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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Building Regional Water Management

Moses Magadza interviews PHERA RAMOELI, head of the SADC water division

WINDHOEK, Dec 18 2008 (IPS) - As southern Africa braces for the negative effects of climate change, calls for integrated water resources management become more strident.

Phera Ramoeli Credit:  Moses Magadza/IPS

Phera Ramoeli Credit: Moses Magadza/IPS

The Southern African Development Community is working to build regional capability, address weaknesses in data collection and ultimately coordinate management of shared resources to benefit citizens throughout the region.

IPS: Widespread poverty is among the challenges facing Southern Africa. What role can water play in poverty eradication efforts?

Phera Ramoeli: Water does and can play a crucial role in the overall drive towards poverty eradication in SADC in several ways. First as a source of water for domestic purposes including drinking, which if provided in good quantity and quality will improve people's health and hence their productivity in their various activities.

Secondly, water can have direct impact on poverty if it provides for improved livelihoods activities such as small-scale irrigation and gardening.

At a much higher developmental scale, providing water for industrial development that creates jobs and improved countries' economic development will ensure that people get services and facilities such as electricity and goods and services.

This can be realized through improved access to water for basic and developmental needs through improved infrastructure and maintenance and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure.

IPS: How would you characterise the region's water in terms of quality and quantity? Is it improving?

PR: The region is relatively well-endowed with water which includes both surface and groundwater. However, there is a lot variability in time and space. The quality varies, so those watercourses that drain or pass through industrial and high population centres will have pollution problems and water quality problems.

SADC within its current programme does not have a project dedicated to water quality; however, member states and some of the river basin commissions have water quality programmes that assist in monitoring water quality. Each of our river basin organisations are engaged in joint basin-wide studies that are aimed at determining both the quantity and quality of water that exists in those basins.

IPS: What challenges did the region face in managing the quality and quantity of water in the region this year and what lessons were learnt in this regard?

PR: In terms of quantity of water in the region, a number of country initiatives are ongoing. They include the SADC Hydrological Cycle Observing System (SADC-HYCOS) project, a regional component of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) programme aimed at contributing to regional social-economic development through the provision of management tools necessary for sustainable and cost effective water resources development, management and environmental protection.

The project looks at hydro meteorological data collection, processing and dissemination that will allow all member states to have equal access to data, particularly on shared watercourses. At river basin level, a Zambezi Water Information System has been developed. These systems have water quality elements in them covering basic water quality parameters.

IPS: In the past we have relied on outside skills to solve some of our problems in the water sector, as when Asian scientists were called in to identify an outbreak of a disease among fish in the Zambezi River towards the end of 2006. What is being done to strengthen the capacity of the region's experts to deal with the region's problems?

PR: There are a number of capacity building initiatives that are being promoted within the region that include formal training, short courses, and experiential learning, for instance within the Waternet and other related training programmes. The region has a dedicated capacity building programme for river basins which among other things will facilitate training of basin experts to deal with water management challenges such as water quality as well as quantity.

IPS: What is your feeling over the level of investment in water management by SADC governments?

PR: The level of investment in water management in the SADC region varies from country to country but in general it is not very high. There is a clear need to improve the level of investment particularly in respect to information and data collection, infrastructure development, operations and maintenance of infrastructure once developed. There is also a need to invest in capacity building and institutional strengthening of those institutions responsible for water resources management and development.

IPS: What plans does SADC have for better water management for 2009 going forward?

PR: The SADC Water Programme is governed by the Regional Strategic Action Plan, which has number of dedicated programmes and projects some of which are currently under implementation, so we will continue to facilitate the implementation of these projects and programmes particularly those within the Regional Strategic Water Infrastructure Development Program. As the region is said to be among those in Africa which will be affected by Climate Change and variability we will also focus more of our attention to developing adaptation strategies for climate change.

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