The Role of Local Authorities in the Governance and Economics of Water security Water Security in Africa

The issue of water is at the heart of daily life for African local authorities, where only 20% of the urban population in sub-Saharan Africa has access to drinking water. With a view to providing effective support to local elected officials, an OECD survey was launched in collaboration with UCLG Africa, on “the governance and economics of water security in Africa”. The preliminary results were presented on September 17, 2020, during a webinar organized jointly by UCLG Africa and OECD.

On September 17, 2020, the OECD and UCLG Africa organized a webinar on “The Governance and Economics of Water Security in Africa.” As part of the preparation for the 9th Water Forum scheduled to take place in March 2021 in Dakar (Senegal), approximately 100 people participated in the webinar, including representatives from thirty African local authorities, the West African Development Bank (BOAD), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Water Solidarity Program (PsEau), the Near East Foundation (NEF-Mali), and the Tournesol Association (Senegal).

The session was moderated by Ms. Aziza AKHMOUCH, Head of the Cities, Urban Policies and Sustainable Development Division at OECD. In her introductory remarks, Ms. Akhmouch recalled that the goal of the webinar was to allow for an exchange of views and discussion with the cities that responded to the survey questionnaire, launched with the support of UCLG Africa among African cities in May 2020.“I would like to thank the cities that filled out the questionnaire as well as UCLG Africa, which has done a remarkable job of mobilizing the cities for the past 5 months. This project is also a logical follow-up to the Hassan II World Grand Prize for Water, which was awarded to the Secretary General of the OECD, Mr. Angel Gurría, at the last water forum in 2018. He committed to invest the funds of this prize in in-depth work dedicated to the African region in the perspective of the Dakar Forum. The goal of this collaboration with UCLG Africa is also to go beyond this report.”

In his address, the Secretary General of UCLG Africa, Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, also expressed his satisfaction for the collaboration with OECD. “I would like to attest to the quality of the collaboration that took place between our teams. I would like to thank the cities who responded to this survey. Not a week goes by in African cities without a conflict taking place over water or energy. Even in countries where there are national companies, people forget that when there is no water, you have to talk to the national company but they talk to the city. This is why cities cannot ignore the issue of access to basic services, in particular access to the water service. Cities cannot ignore the management of water resources, and they cannot ignore how sanitation and wastewater services relate to the quality of water that will be exploited in drinking water access systems. This survey is very important and I congratulate OECD for having considered setting up a special session of mayors (round table) during the next World Water Forum in 2021 in Dakar, because we would like the voice of local authorities to be heard and this webinar should help us formulate this voice and prepare ourselves for it, because in Dakar we will have the opportunity to say loud and clear what we will have prepared so that local authorities are at the heart of the water challenges, especially in cities.”

The update on the role of the local level in water governance was given by Mr. Mohamed NBOU, Director of UCLG Africa’s Climate Task Force. “In Africa in terms of water resources management, there are well-established threats, including population growth. Africa will have half of the world’s population by 2050 and the impact of climate change is evident. At the African level, the climate change response architecture is based on two key themes, water and energy: water for the adaptation approach to climate change, and energy for mitigation in the face of the effects of climate change. Through discussions with local authorities there are two areas in which to intervene: the weakness of infrastructure at the city level and the absence of multi-level governance.”

Preliminary results

The results of the preliminary investigation on water governance in African cities were presented by Mrs. Maria SALVETTI, Economist and Policy Analyst at OECD. The context of the survey highlights the megatrends that have an impact on water management in African cities: urbanization, climate change and demographic change. Indeed, the continent has an economic growth of 5% per year in African cities. The more the population increases, the more the demand for water increases, which in turn increases pollution. To date, only 20% of the urban population of sub-Saharan Africa has access to clean water management.

30 cities, including 13 capital cities, responded to the questionnaire which included 8 blocks. Elected officials spoke out on their perception of megatrends, and on the consistency of local policies for the management of water resources and sanitation services. Elected officials emphasized the water-related risks in the participating cities such as flooding, insufficient access to water, sanitation, and poor infrastructure (either obsolete, aging, or missing). To manage these risks, cities are implementing public policy actions in water and sanitation management. These policies are mainly driven by the central government, then it is the local commitment and the leadership of the mayors that takes over to guide water policy at the city level. The right to sanitation and the 2030 Agenda, are elements and instruments that serve to guide water policy at city level.

The first results also indicate that African cities prefer to develop specific public policies for water and sanitation services at the local level, whilst they develop lesser specific public policies for the management of water resources at local level. The goals are clearly defined in these policies for the development of water and sanitation services, but the evaluation is less regular. The same goes for water resources. The evaluation component therefore needs to be improved to make these policies efficient

The sectoral policies, having the most influence on water management in these cities, are those of planning land use, public health and the building and housing code. As regards to the operators of water and sanitation services at the city level, there is a predominance of public operators and of single operators. In three quarters of the sample cities, responsibility for water supply and sanitation is at the national level. There are only a few cities that have private operators. With regard to resources, the sources of financing for water and sanitation services are the water tariff, subsidies (from the national budget or the local budget) and international assistance. The main obstacles to effective water governance in cities are lack of funding, lack of staff and low investment.

