The impact of COVID-19 on water and sanitation services in Africa

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Guillermo Gallego Idrica
Guillerm Gallego, Key Account Manager Africa

Regarding the crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus throughout the world, Africa is experiencing a particular situation. In this interview, Guillermo Gallego, Key Account Manager for Africa at Idrica, tells us how the pandemic is affecting the population, and how the services and the technological solution GoAigua can overcome the challenges faced by water and sanitation service providers. Guillermo is responsible for the development of international business and the management of projects with major clients on the continent, with a special focus on Angola.

Q. How is the coronavirus crisis being experienced in Angola, and Africa as a whole?

The health crisis caused by COVID-19 is generating a new scenario in Africa, since the effects caused by the coronavirus are added to those of other pandemics, such as malaria, tuberculosis, dengue, HIV, etc. This combined effect will undoubtedly have negative consequences for the most vulnerable populations, especially in the peri-urban areas of large urban concentrations, and may lead to associated humanitarian crises, migratory movements and other conflicts.

Although the numbers of deaths and infections are not yet alarming, the consequences of the global crisis are already being felt. In the case of Angola, the country is experiencing a severe economic crisis since the fall in oil prices in 2014, and health systems and basic infrastructure are clearly insufficient to cope with the pandemic, should the impact be severe.

Q. Could you tell us what measures are being taken to address this situation?

The African population is younger, and the continent has previous experience in managing other pandemics, so different governments are taking measures in relation to the suspension of non-essential activities and restrictions on the movement of people.

In addition, infection prevention and control protocols are being implemented, and health centers are receiving essential equipment and backup health personnel. In relation to the provision of basic drinking water and sanitation services, utilities are strengthening water production and distribution systems, as well as quality controls, to ensure adequate service levels in terms of continuity, quantity and quality. In addition, water is being offered free of charge to the most vulnerable families, and governments are preparing contingency plans to minimize the impacts of the pandemic.

Idrica in Angola
Idrica in Angola

Q. In this context, what solutions can be provided by Idrica?

One of the main lessons learned is that digital transformation is a key element in fighting this pandemic. In this regard, GoAigua’s technological solutions are allowing us to adapt the way we work to the current context of isolation and distance. Our solutions are robust, reliable and secure enough to facilitate smooth communication between decision makers and operational/administrative staff, through information management systems.

In addition, technological solutions related to the management of the entire water cycle are positioning themselves as a strategic asset. They guarantee the continuity of technical, commercial and financial operations of drinking water and basic sanitation service providers, thanks to a continuous and integrated flow of data.

Idrica is ready to become a key player in technology adoption in Africa by implementing appropriate communications systems, hardware and software, as well as providing support and training services. Among the most relevant actions that have been implemented in Angola, the preparation of work environments that facilitate all decision-making processes, information exchange, indicator monitoring and remote assistance to project teams during the execution phase of awarded contracts, stand out.

When all this is over, do you think there will be a long-term transformation in the sector?

The pandemic will bring about major changes in the way water services are managed. On the one hand, more attention will be paid to improving the resilience of water infrastructure, through the implementation of early warning systems to deal with episodes caused by climate change, migratory movements and pandemics.

On the other hand, it will be necessary to allocate greater financial resources to the renewal of infrastructures and the optimization of the services provided, strengthening both the use of water resources – which are increasingly scarce – and the use of treated water for environmental and other human-related purposes.

Finally, the digital transformation of the sector will be further enhanced through the development and implementation of new technological solutions. Therefore, water management tends more and more towards specialization and modernization, as the best way to adapt to an increasingly uncertain future. We must be more united and show more solidarity in order to face a new, yet unknown, paradigm.

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