Water and Sanitation Still Not Top Priorities for African Governments

MDG : Water scarity in Africa : Nigeria : Young women and girls carry water

It’s often not money that prevents leaders focusing on sanitation but legal barriers, and lack of interest and infrastructure. (Guardian)

The figures are shocking. According to the UN Environment Programme (Unep), more than 400 million Africans now live in water-scarce countries; 300 million people still do not have reasonable access to safe drinking water and nearly 230 million people defecate in the open.

But the reasons African governments cite for not implementing integrated water management policies or meeting commitments they have made to provide sanitation are many and varied. A survey of officials by Unep in 40 African countries suggests they are not mainly constrained by a lack of money.

Congo-Brazzaville, Nigeria and Sierra Leone don’t even have a formal water policy, they told the UN and African Union in the report, referred to this week at the World Water Week in Stockholm. São Tomé and Principe said it did not have the necessary laws in place; Cameroon said it had no one to champion the cause of water provision, and 25 countries, including Namibia, Swaziland, Rwanda and Mozambique, said they did not have enough human capacity.

Some governments were brutally honest about their failings. Congo-Brazzaville said it could not get the private sector or civil society interested, Burundi that it had experienced too many changes of ministries, and Ghana that it had problems collecting revenue from local sources. Liberia said it had difficulty accessing donor funds, and Libya and Zimbabwe said they did not have the infrastructure.

Only 18 African countries cited money as a constraint to developing water resource management. Ghana and Liberia said they found it hard to access donor funds, and Burkina Faso and Congo-Brazzaville said a big problem was slowness in mobilising financing.

But there is a growing belief that it makes little sense for governments to make more commitments on water and sanitation. Haba Arbu Diallo, former Burkina Faso water minister and chairman of the Global Water Partnership in west Africa, argued for a moratorium on more commitments. “Many African countries [at this rate] will need two or three millennia to meet their MDGs,” he said. “If urbanisation continues at this pace in 10 years’ time, every African country will be faced with a massive challenge. The time has come to stop making commitments and to implement what we have already agreed to.”

On sanitation, says a report by the African Ministers’ Council on Water(AMCW), Africa is making little progress and is likely to miss its MDG target by more than 300 million people. Only nine African countries are on track to meet their targets.

A statement from the third African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene added: “The poorest 20% are 20 times more likely to defecate in the open than the richest 20%. The impact of this hidden scandal is devastating to health and quality of life.”

Rwanda has emerged as the poster child for hygiene and sanitation, largely because of high-level political support. More than 54% of the population has decent sanitation, from fewer than 1.5 million people in 1990 to more than 5.5 million today. “In Rwanda, political prioritisation for sanitation and hygiene has come from the very top. This unprecedented level of support has been critical,” said Therese Dooley, of Unicef.

Some progress has been made elsewhere too. “Before we were not even allowed to say toilets or defecation,” she said, “but now we see UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon using these words, which greatly increases exposure and awareness of the issue.”

But water and sanitation are still not top priorities for governments, despite overwhelming evidence that a country’s development and people’s wellbeing depends on efficient use of water.

The secretary of the AMCW, Bai Mass Taal, from Nigeria, said the best way to push water and sanitation up the political agenda is to find new ways to measure the contribution of water to development. “It is very important to provide a basis for highlighting the pivotal role of water resources as an essential ingredient in the advent of a green economy in Africa,” he said.

(Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/aug/30/water-sanitation-priorities-african-governments)

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Water, Women and Marital Violence in a Bangladesh Village


This study explored the implications of a groundwater development project on women’s workload and their exposure to marital violence. (Global Water Forum)

The global water crisis has affected women and men in many different ways. There is evidence that millions of women carry a double burden of disadvantage from the water crisis.1,2 In many instances, water development projects and water privatization restrict women’s access to water, further increasing their burden.2,3In rural Bangladesh, women are primarily responsible for domestic water use and men are mainly engaged in irrigation.4 However technology-intensive water development initiatives have largely emphasized irrigation, thus facilitating men’s water needs.5,6

Gendered roles and marital violence in rural Bangladesh

Marital male violence against women is widespread in rural Bangladesh. A recent study showed that almost 62% of married women were subject to either physical or sexual violence by their husbands.7 However, women are not abused randomly. Researchers mention many cases of wife battery being used as a punishment for failing to fulfill gendered household obligations.8,9 This study explored the implications of a groundwater development project on women’s workload and their exposure to marital violence.10 Fieldwork was conducted in a northwest Bangladesh village between July 2004 and July 2005.

