The SDGs can change the paradigm on water in Africa

Seizing water opportunities at Africa Water Week

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate agreement provides an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the major water issues facing Africa today and in the near future. To seize this opportunity, we need to find new synergies and coordinate our intervention efforts. This can best be done by focusing on the fundamental role water will play in achieving national development priorities, the Sustainable Development Goals and our efforts to adapt to Climate Change.

Such coordination is increasingly needed between ministries with dedicated strategies and action plans at national and sub-national levels. To make progress, we have to connect water to the major sectors and interests that drive our economies: agriculture, energy, and the urban, industrial and service sectors. Reviewing existing public water policies, regulation and investment strategies against the SDGs and in the light of adaptation to climate change will be critical.

As the water agenda is evolving fast, and the synergies are many, we need to focus our efforts. We must focus on perhaps the most critical water issue that African nations face today: tackling water scarcity and drought.

Today hundreds of millions of African citizens are impacted daily by severe water scarcity and drought. Villages, cities, industries, agriculture and the environment are seriously impaired by prolonged droughts. The underlying rising water demands and impacts from climate change are likely to only intensify in the coming years if no action is taken. To counter water scarcity and drought in Africa, we need decisive action, nothing less than a modern day “Marshall Plan” that brings together government policy and private entrepreneurship.

Mobilising global action on water scarcity and drought

Water scarcity has been identified through the Sustainable Development Goal 6.4 as a major global priority. Historically, government and business have responded to water scarcity and drought through building infrastructure to store water and augment supplies. However, we are increasingly aware that drought management is not just about new infrastructure and technologies, but increasingly about water demand-management, effective water allocation policies and incentives. It is about building systems that are broadly resilient to drought and scarcity, managing demand as well as improving supply.

To mobilise action on water scarcity and drought, the Australian Water Partnership, the Government of Australia and the International Water Association are organising the Water Scarcity and Drought Summit (10 October, 2016) in Brisbane, as part of the World Water Congress and Exhibition. The Summit will bring together top government officials, leading practitioners, policy makers, industry leaders, and civil society leaders to discuss new ways forward to turn the fight against water scarcity and drought.

The Summit will be a first step in creating a global coalition of key government, business, civil society and knowledge partners to tackle water scarcity and drought. Africa Water Week is an important stepping-stone towards the Summit, and to further interact and explore new ways to tackle drought and scarcity in Africa. We have to find new ways to manage drought more proactively and turn this into an opportunity for water sector reforms and new water investments in Africa, create momentum that will create the water wise world of the future.


Africa Water Week is taking place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 18 – 22

Ger Bergkamp

Past IWA Executive Director
Ger Bergkamp is the former Executive Director of the International Water Association. He held the post between the years, 2012 and 2017. Connect with Ger Bergkamp on IWA Connect.   Read full biography