By Dr. Beth Dunford

Water is essential for economic development, food production, energy, and industrialization. Water is a major tool for poverty alleviation and direct lines can be drawn to the pursuit of gender equality. Yet millions of Africans do not have access to this essential resource.

The financing needed to ensure water security is huge. World Water Day and this week’s World Water Forum – held in Sub-Saharan Africa for the first time – are opportunities to showcase innovations, progress and programs that work. The African Development Bank was among those who offered solutions at the Forum. In doing so, we made a compelling case for investing in water services in Africa.

Approximately 35% of Africa’s population does not have access to basic water supply. Some 65% of the continent’s people do not have access to basic sanitation services. Africa has developed only 7% of its irrigation potential – even though the agriculture sector contributes to nearly one-quarter of Africa’s GDP and is linked to the livelihoods of upward of 70% of the population.

Climate change compounds the situation: the increasing frequency of weather extremes in Africa is leading to unreliable water supply. This means African girls – who across the continent are often burdened with the responsibility to fetch water for household and family use – have to walk further from home to find clean water sources. The time involved walking to wells increases the likelihood that they will miss school. In urban areas, flooding often places a strain on ageing water infrastructure – which can lead to the spread of water-borne diseases. Increasingly, the majority of Africa’s farmers are desperate for contemporary water irrigation systems that don’t exist. More and more, these farmers are forced to rely on rain-fed agriculture, as a result of inconsistent rainfall.

One cause for optimism at this year’s World Water Forum, was the release of two key African Development Bank documents. On World Water Day, celebrated on 22 March, we showcased our Policy on Water and new Water Strategy at the Forum in Dakar – the aim, to raise awareness about our commitment to accelerate Africa’s water and sanitation agenda.

The Policy on Water and the Water Strategy call for strengthening the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus approach to water sector development. These documents contribute to the objectives of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

The Water Strategy is the Bank’s blueprint to achieve four things:

-The first has to do with integrating water resources management at the regional, trans-boundary and national levels. This ensures sustainable, efficient and equitable use of water and ensures secure water supplies to water-use sectors.

-Second: We aim to support the delivery of sustainable, resilient, and inclusive water supply, sanitation, and hygiene services. We are committing to increased and smarter investments; for example, climate-resilient infrastructure like solar-powered water delivery systems.

-Third is a focus on supporting the Bank’s regional member countries to increase the availability of sustainable water resources to grow “blue economies” that produce more – and more nutritious – foods, and to create decent jobs for youth.

-Our final Water Strategy pillar acknowledges the importance of energy for water security, by focusing on supporting the sustainable development of water for hydropower. Where feasible, the Bank will promote the development of multi-use water infrastructure. One example is the Bank co-financed Thwake Multi-Purpose Water Development Program in Kenya, which includes a massive multi-purpose dam. The water stored in the reservoir will be used for domestic purposes, hydropower generation, irrigation, and will regulate water flow for flood and drought mitigation. The water supply component of the dam will provide treated water to approximately 1.3 million people.

In the last two decades, the African Development Bank has financed more than 200 projects like the Thwake Multi-Purpose Water Development Program, providing some $9 billion toward improving water supply and sanitation services across the continent.

To implement the Water Strategy, the Bank will invest at least $6.4 billion, supplemented by co-financing from other partners and climate funds. The Bank is also pursuing a much larger role for the private sector to improve service delivery.

Additionally, the Bank has pledged to quadruple its financing for climate adaptation to reach $25 billion by 2025. The Bank is delivering on this pledge by promoting climate-informed design in its portfolios, including water.

As always, the African Development Bank will leverage all platforms, including the World Water Forum, to call for increased investment in the continent. In keeping with our High 5 strategic priorities, our objective is to deliver widespread access to clean, reliable and sustainable water and sanitation services that improve the quality of life of the people of Africa.


Dr. Beth Dunford is Vice President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development, at the African Development Bank.