Women's community meeting, Bangladesh. Source: waterdotorg

Women’s community meeting, Bangladesh. Source:waterdotorg

The water development project

Groundwater was the only reliable source of water in the vicinity of the study village. There were three means of lifting groundwater: deep tube-wells (DTWs), shallow tube-wells (STWs), and handpumps. DTWs and STWs are operated by motorized pumps and are exclusively used for irrigation, whereas shallow handpumps are used for domestic purposes. However, in the dry season, only a few handpumps lift water because of a lowering of the groundwater table.4 The project facilitated DTW-based irrigation. This contributed to an increase in the area’s agricultural productivity, however many households faced a domestic water shortage in the dry season because the extra irrigation water lowered the groundwater table further.

Gender roles, dry season water crisis and women’s workload

Women’s water needs were mostly related to their domestic obligations, whereas men’s water needs were mostly related to irrigation. The study estimated that, on average, a woman spent 7 hours and 25 minutes daily on domestic water-related work, but a man spent only 19.2 minutes. In the dry season, to fulfill their obligations, women had to walk to distant wells, which resulted in an increase of their domestic workload (see Table 1). A number of women (15.1%) also faced severe difficulties in fulfilling their obligations because of the extra time spent collecting water (see Table 1). Therefore, the development project actually reduced the ability of women to fulfill their normative gender role.

Table 1. Survey of dry season water shortage, increased workload, and women’s difficulties. Note: *11 households that did not have any female members who carried out water-related work were excluded.

Table 1. Survey of dry season water shortage, increased workload, and women’s difficulties. *11 households that did not have any female members who carried out water-related work were excluded.

Women’s obligations, increased workload, and marital violence

Data indicated that women were obliged to unconditionally obey their husbands. A 36-year old woman exemplified this obligation: “but I made a mistake, as I argued with him… ”. The interviews also indicated that women were expected to manage time. A woman that had experienced violence said it occurred as a punishment for failing to fulfill her household duties. It also illustrates how the lack of water contributed to make the situation worse:

I went to fetch water… It took a long time because there was a long line… but when I came back, I saw that the man was home. He asked me to serve lunch…. I replied that it took a long time to collect water (as our nearest three handpumps had dried out). But he said that it was my problem if other women can cook on time for their husbands! So when I told him to go to see the deep (DTW)…he got angry and started beating me… I did not argue anymore; rather I went to cook…”.

The other informants supported a perception of marital violence being very common and justified, for a range of reasons such as burning the food while cooking, not having washed the husband’s clothes, not making good-tasting food, etc. Because the water crisis meant that women had to walk to distant wells, sometimes several times in a day, it directly challenged the basic gendered norm system and increased the possibility of socially justified violence.


The water development project largely facilitated men’s irrigation water needs by installing DTWs. Irrigation water had become available all year, whereas the domestic water supply decreased. Many women thus had to walk to distant wells for domestic water collection, which increased their workload. This challenged their possibilities of fulfilling household obligations, thereby increasing the risk of normative marital male violence against women as a punishment for their failure.

In a patriarchal social context, a gender-blind water development project may have severe negative consequences on the lives of many women. We suggest that any water sector projects (e.g., irrigation, fisheries, or health and sanitation projects) should take women’s contextual gendered roles and obligations and social aspects of marital violence into account. Before implementation, there is a need to explore how the development project may influence or be influenced by social norms that determine the relationship between men and women. At the same time, it is important for development interventions to challenge the existing gendered norm systems and to initiate a discussion within the community on gendered roles, rights and obligations.

(Source: http://www.globalwaterforum.org/2013/03/25/water-women-and-marital-violence-in-a-bangladesh-village/)

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The World Bank is Bringing Back Big, Bad Dams


A renewed focus on mega-dams will make matters worse in Africa and benefit companies, not people. (Guardian)

The big, bad dams of past decades are back in style.

