Interview with Sarah M. Tibatemwa, Director, International Water Association Africa. The IWA recently entered into a long term association partnership with African Utility Week taking place in Cape Town from 13-14 May. Sarah is also a session chairperson during the conference.
1) Let’s start with your organisation, what do you regard as its most important goals at the moment?
The most important goal of IWA is inspiring change. We do this via 3 main pathways:
• Connecting people
• Pioneering science
• Innovative technology
• Leading science.
The four pathways are made possible via the IWA strong membership of >10,000m leading water professionals in >130 countries all over the world. Together, with one strong voice we deliver a clear message.
2) Any successful projects or case studies you can share?
One success story is the IWA 3rd Development Congress in Nairobi which was successful in participation and outcome. This was more so coming only about a month after the unfortunate Westgate mall terrorist attack. We had over 1000 delegates form 74 countries. This was the 1st Development Congress hosted in Africa and surpassed all the set targets. Those who missed it missed a great event!
On the project side, we have had further success in spreading the application of Water Safety Plan concept as a means of securing water safety in several utilities in Africa. As a result of our crusade, we have seen more and more interest of countries to get involved. The next big challenge is applying the concept to catchment management, and we are already working on this.
3) What is your vision for the water sector?
My vision for the water sector in Africa is to see more coordination between the regional research institutes/universities and water utilities in an effort to solve the problems in the water sector. I envision a time when researchers on the continent will work on research that will result in real time home grown solutions. I believe this with all my heart and know for sure that there is great potential yet to be tapped on our continent.
I also envision African water utilities that can be run as serious business entities and self-sustaining financially without government subsidies.
4) What are the biggest challenges for the water utility industry in Africa in your view?
Climate change effects, high costs of running the utilities as a result of high energy costs, over expanded networks in an effort to serve the ever growing urban populations. The list is endless, and is likely to grow even longer, considering the fast and uncontrollable rural to urban migration and climate change effects on water resource management!
5) Any countries that are doing really well?
One can only answer that in relation to some set standards or figures. The most common used measure is achievement of the MDGs. I will only say that a small percentage of African countries have been able to hit the target on water and sanitation. The majority are struggling and are not likely to meet the MDGs on water & sanitation.
6) How important is African Utility Week on your calendar?
Outside the IWA events, this is the most important event for me as I use it to network with water professionals in Africa and especially the utilities, many of whom are already members of IWA. It the time I catch up face to face with colleagues and also a time to meet new and prospective IWA members. In a nutshell it is a time for face to face networking!
7) What will be your message this year?
My take on this is that if indeed African water utilities are to ‘deliver beyond tomorrow’, we need to put our act together to ensure the water sources are protected and properly managed. The issue of climate change effects on the water resources, among other challenges, is real and must be dealt with decisively. IWA being a global network of water professionals is doing what we can in terms of encouraging innovative technology in the water & sanitation sector. Africa has a lot of potential. Let us encourage each other by sharing the success stories. This saves resources as we avoid re-inventing the wheel as the saying goes. Individual water professionals should be thinking, ‘how can I personally contribute to improving the present for the future of our water?’
8) Anything you would like to add?
Serious thought should be continuously given to the climate change effects and mitigations in relation to water resource management. Some work is being done but our heads have to be put together for real tangible results. Flood and droughts are here with us and something has to be done or else management of the water resources will be an increasing nightmare. I must emphasise that this is a multi-sector effort or else it will not work. And finally any leading water professional in the region who is not a member of IWA should make haste and join this great network.