will be affected by the dam. The countries may share the power that is generated, but the costs, including the social and environmental costs, are not necessarily the same among them. The Bank, through the Nile Basin Trust Fund work, supported the dialogue and the technical solution.  This took a long time – seven or eight years — because there were other options that would produce more energy but would also have significant environmental and social implications.  Ultimately, the countries decided to move to a lower power generation option, called “run-of-the-river”, to reduce environmental and social impacts.  The World Bank, through the International Development Association or IDA, is financing the construction of the dam, the turbines, and the mechanical and electrical equipment, and the African Development Bank is financing the transmission lines. Together, the IDA and the AfDB will invest $450 million for the project.

So Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda opted for lower energy output in exchange for lower social and environmental impacts?

Yes. The number of people relocated and resettled is much lower – 10 per cent compared to other development options. As you can imagine, the decision was not easy as some of these countries have low levels of access to electricity, and hence, agreeing to postpone growth for the sake of protecting the rights of the current and future generations not only for each country, but for their neighbors as well is remarkable.

How is the Bank’s work with the Nile Basin Initiative affected by the Cooperative Framework Agreement that was signed in 2010 by the five upstream states?

The focus of the Nile Basin Trust Fund and the role of the World Bank are on the development track and not on political or legal issues such as the Cooperative Framework Agreement. We continue to focus on the development track, and the Nile Basin Trust Fund has supported the Nile Basin Initiative to prepare a pipeline of investment projects in the range of USD 1.5 billion, independent of the political developments. We are not a political institution. We are a development institution. That’s what we know – and what we have been doing that for 60 years. That’s our comparative advantage.

The unpredictability caused by climate change creates a serious problem for farming, hydropower production, and for industries and cities. To cope with that, many countries in Africa, with Kenya in particular, need to invest significant resources in water storage to buffer against the effects of climate and water variability as well as natural disasters

How does the World Bank add value to development studies?

The World Bank can prepare sophisticated economic and sector work through analytical studies, and in this way, we help the countries to make informed decisions. It’s not that only the World Bank can do that kind of work, but we do have a comparative advantage because we already have presence in those countries. We have offices and interactions, and we are doing macro and micro economic studies all the time. We work with lending programs in the different sectors – water, environment, agriculture, and energy, so we know them very well. The Bank is in a privileged position with resources from CIWA to help the countries understand the benefits of cooperation, such as jointly developing an irrigation or hydropower project. 

In addition to CIWA and the Nile Basin Trust Fund, you also lead the World Bank’s Kenya Water Resources program.  What is going on in Kenya?

In Kenya, water resources are a big priority for the country and the Bank. Water is a priority of what we call the Country Partnership Framework, which is an agreement between any country and the Bank and it outlines the results that we expect to achieve through World Bank involvement with that country over a period of four to five years.  The impacts of water-related problems on the Kenyan economy have been demonstrated to be a serious constraint for growth. The droughts of the late 90s and in 2012 generated serious impacts on the GDP. In addition, the unpredictability caused by climate change creates a serious problem for farming, hydropower production, and for industries and cities. To cope with that, many countries in Africa, with Kenya in particular, need to invest significant resources in water storage to buffer against the effects of climate and water variability as well as natural disasters. But water storage is very expensive. In a country that has so many different development needs, investing in water storage is an important decision that Kenya has taken, and the World Bank is supporting Kenya in that important investment program.

What are the water storage projects in Kenya?

We have the Water Security and Climate Resilient Program in Kenya. In the second phase of this program, the Government with support from the Bank is preparing an investment project of USD 200 million to support water security and climate resilience for Mombasa, second largest city in Kenya, and other coastal areas. This will include water storage in a reservoir called Mwache Dam, which will store water and supply it to Mombasa, providing water for irrigation to poor farmers in the area. It will also support local development activities where the dam will be built, such as fisheries, irrigation, rural water supply, and eventually mini-hydropower generation.  We believe that this project will contribute to the new corporate goals of the World Bank, which are poverty eradication by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity to lift the bottom 40 per cent of the population.

Will all future projects of the World Bank have to contribute to its goals of eradicating poverty and sharing prosperity?

Absolutely. We have to make a case in any new project, that the intervention proposed would contribute to poverty eradication and increasing shared prosperity.

For instance, in the case of Mombasa, we can show that it will contribute to shared prosperity because the water coming to the city will support those who do not have access to water, which are mainly the poor. In the outskirts of the city, there is no public water system at all. People, especially women, are carrying buckets with water on their heads in some cases for two hours a day.  As everywhere else, the rich in Kenya always manage to get water. Interventions in water, if well designed, contribute to increasing shared prosperity. With access to water, people, especially women, will have time for more productive activities.

How do you think that Singapore is contributing to the global dialogue on water?

Singapore International Water Week is an excellent opportunity for stakeholders, water agencies, ministries and utilities to come together to discuss and propose innovative solutions for water resources development and management across the world. For CIWA, it’s a very interesting platform to learn from other programs and initiatives that are going on around the world and also to share what CIWA is doing with others. 

What final message would you like to leave with our readers?

Africa is a fascinating area to work. It’s very challenging, but for water professionals, it’s important to understand what’s going on in Africa. If you can harness and use water resources more efficiently, the continent will change.  Millions of people are currently deprived and living in very bad conditions – without access to electricity, food or water and without jobs. Many of these countries are growing at significant rates, which put additional pressure on the water resources. If, with the help of the water world – the development banks, international organisations, and technical assistance from many – the countries can harness water, the continent will change, which will have a huge global impact.  In Africa, like nowhere else, the international dimension is crucial.  That’s why we believe that CIWA can have an important role contributing to development in the continent.

This post originally appeared here.

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