In the past four decades, there has been considerable effort by African countries to improve the quality of life of the most disadvantaged of their populations.  The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) adopted in September 2000 during the Millennium Summit of the United Nations (UN), remain the targets issued by the international community to cut world poverty in half and improve the lives of its poorest members by 2015.

Since 2000, various strategies for the MDG have been developed by the UN.   In addition to the original initiative there have been the Millennium Campaign in 2002; the Millennium Project; the Millennium Summit; the high level meeting of the MDG in September 2008; the 2010 UN Summit on the MDG; the 2012 meeting of the Think Tank on the delays in implementing the MDG, and numerous initiatives by other organizations within the UN (FAO, IMF, WB, UNDP, IFAD, UNFPA, OMS, etc.).

Illustrating the many but inchoate efforts to achieve the MDG, the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) of June 2004, under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), shows that the majority of the countries involved would not achieve most of the MDG targets. Progress, while present, has been slow and uneven.   It is clear that while the goal of halving poverty between 1990 and 2015 applied worldwide, there is significant room for improvement in Sub-Saharan Africa where goals such as sanitation, maternal and child mortality rates, access to drinking water, and basic sanitation are concerned. 

 The 2010 Summit on the Millennium Development Goals produced a “Global Plan of Action on the MDG,” containing various initiatives to counter poverty, disease, and hunger, with the aim of improving the people’ conditions of life.  During that Summit, 78 resolutions were adopted, including those relating directly to the eight MDGs.

Of these resolutions, attaining the first MDG, “Elimination of extreme poverty and hunger” is the most important, not only as it affects all other goals, but as it is one of the primary issues for many African countries. Achieving this goal requires a focus on the right strategies, on the technical and financial means necessary to improve access to drinking water, basic sanitation, food, sustainable and affordable energy, to adequate housing, health, and to the expertise and knowledge.

Resolution 44 states that: “We commit to redoubling our efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality and improve the health of women and children, including through strengthened national health systems, efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, improved nutrition, and access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, making use of enhanced global partnerships. We stress that accelerating progress on the Millennium Development Goals related to health is essential for making headway also on the other Goals.”

Resolution 46 states that: “We emphasize the importance of addressing energy issues, including access to affordable energy, energy efficiency and sustainability of energy sources and use, as part of global efforts for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and to promote the sustainable development.”

Other resolutions stemmed from the Global Plan of Action on the MDG, as did initiatives from literally hundreds of regional, national, and international organizations dealing with approaches, strategies, and policies for improving the issues in the key areas of water, agriculture, energy, health, and housing within the allotted time frame. Such efforts also touched on acquiring knowledge, strengthening human and institutional resources, scientific research, Research and Development (R&D), among other initiatives in that vein.   Additionally to be considered are efforts advocating increased investment in agriculture and rural development; specifically, the development in Africa of national programs for food security in small-scale farming, and simple and practical means of access to drinking water.

However, despite definite progress to these ends in the countries targeted worldwide, over 300 million Africans in 2013 still lack access to drinking water and basic sanitation.  Water-borne diseases (including diarrhea, typhoid, dracunculiasis, malaria, bilharzia, elephantiasis, onchocerciasis ) continue to kill thousands of people every day.  Once widespread, these diseases become increasingly difficult to fight. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly one half of all Africans suffers or will suffer from one of the six main waterborne diseases.   The WHO and Red Cross Canada hold that approximately one million children in Sub-Saharan Africa die each year from malaria alone.  Malaria has serious repercussions on the economies in Africa, causing losses in productivity and testing the health systems beyond their limits.  According to experts in the field, if malaria were to be eradicated, the economies of many African countries would improve instead of stagnating.  It is a well-known fact that this issue has serious socio-economic repercussions on the African continent.  Statistics regarding access to food and energy are equally grave and come to the same conclusion.

