Water is a resource that most of us take completely for granted. Thirsty? Just walk over to the sink and turn on the faucet; or head over to the fridge and grab a cold drink. Yet, there are an astonishing number of people in the developing world who could not even dream of doing such a thing. As many as 300 million Africans are living today without access to a dependable source of clean, safe water for drinking, cooking, washing, growing crops, or any of the essential things we use water for every day. Therefore, sustainable access to clean water is a catalyst for development across the African continent. Now, a collaborative effort, known as the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), is working with communities and water service providers across Africa to help address the critical issues associated with lack of water access. RAIN is on pace to provide clean water access for over 2 million people by the end of 2015 and 6 million by the close of 2020.
A key strategy for reaching this many people is partnering with utilities to create and improve service for lower income communities. Take Madagascar, for example. Of the 2.2 million people living in Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo, nearly half lack access to clean water and sanitation services. That’s close to a million people. RAIN, a flagship water access program of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (TCCAF) has partnered with an organization known as Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) to help bolster and strengthen the water distribution infrastructure. A total of three projects in Madagascar have provided water to 322,000 people, while saving over one billion liters from being wasted from leaky pipes.
Says Julie Ranaivo, WSUP’s Program Coordinator, “WSUP’s fundamental approach is to develop sustainable services at scale, by empowering service providers and key stakeholders and strengthening their capacity.” They work with the local water utilities (in Antananarivo, it’s JIRAMA), municipalities, and local communities to develop solutions. The result has been widespread improvement in health, job opportunities for women, and enhanced livelihoods for the people of Antananarivo.
This is extremely important in light of the many forces that have already begun changing the face of Africa. The African population is expected to double in the next twenty years. That will certainly strain an infrastructure that is still largely undeveloped. And while the effects that climate change will have on rainfall patterns and temperatures are not entirely predictable, the data indicates that it can be expected to add to the challenge. Meanwhile, it has been estimated by the World Health Organization that ensuring that all Africans have access to clean, safe water can add $33 billion to the African economy.
In addition to the three projects in Madagascar, RAIN is supporting projects in Kumasi, Ghana; Naivasha, Kenya; Maputo, Mozambique; Kampala, Uganda and Lusaka, Zambia. Each project is a little bit different. For instance, in Kenya, there is a problem with an excess of naturally occurring fluoride in the water, which was causing a number of health issues. WSUP partnered with the Nakuru De-fluoridation Company (NDC) to establish water treatment, storage and distribution networks in Naivasha’s settlements. It also has a component to raise awareness around safe hygiene and sanitation. Water kiosks have been constructed with storage tanks and a fluoride filtration system. Workers also rehabilitated boreholes, increasing water supply and expanding access to clean water to all inhabitants. Other projects have more emphasis on sanitation and solid waste management.
Altogether, with support from RAIN, more than 495,000 people have received water service, 1.5 billion liters of water have been saved, at a total expense of $9.5 million, more than half of which came from TCCAF. Other contributors include: U.K. Government Department for International Development, Netherlands Embassy via Vitens Evides, Department for International Development, AusAid, Century Bottling Company, Music for RAIN, National Water and Sewerage Corporation, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, USAID, UK Aid DID, and Wasser fur Wasser.
Besides providing infrastructure support, the program also provides training in valuable skills such as leak detection as well as management. These critical components serve to strengthen the local water utilities, upon whom, so much will soon come to rest.
The challenge in bringing outside aid to Africa to improve living conditions for the many people living in poverty has always been a question of scale. Here is an approach that appears to be enjoying some real success in that regard. It is clear that that the joint participation of civil society, government and the private sector is key to making it work.