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Interview with Sarah M. Tibatemwa, Africa Director at the International Water Association and speaker in the water track at African Utility Week 2013.

Sarah Tibatemwa

Which projects/initiates of the IWA are you most excited about currently?
What is interesting is that all the IWA initiatives are exciting. Our latest ….. is ‘Inspiring change’. Anyhow, one of the exciting initiatives is the “Cities of the future” (CoF) programme. We realize that many cities are struggling to come to terms with serving the residents. The CoF programme aims at looking at how cities can be planned inclusively in terms of all stakeholders working together to plan water, sanitation, drainage etc as we also consider the urban growth especially in LIC cities. For this region, we are talking about Africa CoF.

Any good news/case studies/success stories that will inspire us?
We had a very successful the IWA Water Safety Plan Conference in Kampala Uganda last November, and one of the highlights was the WSP Award. I am proud to mention that two of the three winning utilities were from Africa. That was Rand Water and Nairobi Water & Sewerage company. The prestigious award was contested by a number of utilities from various developing countries. Just to also add that the Water Safety plan approach to ensuring safety of drinking water has ‘caught fire’ and is being implemented by lots of utilities in Africa and elsewhere. IWA is supporting quite a number of utilities in this endeavour.

What are your hopes for private sector collaboration with water and sanitation utilities in the next ten years?

I would reiterate to say that this is already happening and is at various levels in different countries. When you think of water and sanitation services as a business, then there is no way you can keep the private sector out! So in a nutshell, it depends on your perspective of private sector collaboration.

Non-revenue water in Africa stands at a high level whether through leakage or theft; is this level higher than other continents and what can be done to alleviate the problem?
Ha! This is something that has been quite a problem for years, and nobody seems to have a concrete solution to it. However, the fact that utility managers recognize this as an issue is a step in the right direction. In IWA, there is a very important Task Force on Non-Revenue Water and they have gone a long way in finding solutions for this problem.

Is there opportunity for ‘smart metering’ technology in the water sector?
Definitely. Technology is taking up every bit of the industry and when one considers the energy conservation bit, the sooner we get to smart metering the better. Unfortunately utilities in the region are still far from this as they grapple with other pertinent issues.

Does the water-food-energy nexus feature highly in the utility sector – are water and power utilities working towards a common goal?
The answer is yes in as far as water is a common factor for both food and energy production, let alone the fact that it is a ‘food’ in itself. Water utilities have come to realise there is an urgent need to conserve energy if they want to break even. Power utilities have come to terms with the fact that if they are to generate hydro-electric power, they will have to compete for the resource with many other uses such as industrial, agricultural and domestic. So the bottom line is how can we use and conserve the resource to balance the nexus?

What surprises you about this industry?
The fact that it touches all no matter the level! I believe water will be back on the next MDG list after 2015!

What are you most looking forward to at African Utility Week this year?
The water stream is very interesting this year as it covers a number of topics of interest to many utility managers and operators. I am looking forward to listening to all these brilliant presentations born from experience leading to improving the African water utility.

Anything you would like to add?
As I look forward to this week, I urge all those who are in the water industry not to miss this year’s event. It will not leave you the same. If you thought the last one was good, this is going to be even better. Do as much networking as you can and take back home the best practice from your peers. And if you have not considered joining IWA, the global network of water professionals, this is the time.