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Financing the African Water Revolution

by Sara Löwgren

Stockholm World Water Week – August 26th  2018

During the first day of the annual World Water Week, one of the most anticipated sessions was the Falkenmark Symposium. In the crowded conference room, scientists, politicians, the World Bank, ambassadors, development organizations, technical experts, and many more gathered to discuss the African Water Revolution. More importantly, to discuss the finance of the African Water Revolution.

The African Water Revolution is how Africa will meet the present and future challenge of rapid population growth, lack of irrigation water, and increasing food insecurity and hunger.

While the term can refer to different aspects, including WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), the Falkenmark Symposium focused on the green water revolution. Green water is water that is found in the soil and it is the only water, as Professor Malin Falkenmark herself pointed out, that plants can utilize. Without green water, plants dry up and subsistence farmers and whole nations lose their source of food. Green water comes from rainwater and when left alone, up to 50% of the precipitation in Africa is lost to evaporation. Rainwater collection and storage, the core of the African Water Revolution, thus holds massive, untapped potential.

But there is a mismatch between the water that is used for agriculture and the water that receives funding. Professor Johan Rockström remarked that while 95% of agriculture in Africa is done using green water, blue water projects (such as drilling wells or treating water from lakes and rivers) receive about 90% of the funding. The rainwater projects are usually very small scale and the Falkenmark panelists suggested the financing organizations prefer larger projects, like typical blue water project, because they are more profitable and projects can usually demonstrate security and a credit history. Most subsistence farmers lack financial history and therefore struggle to receive investments.

The panelists suggested different ways of overcoming the challenge, ranging from microfinance to domestic tax revenues. But, besides some comments on philanthropic contributions from the Rockefeller foundation, a problematic assumption burdened the conversation. Dr. Belay Begashaw, who delivered the closing remark, shone light on it: almost all solutions discussed seemed to assume that it is up to the individual countries to raise funds for the green water revolution. It makes very little sense to demand already poor countries, where only a low percentage of the population have formal jobs that generate income and tax revenue, to increase domestic investments.

Thinking about financing the African Water Revolution through a climate change lens, it becomes very clear that industrialized countries must step up and take their ‘polluter-pays’ responsibility seriously. Due to climate change, most of Africa can expect future dramatic changes to precipitation patterns. Drought, famine, and hunger due to greenhouse gases they did not emit. It is great that so much technology and knowledge is available for rainwater harvest, but now it is time for industrialized countries to step up to the challenge of financing the African Water Revolution.

 

follow parts of the World Water Week here!

photo by Adam Cohn “Storm is Brewing” Creative commons on flickr.com

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