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

“Water for Sustainable Growth” — What are we talking about here?

Guest blog by Galen Hecht

Report from World Water Week, Stockholm, August 28-September 2, 2016

“We need a circular economy,” a different model, one that defies the structures that our lawmakers are accustomed to. To achieve water security and sanitation, we need a model that will create self supporting systems, an economy based not on linear growth, but on natural cycles like that of water. This was the resounding message at the finale of World Water Week, spoken by Pablo Bereciartua, Argentina’s Undersecretary for Water Resources, and Torkil Jonch Clauser, of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) who hosted the event.

Read more…

Illustrating Water and Austerity – The Troikatastrophe

by Aneesa Khan

What would voting “yes” at the referendum on Sunday mean for the people of Greece? It would be a giant aye to the creditors to go ahead with bailout impositions upon the country – impositions that hit the citizens the hardest. These austerity measures (like pension cuts, privatization of public resources like water and motorways, increased taxes and reductions in government spending) are in theory supposed to reel the country out of its financial crisis. However, in reality, they decelerate the economy and cause deterioration in the standard of living of the people along with a denial of basic amenities and rights (the IMF itself recognized this).

If all this sounds confusing and vague, fear no more – we have created a mini-graphic novel to explain the situation as it applies to water privatization in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland. Check out the comic after the jump.

Read more…

If I were a delegate….

by Maria Alejandra Escalante

If I were a delegate at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, I would not be the kind of delegate I saw at the negotiations on Sustainable Consumption and Production, Water and Climate Change during Prepcom III. I would not be like them because they induce morbidity, disengagement, lethargy and utter silence. A silence that betrays the people these delegates are supposed to be representing. People who, in the miraculous chance of being here would most likely shout, claim, participate, at least collaborate (in the case this restrictive institutional venue opened wide its doors for all those at the People’s Summit). These people would be anything but silent. A prolonged silence in a negotiation that pretends to bring all nations together to talk about solutions on the world crisis is useless. 

These silences that produce anxiety within us, the observers, pressed (literally) in the non-spacious rooms of negotiations, are eventually broken. But, guess what? They are broken generally by three, maybe, with really good luck, by four delegations. Which ones? The United States of America, the European Union representative and the G77 representative. Maybe New Zealand, in case it is convenient to delete UNFCCC from the Climate Change section. Maybe Japan, in case it is better not to include too many elements regarding water management and infrastructure in the Water section. What happens with the other fifty delegates in the room? Their silence prevails, maybe because if they exposed their thoughts the whole process would be chaotic, or maybe because they have conformed to the idea that they must unite under the G77 to get closer to getting heard by the other UN members (big flaw of the system, again).  If I were a delegate I would not let three delegates have a conversation over the world’s resources. If I were a delegate I would not dominate the negotiations, but rather encourage other nations to participate. 

Having seven days left for the final discussion of the outcome of Rio+20, I would not suggest deleting two whole paragraphs (6 and 7) from the Water section of the negotiating text just because it is too dense, too heavy to deal with now. But the G77 representative believes it is a good idea to stop addressing the need for infrastructure in order to achieve sustainable water management, which is proposed in these two paragraphs. Instead, I would do anything and everything in my reach to make sure that months of preparation and huge amounts of time and financial investments are not simply bracketed and suppressed at this final stage. Especially when what is at stake is the human right to water. 

If I were a delegate I would not raise the doubt that this Conference, a platform for change in theory, cannot deal with adopting the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (YFP). The US delegate stated that “this conference is not delegating authority to another institution to take control over this topic”. If such a congregation of member states is not able to commit to a document already agreed and signed, then what are they doing sitting down in those chairs? Waiting for someone else to take control over problems they are expected to resolve? Extending the action on an imminent catharsis? Hanging out until the world’s resources are depleted so that the levels of consumption and production are unavoidably decreased? The chances of someone being on top of the current excessive consumption and production are low without the adoption of the 10 YFP.  If I were a delegate I would believe in the capacity and potential of the organization I work for. 

If I were a delegate, simply for the sake of coherence, I would not bring a plastic Coca-Cola bottle to the Water negotiations at Rio+20. I would know that Coca-Cola Company uses up a gigantic volume of water while paying an insignificant amount of money in proportion compared with what household residents pay. I would also know that it is polluting water sources all over the world in this massive over production. 

If I were a delegate I would use my words and actions to call for justice, equity, and for human rights. I would represent the interest of my people and the world population. I would work for the future we really want. I would not be like the delegates I have seen. 

Delegates drinking Coca-Cola at the negotiations room. Theme: Water. Great. 

What is Water Scarcity: A Primer