Online workshop on enhancing water security in the Greater Horn of Africa

The African Development Bank and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organization of Horn of Africa countries, held a webinar to discuss the pressures affecting water security in the Greater Horn of Africa and how the Bank can support regional member countries to better respond to growing water stress.

The virtual discussion, held on 15 December, was hosted by the Bank’s Water Development and Sanitation Department and the African Water Facility. The event was underpinned by several studies indicating that pressures on water supplies will continue to mount in the coming decades as a result of demographic change, urbanization, environmental degradation, stoking demand for food, energy and land.

The Greater Horn of Africa countries include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and South Sudan.

Opening the webinar, the Bank’s Acting Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Wambui Gichuri, said water is the source of life, livelihoods and prosperity. She noted that water is indispensable to agriculture, industry, energy, transport and healthy ecosystems, yet can also cause destruction.

“Water can also be a cause of devastation and poverty through droughts, floods, landslides, as well as through erosion, desertification, pollution and disease. Achieving water security, through harnessing the productive potential of water and limiting its destructive impact, is a priority for the Bank as articulated through its New Policy on Water and other policies and strategies,” Gichuri said.

Fred Mwango, a regional water expert at the IGAD Secretariat, told workshop attendees that perennial droughts in the Greater Horn of Africa have created “climate refugees”, resulting in conflicts between communities within and across borders. “In 2019 alone, the number of severely food insecure people was estimated at 12 million, as a result of the drought,” he said.

He said the answers to water security challenges lay in water governance as much as resource endowments, infrastructure investments or technology. “The Bank and other partners can be critical in offering analytical and advisory services as well as investment finance to enhance this agenda in the Horn of Africa,” Mwango said.

Omari Mwinjaka, the Coordinator of the African Water Facility announced that $33.42 million has been pledged by the Nordic Development Fund and government of Denmark towards a new program to support the COVID-19 response in the Sahel and Horn of Africa through climate resilient water and sanitation measures, and the management of water, land and other resources.

A senior water resources expert at the Bank, Henry Ntale Kayondo, said the costs of not addressing water challenges – such as contamination of groundwater, drinking water and erosion and water stress­ – were high, and some pollution may be irreversible.

He recommended greater investment in sector regulation and protections against run-off, pollution and coastal erosion.