Interview with Sarah M. Tibatemwa, Africa Director at the International Water Association and speaker in the Water track at African Utility Week
What are you most excited about currently in terms of the International Water Association’s plans for 2012?
I am actually excited about all the plans we have for the region, but just to mention two, I expect to see more utilities & countries in Africa embrace the Water Safety Plan approach for better management of the drinking water and systems efficiency. The second one that excites me is about the African Cities of The Future programme that will see a fundamental change in the way cities are planned especially in urban water (and wastewater) management.
What do you regard as your organisation’s most important aims?
IWA is a leading network of water professionals, and is about providing options and creating links to global initiatives. This is done through knowledge generation and exchange, development & promotion of best practices, stimulating innovation and advocacy for the views of water professionals in world forums.
What does your position as Africa Director entail?
Well, as the pioneer holder of this position, it does entail largely ensuring that the profile of IWA in the region is raised. This is through working with members and other international and regional organisations to improve the urban water provision.
What does the IWA perceive as the most pertinent issues in Africa with regards to water?
Just like all on the international scene, the issue of meeting the MDGs on water is very pertinent. We are all aware of the millions of people who lack safe water and improved sanitation live in developing countries and more than half of these in sub-Saharan Africa. IWA joins with the rest of those in the sector to decrease that number to meet the MDGs on water & sanitation.
What does the IWA see as the solutions?
We believe the solution lies right here with us on the continent. As water professionals, IWA shares and disseminates knowledge and best practice. We have those from within and without the region. What we need to do now is to implement and for the urban water and sanitation services, the Cities of The Future programme, if embraced may speed this up.
How can the private sector get involved?
The private sector has lots to do with the water sector. In some countries water and sanitation provision has been privatised. That is the most obvious level but of course you need manufacturers of equipment, treatment & laboratory chemicals etc. They can also be involved in research for better methods of treatment and wastewater handling. The list is endless.
What surprises you about this industry?
What surprises me most about the water industry is that we are all aware of the problems, sometimes come up with solutions but implementation is always the weakest point. At least now all are aware that solutions from the developed countries cannot automatically be applied to developing countries, and this is where IWA came up with the idea of Development Solutions meant specifically for developing countries. The IWA Development Congress held every two years came out of this recognition.
Can you give us a preview of your presentation for African Utility Week: “Water quality before and beyond the consumption”?
When people think of water quality, many only consider drinking water. However, one needs to consider the quality of the raw water and how best to protect and maintain it, as well as what happens after the consumption as this will turn to wastewater. There is a cycle because the wastewater returns to the source. The whole process must be managed efficiently and effectively.
What is the WHO’s Water Safety Plan and how is this a more holistic plan for Africa?
Ah! My favourite subject! The WSP is an approach that is considered a tool that is applied to ensure safety of drinking water. What is exciting about this tool is that it enables the water supplier to understand the system that delivers the water to an extent that the operators will be able to understand the likelihood of risks to the water and the system and preplan how these can be mitigated before it happens. The tool also enables the supplier to prioritise expenditure on improvement of the system. I do consider this a holistic way to manage water systems as it will consider not only water safety but also investment issues. Management will be able to justify investments in the system.
What is the message for the African Utility Week delegate and visitor?
Come expecting to learn from others particularly within the region. Ensure you do some networking with those in similar positions.
Anything you would like to add?
Just a word to water professionals in the region. It is added value to belong to the international network and for those who have not yet given it a thought before, this is the time. Information is available on the IWA Website: www.iwahq.org. You can also get in touch with me directly on Sarah.Tibatemwa@iwahq.org
IWA contact details:
Sarah M. Tibatemwa
Director, IWA Africa
P.O. Box 32083
Tel: +256 414597396
Cell phone: +256 782655272