Mr. Sylvain Usher, Executive Director of the African Water Association (AfWA), and Prof. Hamanth Kasan, Chairman of the African Water Association Program Committee, participated in the last Idrica Water Security Day, focused on a post-covid Africa.
The experts Dr. Greg Mills, Director of The Brenthurst Foundation, and Mr. Chema Nebot, Head of Business Development at Idrica, also took part in this leading event, moderated by the African journalist Daniel Makokera. Participants asked interesting questions about water management and security in Africa.
In relation to the support by African governments of technology initiatives for early COVID detection, related to water supply and sanitation services, Mr. Usher states that “African Governments are not directly involved in the early coronavirus detection related to water supply and sanitation. It is mostly the utilities themselves that are organizing, through AfWA and other partners, research on technology solutions for an early detection of COVID-19 in the sector”. On the contrary, Prof. Kasan maintains that there is a direct support by governments in Africa.
When asked about the suitability of current crops being grown in the continent, in a context of climate change, the professor maintains that there is still “much scope to improve water use efficiency, crop yields, employment, and technology mobilization in the agricultural sector”. In general, African governments would not be “using the most effective water saving measures. Governments, development banks and donors can do a lot more in this regard together with the agricultural sector”.
Another participant asked about how utilities are dealing with their shortfall in revenues, and the role that the private sector or governments could play. According to Sylvain Usher, “the COVID-19 pandemic raised once again the importance of water supply and sanitation services. Knowing that one of the major factors to tackle these challenges is the investment in networks extension -to reach the unserved- and management efficiency, we as the African water sector are hoping that this will make governments understand that the price of the services, and especially operational costs, should be met. It is not a matter of private or public utilities. It is a matter of managing the utilities the right way. And this is one of the objectives of AfWA”. Prof. Kasan also believes that “shortfalls in revenue for water utilities is a challenge to sustainability and needs to be addressed”. In his opinion, “during the pandemic budgetary shortfalls of funds for business due to the disaster can be mitigated by reprioritizing budget, in order to respond to short term challenges”.
In relation to the financing of stocks related to the coronavirus crisis, Sylvain Usher argues that “governments need to be involved because, as some of the measures are to postpone payment of water and sanitation service bills, cash is still needed to supply the stocks. Special funds have been set in many countries to help industries go through the pandemic because of loss of activities due to lockdowns, so governments should not forget the water and sanitation sector”. According to Prof. Kasan, “public utilities can approach government for assistance”.
When asked about the considerations on technical aspects, with regards to water source protection, Prof. Kasan believes that there are many elements to be taken into account, such as “need, cost, efficacy, efficiency, or real-time versus not real-time”. Mr. Usher explains that “water source protection is an important issue for water utilities, because it affects not only the quality of water but also its quantity and its treatment cost. In the end, it affects the gap between utilities’ operational costs and the price. An efficient remote monitoring of catchments is required, but most of all a better control of housing development in African cities, especially with the rapid urbanization of the continent. Water Catchments that were once in fields are now within the cities, and this may cause some issues for their protection”.
Do the experts believe that Africa is ready for the digital transformation of the water and sanitation sector, or it is still a second priority behind capital investments? Sylvain Usher states that “Africa is definitely ready for the digital transformation of its activities and specially in the water and sanitation sector. When we look at what happened in the telecommunication sector with the emergence of mobile phones and looking at all the usages of the cell phone technology today, it is clear that digitalization is part of the development of the sector. It is a priority, and nearly all the water and sanitation utilities are looking for these types of solutions, whose importance was raised when trying to overcome the pandemic safety measures”. Prof. Kasan is also positive about this: “African is ready and has fantastic opportunity to leapfrog by embracing digitization in the water and sanitation sector. Digitization is a tool”.
About the event
Idrica Water Security Day Africa is the third in the series of online dialogues organized by Idrica, a company that offers services and technological solutions for the management of the entire water cycle. The company provides a unique differential value based on its experience and knowledge of the sector. Its technological solution GoAigua, developed over the last 10 years, is used by 400+ water utilities globally to transform utilities into smarter, more proactive and more resilient entities.