More than 500 water professionals from around the world are discussing how to best improve access to water for millions of people in poor countries this week at the World Bank headquarters in Washington.
Water Week is an annual World Bank forum where water professionals gather to discuss issues and challenges related to:
Global awareness on the importance of wise water management and development and sustainable water services is at its highest point ever. Making sure all people have adequate access to water is crucial to reach the Millennium Development Goals, a set of internationally agreed goals that aim to halve world poverty by 2015.
The World Bank’s approach to water has evolved
The Bank has moved a long way over the last few years in its approach to tackling the challenges of the water sector, said Nemat Shafik, World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure.
"We are now discussing in a frank and open manner issues that weren’t on the table a few years ago. We are looking at how we deal with reputational risk and high risk-high reward projects. We are examining how we reach out to others in the water sector, not only to share our experience with them but also to learn from experiences outside the Bank," she said.
Water issues to be discussed at Water Week 2004
A major issue that participants are discussing at the forum is "how to build efficient water utilities in a post-September 11, post-Argentina crisis world where international investors are more and more reluctant to invest in emerging economies," said Jamal Saghir, World Bank Energy and Water Director.
“The focus has changed from an ideological debate on public versus private provision to finding pragmatic local solutions in which governments, private entities and civil society all play an appropriate role,” he adds.
Maria Mutagamba, the Minister of State for Water of Uganda, is one of the notable external speakers who is sharing her country’s experiences at the forum. Uganda has been a leader in water supply and sanitation reform in Africa in recent years.
Water and poverty are inextricably linked in Africa
There is a strong and growing awareness in Africa about the issues and necessary responses to the continent’s water crisis.
"Water underpins development initiatives across the African continent – food security, power supply, health, economic growth, environmental regeneration," says David Grey, World Bank Senior Water Adviser.
Water supply and sanitation coverage in Africa is the lowest in the world at 55 percent. A least-cost estimate of the investment required to halve the number of people who don’t safe drinking water by 2015 is $1.5 billion per year. This is four times the current rate of investment.
“Only 6 percent of hydropower potential in Africa has been developed, in stark contrast to 80 percent of potential that is typically developed in industrialized countries," Grey points out.
Ethiopia has about 50 cubic meters of water in artificial storage per person, while Australia, with a similar degree of climate variability, has about 5000 cubic meters As a result, endemic droughts and floods have devastating effects on Ethiopia’s poor.