Interview with Bai-Mass Taal: Perspectives on water in Africa
UN-Water met the new Executive Secretary of the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW), Mr Bai-Mass Taal, at the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul Turkey. Afterwards, we called him at his office in Abuja Nigeria and asked him a few questions.
What are the major water-related challenges facing Africa?:
“Most of the countries that are not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) drinking water and sanitation targets are in sub-Saharan Africa. According to recent findings, 22 African countries will not meet the MDGs. If trends continue some African countries will not reach the water target until 2035 and the sanitation target not until 2108.”
“The international community has failed to bring about the concerted action required to address this situation in the right way. Much of the official development assistance (ODA) is not reaching the poorest or most off-track countries. Instead it is targeted to middle-income countries. For example, Malaysia receives grants of around 500 US$ per person for water, whereas, Madagascar receives only 2 US$ per person. AMCOW works at the international level to ensure that the African countries most in need of support are given the priority when it comes to international development assistance.”
“However, African countries themselves often do not place enough priority on water and sanitation. In 2008, at the 11th African Union Summit, held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Heads of State and Governments agreed on commitments to make water and sanitation a priority. They reaffirmed their commitment to raise the profile of sanitation by addressing the gaps in the context of the African Conferences on Sanitation and Hygiene and the eThekwini Ministerial Declaration on Sanitation in Africa, which was adopted by all AMCOW members in 2008. The Declaration called for governments to establish specific public sector budget allocations for sanitation and hygiene programmes. The suggested allocation was 0.5 percent of the national budget. They also committed themselves to address issues pertaining to agricultural water use for food security as provided for the Ministerial Declaration and outcomes of the 1st African Water Week. The Sharm El-Sheikh declaration embraces all of the above commitments. However, these commitments to water and sanitation made at the highest political levels have not yet been reflected in national development strategies and budget.”
"So as you can see we have a lot of declarations and well-articulated commitments, but they have yet to be translated into action. We need to stress to African governments the importance of making water and sanitation a priority and living up to the commitments already made."
"We also have to realize that Africa does not need to be in such a grim situation. The continent is endowed with abundant water resources. Its share of global water resources is about 9 percent. It is pathetic that only 3.9 percent of these resources are developed for water supply, irrigation and power generation."
"There are over 60 basins in Africa. Most of them are transboundary river basins, so there is a real need for countries to cooperate on shared water resources management. Many countries in the Sahelian region have untapped groundwater resources. In many areas, there is abundant rainfall, but no programme for rainwater harvesting. We need to direct resources to make water available to the people in Africa."
What is AMCOW doing to meet these challenges?
“There is good news on this front. AMCOW and the G8 countries are working to form a Strategic Water Alliance under the leadership of Italy, the current chair of G8. We are working together to develop a blue print that will both assist African governments to live up to their commitments made at Sharm El-Sheik and also carry forward the G8 Evian Action Plan on Water, which was adopted in 2003 and endorsed at subsequent G8 meetings.”
"AMCOW doesn't work on its own. We play a catalytic and a coordinating role. We identify and collaborate with organizations that can act as ‘task managers’ and take the lead on certain issues. For example, the African Development Bank is the task manager on water-related MDG’s in the region. The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme in Africa is the task manager on Sanitation and the implementation of the eThekwini Commitments and is currently preparing Country Status Overviews (SCOs) on sanitation. The Global Water Partnership (GWP) is the task manager for advancing integrated water resources management."
How do UN-Water's activities fit in?
“UN-Water has an important role to play in ensuring that policies and programmes undertaken at the country level in Africa are in line with global and regional priorities and commitments. AMCOW is not part of the UN System. UN-Water can influence decisions made in the UN country offices in ways that we can't."
"When we speak of translating commitment into action, we have to realize that all of this depends on concrete measures carried out at the national level. The trouble is that too often actors at the country are not in the loop when it comes to decisions made at the global or regional level. There are many different UN agencies working in African countries. They need to ensure that various global objectives are achieved and ministerial declarations acted upon. UN-Water can assist UN agencies working at the country-level to adopt a coordinated approach and effectively communicate the importance of water and sanitation goals to the UN country offices."
"Making information on water easily accessible to the public is another activity that is extremely important. AMCOW hopes to become a one-stop shop for people searching for information on water and sanitation in Africa. UN-Water can do the same thing for information on UN activities on water. Also, UN-Water’s World Water Development Report, which provides an overview of different aspects of water resources and their management is very much appreciated. And so are other UN-Water reports. For example, we found the Status Report on Integrated Water Resources Management and Water Efficiency Plans presented at CSD 16 to be a very valuable document. ”
"I would like to conclude by saying that we must recognize that water is and must remain a key to sustainable development in Africa, and that water supply and sanitation are prerequisites for supporting Africa’s human capital."