HEADQUARTERS PRESS CONFERENCE: WATER FOR AFRICA'S CITIES
In a press conference at Headquarters this afternoon, senior African Ministers of resource management and urban development emphasized the challenges of providing adequate water supplies to populations in cities as rapid urbanization swept the continent. While it was generally felt that African cities urgently needed to put in place effective water-demand management strategies, Victor S. Kuna, a Senior Education Specialist from Zambia, said education was the key to creating a “new water ethic” among African people that would change the continent's attitudes towards its limited natural resources.
Mr. Kuna was joined by Kwamena Bartels, Minister for Works and Housing, Ghana, and Festus Libu, Minister of Water, United Republic of Tanzania. The Ministers’ presentations previewed a panel discussion on water for African cities, being held in conjunction with the General Assembly’s current review and appraisal of the implementation of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), which opened today and is set to run through Friday, 8 June. Later this afternoon, Mr. Kuna and Mr. Bartels were expected to participate in that panel discussion, organized jointly by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (UNCHS/Habitat), the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the United Nations Foundation for International Partnerships.
Mr. Bartels said that cities in Ghana faced a huge disparity between the supply and demand for treated water. For example, he said that in Accra, the nation’s capital, water requirements approached 90 million gallons a day. But at the same time, the city was able to produce only 60 million gallons of treated water per day. Several expansion programmes were under way that would bring water production to some 82 million gallons, but that was still far short of what was needed. He added that the water supply was also under pressure from illegal pipe connections, tampering and leakage, resulting in water that was "unaccounted for". Some areas had no access to clean water at all, and perhaps about $1.5 billion was needed to expand service and increase production to sustainable levels. It had become clear, he said, that Government investments alone would not be enough to solve those and other problems. City managers had therefore asked the country’s main water and sewage company, Ghana Water Company, Limited, to invite private actors to participate in urban water-management initiatives.
So far about five private companies had been pre-qualified for a programme aimed at bridging the gap between supply and demand, he continued. He hoped that shortly those companies would present their proposals on expected capital investment in Ghana’s urban water systems, as well as expansion and rehabilitation of existing urban water and sewage infrastructures. He stressed that Ghana’s “lifeline tariff” -- which covered a guaranteed 2,220 gallons of water per month
-- was currently very inexpensive. At the same time, however, many households quartered extended families of up to 30 individuals. Such situations removed the “lifeline” guarantee and forced those households into a more costly commercial water provision bracket. Therefore, one of the main focuses of any joint private-sector programmes would be to ensure that private-sector operators would not charge beyond what the urban poor could afford. To that end, the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission was expected to regulate the tariffs levied for the use of treated water.
Assessing the water-management situation in Tanzania, Mr. Libu said that unfortunately, despite its many positive aspects, the realities of urbanization
forced many city dwellers to live in unplanned or “squatter” communities where water services and infrastructure built in the 1970s were deteriorating rapidly. Rapid urbanization brought other problems, he continued, including an imbalance in water coverage -- 68 per cent for general use and 10 per cent for sanitation -- and inadequate investment in water and sewage management programmes. Cities like Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's capital, suffered from poor billing and revenue collection and inadequate water sources both in terms of quality and quantity.
So the country had targeted several water-demand management strategies for immediate implementation that would address those and other issues. Tanzania was also expected to institute an aggressive public awareness and human resource capacity-building campaign -- highlighted by various activities and conferences -- aimed at both users and managers of its urban water systems. He said national policies were also being reviewed, with a focus on implementing universal metering programmes and setting standard tariffs for usage. There were also initiatives under way aimed at jump-starting projects to retrofit water and sewage infrastructure. Tanzania was also in the process of privatizing the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewage Authority. The aim of that initiative, expected to be completed within a few months, was to control leakage in main water transmission lines. He added that all those programmes would be enhanced by the continuation of Habitat's Water for African Cities initiative.
While agreeing with previous speakers and praising the efforts of African governments to ensure that demand for water in burgeoning urban areas did not outstrip availability, Mr. Kuna said that he believed that education was the key. "It won't matter how many billions of dollars are poured into Africa", he said. "Our water-management problems will continue unabated until we change our attitudes towards how we handle our limited natural resources." Education was the surest way to bring about such a change. This should go beyond formal school settings to include water managers and Government officials. No effort should be spared in trying to heighten the consciousness of all African peoples to respect the essential importance of their natural resources to their future social and economic development. "We should use some of our traditional values", he continued, "which, once upon a time, had been very effective in ensuring that water was conserved and kept clean".
A correspondent asked how privatization of Tanzania's water supply could help people living in unplanned communities. Mr. Libu said that though it might be hard to believe, there had been companies which had recently moved into squatter communities, tapped into local water supplies unbeknownst to the city water authority, and had sold the water back to the squatters illegally and at exorbitant costs. So privatizing the water supply appeared to be the only way to control such actions and at least ensure that unplanned communities received clean water on a regular basis at affordable prices. He added that such a water-supply and sewer-management programme had been successful in Arusha.
Another correspondent wondered how Ghana could attract private-sector participation in water management schemes when the Government had set tariffs in place. Mr. Bartels said that Ghana already knew that if paid, the full recovery rate -- calculated at 63 cents per cubic metre for a private company, versus 27 cents currently given to the Ghana Water Company -- would definitely attract private companies. Certain guarantees would have to be made, however, before private actors could charge that rate, namely ensuring the quality of water and adequate distribution. He added that Ghana had also encouraged changes in building regulations that would enforce rain-water harvesting. If the country could get every household to harvest water used for purposes other than drinking and cooking, much of the stress on urban water management systems could be reduced.
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