The United Nations warns that the world could face a 40% shortfall in water supply by 2030, with Africa – which already suffers from greater levels of water stress than other regions – likely to bear the brunt.

The economic impact of the shortfall in water infrastructure and supply is already severe. Sub-Saharan Africa currently loses an estimated 5% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) due to poor access to clean drinking water and sanitation, 5 to 25% of its GDP to droughts and floods in affected countries and 40 billion hours of otherwise productive time annually, collecting water.

Having delivered on sustainable water supply projects in the SADC region, South African-based construction and engineering firm, Khato Civils, has announced its intention to expand across the continent and play its part in tackling Africa’s infrastructure shortfall.

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The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the world’s largest free trade area, came into effect in January 2021. It is expected to increase levels of intra-Africa trade by over 50% by 2030 and offers the opportunity for increased pan-African collaboration in major infrastructure projects.

Khato Civils Chairman Simbi Phiri highlights that “problems like food shortages are not occasioned by a lack of food on the continent necessarily, it’s about our underdeveloped land and waterways. If we can step up infrastructure development, we will solve a lot of other problems as well.

AfCFTA gives us a chance to have a business without borders. We will now be able to go into places like Zimbabwe, Zambia and other countries to compete. It also gives us a chance to compete with multinationals from India and China in other African countries. The agreement will lay to rest some of the restrictions that were imposed by colonial legacies of the past.”

Data: Africa’s water crisis in numbers

As the world becomes more populous, increased urbanisation, climate change and changes in food production are driving water demand at a rate that outpaces supply.

  • Globally, 80% of wastewater goes back into the ecosystem without adequate treatment, resulting in 1.8 billion people worldwide drinking contaminated water.
  • Over 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean drinking water and over 700 million live without access to good sanitation.
  • The world faces a severe water shortage by 2030, and Africa is likely to bear the brunt – as exacerbated by the impact of climate change.
  • Africa’s water sector has an annual investment shortfall of USD 13 billion (urban areas) to USD 27 billion (rural areas).
  • African countries lose between 5 and 25% of GDP due to issues related to lack of water infrastructure.

For every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there are direct and indirect economic returns to individuals and households, the health sector and agricultural and industrial sectors, ranging from $3 to 34, according to the World Health Organisation.

“If you look at big cities like Accra, their biggest issue is water and sanitation,” says Phiri. “The same applies to other cities like Lagos and Kinshasa with power and roads coming a close second. Water and sanitation is without a doubt the main area that will boom in Africa in the short-term future.”

In order to unleash these economic benefits, Khato Civils chief executive officer Mongezi Mnyani calls on governments to accelerate infrastructure development and foster public-private partnerships. “Political will is at the centre of it all,” says Mnyani.

He adds: “Infrastructure initiatives must be government-driven because that’s where the agenda is set and major decisions are made. Governments must work collaboratively and also develop strategies that entice the private sector so that firms like ours have an easier time carrying out projects.”

Image credit: Khato Civils

Infrastructure development in Southern Africa

Khato Civils has been making a mark on water infrastructure across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region for decades.

“We may be based in Johannesburg, but we have offices in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Ghana and South Sudan. We are looking to set up offices in other regions as well because our vision is to diversify into other markets and offer our products to countries that need them the most across the continent,” says Mnyani.

The company says it plans to dispatch its staff to local sites, adding that it is poised to expand sub-Saharan Africa’s water infrastructure and supply, thus improving climate resilience and mitigating food security risks, pending greater investments in water infrastructure. “It’s not just about business for us, we work to ensure we leave a legacy by changing the lives of communities,” says Mnyani.