In the 1950s and ’60s, huge hydropower projects such as the Kariba, Akosombo and Inga dams were supposed to modernise poor African countries almost overnight. It didn’t work out this way. As the independent World Commission on Dams found, such big, complex schemes cost far more but produce less energy than expected. Their primary beneficiaries are mining companies and aluminium smelters, while Africa‘s poor have been left high and dry.

The Inga 1 and 2 dams on the Congo River are a case in point. After donors have spent billions of dollars on them, 85% of the electricity in the Democratic Republic of Congo is used by high-voltage consumers but less than 10% of the population has access to electricity. The communities displaced by the Inga and Kariba dams continue to fight for their compensation and economic rehabilitation after 50 years. Instead of offering a shortcut to prosperity, such projects have become an albatross on Africa’s development. Large dams have also helped turn freshwater into the ecosystem most affected by species extinction.

Under public pressure, the World Bank and other financiers largely withdrew from funding large dams in the mid-1990s. For nearly 20 years, the bank has supported mid-sized dams and rehabilitated existing hydropower projects instead.

Following a trend set by new financiers from China and Brazil, the World Bank now wants to return to supporting mega-dams that aim to transform whole regions. In March, it argued that such projects could “catalyse very large-scale benefits to improve access to infrastructure services” and combat climate change at the same time. Its board of directors will discuss the return to mega-dams as part of a new energy strategy on Tuesday.

The World Bank has identified the $12bn (£8bn) Inga 3 Dam on the Congo River – the most expensive hydropower project ever proposed in Africa – and two other multi-billion dollar schemes on the Zambezi River as illustrative examples of its new approach. All three projects would primarily generate electricity for the mining companies and middle-class consumers of Southern Africa.

The World Bank ignores that better solutions are readily available. In the past 10 years, governments and private investors installed more new wind power than hydropower capacity. Last year, even solar power – long decried as a Mickey Mouse technology by the dam industry – caught up with new hydropower investment. Wind and solar power are not only climate friendly, they are also more effective than big dams in reaching the rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa, most of whom are not connected to the electric grid.

The International Energy Agency recommends that more than 60% of the funds required to bring about universal access to electricity be invested in distributed renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and small hydropower plants. Yet so far, funding for bringing these promising technologies to Africa has been woefully lacking. Like other donors, the World Bank is behind the curve on this. In 2007-12, it spent $5.4bn on hydropower, but only $2bn on wind and solar projects combined. A renewed focus on mega-dams would make matters worse.

Big Dams : Inga Dam Site and Inga Rapids on Congo river in DRCInga dam site and Inga rapids on Congo River in DRC. Photograph: International Rivers

Is the World Bank blinded by an outdated ideology? More likely, its return to mega-dams is driven by institutional self-interest. A strategy paper leaked from the bank in 2011 recognised that the increase in project size “may seem somewhat at odds with the goal of scaling up activities in areas where many potential projects – such as solar, wind and micro-hydropower … tend to be small”. Yet, the paper argued, the “ratio of preparation and supervision costs to total project size” is bigger for small projects than large, centralised schemes, and so bank managers are “disincentivised” from undertaking small projects.

The World Bank, in other words, still finds it easier to spend billions of dollars on mega-projects than to support the small, decentralized projects that are most effective at expanding energy access in rural areas. It appears to be caught in the development model of past decades. If internal constraints prevent the bank from doing what is best for the poor, governments should find other vehicles for reducing energy poverty and combating climate change.

(Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/jul/16/world-bank-dams-africa)

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Our World India’s Water Crisis

India receives adequate rainfall for its billion-plus population, but the country is facing a crisis as water is diverted from poor rural areas to fill water tanks and swimming pools in richer cities like Delhi. (BBC)

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India’s Ground Water Crisis


This article reviews the drivers and consequences of India’s groundwater crisis. Groundwater is fundamental to the nation’s water security and the degradation of this resource is a threat to economic and social development. Prominent drivers of over-extraction include: inefficient usage, energy subsidies in agriculture, pollution, and population growth. The public good characteristics of aquifers compel strong government regulation, but this is proving difficult to achieve in India. (Global Water Forum)

Download Full Article: http://www.globalwaterforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Indias-groundwater-crisis-GWF-1228_.pdf

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