Africa is one of the most water-stressed continents in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 400 million people lack access to safe and affordable drinking water. Challenges including climate change-driven water risks, population growth, and rapid urbanisation exacerbate these issues in urban areas. The inability to meet increasing water demand would lead to catastrophic impacts on regional economies and the people living in Africa’s growing cities.
Source: WRI Aqueduct, accessed on February 23, 2022 – aqueduct.wri.org
The World Resources Institute (WRI) is a global environmental think tank that goes beyond research to put ideas into action, working with governments, companies, and civil society to build solutions to urgent environmental challenges. WRI posits that a water-resilient future for urban Africa is possible—and that a broad coalition of invested stakeholders is necessary to envision and realize it. In July 2021, WRI engaged Reos Partners to support the development of a working group to catalyse a water-resilient future for urban Africa.
The Foundation of Partnership
To begin, WRI and Reos identified stakeholders from various levels of water resource management—from those working at the regional level on source development and allocation issues to those at the community level working on access and equity issues—and invited the group to come together to share thoughts, needs, and concerns.
“By incorporating the perspectives and expertise of these stakeholders, we enhanced our research,” said Smita Rawoot, Urban Resilience Lead at WRI. “Reos’ ability to operate as a neutral arbiter and facilitate conversations that explore both similarities and differences in viewpoints was critical to establishing an exceptional level of trust with stakeholders from across the continent.”
The process succeeded in activating a wide range of actors—including city networks, private sector alliances, development agencies, regional institutions, national government stakeholders, national and international NGOs, philanthropic foundations, and more—to commit to joining efforts and dedicating resources to advance urban water resilience in Africa. The group’s stated end goals include:
- providing equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all;
- protecting people from water-related shocks and stresses; and
- aligning development objectives at the city-region scale while continually adapting to changing local contexts and climate risks.
A Continent-Wide Plan for Action
With the foundation of trusted partnership in place, the stakeholders identified their group’s strategic priorities for urban water resilience, which focus on building holistic, resilient systems that are locally rooted, inclusive, collaborative, and focused on the most vulnerable.
The group has achieved broad consensus around the need to develop a practical but ambitious platform to coordinate, align, harmonize, and scale existing efforts and solutions, ensuring that advocacy and implementation go hand-in-hand.
In its upcoming workshop, the group aims to identify game-changing shifts that can be coordinated and scaled, to contribute to the Joint Africa Urban Water Resilience Agenda that has been crafted through this consultative process, and to advance a continent-wide initiative to accelerate urban water resilience. The Agenda establishes a shared framework for ambitious, accountable, and coordinated action, ensuring impact at scale.
The group has defined the Agenda’s guiding principles. These include that the Agenda should:
- Directly serve, impact, and empower the most vulnerable;
- Be grounded in empirical evidence;
- Be developed and implemented in the spirit of joint collaboration; and
- Be inclusive, co-designed, co-owned, and African-led.
Launching the Agenda and identifying these “game-changers” will position the group to elevate the critical issue of African water resilience at the COP27 United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2022.
“We are very excited that we have reached this stage and that there is so much trust and energy around this critical issue,” said Rawoot. “A lot of what we will engage on in our next workshop will determine the path forward towards the COP27 United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year. We hope that the path we chart from this workshop to COP27 will help us elevate this issue, our common set of priorities, and the action to support them.”
*The Urban Water Resilience Agenda Operationalization Design Workshop took place on 22 February 2022.