The exchange of views made it possible to collect contributions from participants. The city of Saint-Louis (Senegal) presented the example of intermunicipal co-operation, which is an important avenue in the management of water and floods. The city proposes the implementation of inter-municipal programs because the consequences of water management and climate change involve several local and subnational governments. The Mayor of Chefchaouen (Morocco), Mr. Mohammed Sefiani, underlined the issue of recycling and reuse of wastewater. In his town, as in several others, the cost of a cubic meter of drinking water remains high for citizens, who do not understand

how to pay for water. “It will be important to use climate-related funds that are intended for mitigation and adaptation for water as well,” he recommended. For his part, the Mayor of Bangui, Mr. Emile Gros Nakombo, invited participants to also bet on decentralized cooperation. “In several African countries it is the national Government that directly manages water. Other avenues have to be explored at the community level. In Bangui, the municipality is installing a water treatment center for hospitals in partnership with the city of Chécy in France in order to fight water wastage.”

The National Association of Communes of Benin (ANCB) proposed to promote the integrated management of water resources as a sustainable solution approach to deal with all issues related to floods and the effects of climate change.

Mrs. Maria SALVETTI made a point of specifying that, , “the report will be accompanied by one fact sheet per city. There will be a qualitative aspect of the report with some best practices to be highlighted. Regarding cooperation between municipalities, some studies show that it may be a more relevant way to increase access to water and sanitation. It is still possible for cities to participate in the survey until Friday, October 8, 2020.” (The questionnaire is available here).

At the end of the Webinar, Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi indicated how to make the water issue become everyone’s business. “In order for us to be sensitive to water all the time, water must cease to be a sector, to become a territorial public policy, because it is at the level of the territories that everything is coordinated. The ministers of water deal with water at the national level, the same for the ministers of finance, however, when a mayor deals with water he touches all aspects: land, drinking water, floods, sewage, you name it. There is a whole environment and the mayor is obliged to think globally. There is a falsehood that has been conveyed in the world which says, ‘think global, act local’. We can only think global at the local level. Anyone who thinks that the global level is a level of reflection where we can understand how growth takes place, is wrong. The only place where we can think global is at the level of the territories. We must therefore bring policies back to the territorial level and, because we have always thought about policies from the sectoral standpoint, we have lost sight of this interrelation between actors, between spaces, which I would call subsidiarity.” explainsMbassi.

Continuing this line of thought, Mr. Mbassi recommended, “…Putting resource management at the heart of the water debate, because the management of resources brings together water and sanitation, water and biodiversity, as well as water and all of its integration into the environment. Thus, the question of resource management is an essential question to which local and subnational governments must be made sensitive. For the time being, many local authorities are not sensitive to this question. This question of resources forces us to think the other way around and obliges us to have an ecosystem in which many local and subnational governments must be associated for this ecosystem to be managed, (cooperation system between communes, regional level of integration). The second point I would like attention to be drawn to is the water / energy nexus, because this nexus helps one understand why people have to pay for water. Paying for water is also a question of discipline. I think that this question should be the subject of a structured dialogue around the issue of water with 4 stakeholders: the national governments, the local and subnational authorities, which both represent the public powers, then the operators who can be a public power or an entity having received a delegation from the public authorities (official or unofficial), because small independent operators are also to be taken-into-account. In cities like ours, 60% of people with water are served by unofficial channels. They must be put around the table because the quality of services must be guaranteed for everyone. Above all, we must also have the users around the table. The quadrilogue is essential for water to become a public policy debate, a democratic debate. Democracy is about bringing conflicts of interest to the table and resolving them through deliberation.

What about funding? “This question must be considered quietly. Anything that pays off over the long term should be the subject of long-term financing, usually low-rate, long-term loans. This can only be done through development banks or through direct state investment. We cannot ask local authorities to invest in this aspect. This is not credible, at least not for African local and subnational governments. This is about infrastructure. As far the distribution and operation of the services are concerned, the tariff must be recorded. But this price is not the cost, it is the price we accept. This price can be modulated per social category, per type of consumption, etc. There are several other criteria that allow the price paid by some to be lower than the price paid by others. But the operation has to be covered. All costs should be covered by the tariff, but the tariff can be modulated. The last and most delicate thing is maintenance. The cost of maintenance is a cost that must be shared between the city, the user and the national Government. Maintenance poses a real problem of accountability and governance, and often it is not integrated into strategies. It is always said that infrastructure can be paid for by the loan but not maintenance: this is a mistake. One must take a good look at the whole system for it to work. One should not take as a starting point the ideological point of view, but rather the concrete point of view of people’s lives, if one is serious about the prescription of the SDGs of “Leaving no one behind” he concluded.

The final report is expected at the end of the year and its launch is planned to take place within the framework of the World Water Forum in March 2021 in Dakar.

See the summary of the deliberations here (here).