This whole situation is unacceptable, because the water, the agricultural potential and source of energy, as well as the human, financial, and technical resources for realizing it are today available and known.   The situation is well known among experts, specialists, and practitioners in the field of health and public policy; there is a lack of the political will from decision makers to implement the necessary changes.  We must find the strategies and mechanisms in order to change the current momentum.

The problem can be defined  in terms of conflicts related to access and the sustainable management of natural resources , including effectively mobilizing water for basic use and human consumption; use of water in agriculture; soil productivity versus land deterioration; sustainable management of  forests versus deforestation and slash-and-burn practices;  aquafarming and inland fisheries; livestock and integrated farming; the management of pesticides and watersheds; over pasturing; the increase in greenhouse gas emissions; and the depletion of genetic resources and biological diversity.

More practical questions were also generated at the international conference, one example being that of using groundwater to supply drinking water to cities and villages.   What infrastructures lead to optimal water use? What types of sustainable water management and electricity should be implemented?  How can the persistent delay in addressing the wastewater issues be addressed? How can the heavy burden on women and female girls of carrying water when supplying it is problematic be stopped?  How can available technology be transferred within agricultural practices, even agribusiness, in order to produce Drinking Water, involving as that would necessary reductions in the amount of water used for irrigation purposes? How to ensure  - and rightly so – that local populations benefit by agribusiness profits, a business that increasingly invades the  arable land in Africa with the presence of multinational and emerging country investment?

What is needed to tackle the water problem is an integrated approach.   Furthermore, rationalizing agricultural use of water is crucial, as irrigation consumes up to 70% of available water.  Rationalization has as one goal that of allocating more water for other uses, particularly drinking water for human consumption.  In order to optimize water use for industry and to minimize pollution, it would be better to harness the hydroelectric power potential of certain rivers.  Water is a vital need for agriculture, rural development, and industry. Without water, food security and people’s health are inconceivable.

One way to present the overall problem set out by the 2nd Water-Africa International Conference is to frame it in this way:

Given the number of initiatives treating the water problem, there are unsurprisingly a number of approaches to the problem.   There has been, however, too little attention paid to filling the gap in knowledge and research, whether beginning from initial development or upgrading existing studies.  Filling this lacuna may be seen by some as wasted work, by others as a void to be filled by productive effort. The problem may be perceived as one of differences which need to be worked out or as the difference between an unarguably negative situation and one devoutly to be wished for and therefore as a difference that needs to be eliminated.  Surely human ability exists to reduce the gap in knowledge, to renounce ignorance, and produce from research and the open exchange of expert knowledge, a true knowledge of the reality involved and how to improve the lives it touches.

The 2nd Water-Africa International Conference presents the problem by asking targeted questions:  What institutional mechanisms govern the politics and economics of water?  What of management  in water resources? What are the specific techniques and technologies, the necessary fieldwork, scientific approaches and expertise involved?  What needs to be addressed and developed so that in the next 25 years, the issue of water will be at the center of sustainable development for rural, suburban, and urban centers?  More specifically, how must the following areas be addressed:  (i) health promotion (drinking water, lowering sanitary risks linked to water and waterborne diseases, environmental health), (ii) agricultural development and food self-sufficiency (irrigation, suburban agriculture, market gardening), (iii) efficient use of water resources to produce hydroelectricity, industrial production, transportation, maintaining biodiversity, (iv) climate change, (v) the role of women and young women in supplying water, (vi) the right to access to water.

Is a new approach necessary where management of water resources is concerned? What is the new knowledge required to be at the effective and practical forefront in the water sector What is the best way to use and sustain scientific research? How should North-South and south-South collaborative efforts be implemented? What is the best way to equip those in the targeted areas  so that they become autonomous and able to handle their own water initiatives? How can the knowledge developed in targeted areas be transferred to a wider geographical area? These are some of the questions which the 2nd Water-Africa International Conference addresses.

Objectives

Four main objectives are pursued in the framework of this 2nd International Conference:

·         To raise awareness among decision-makers, Research and Development communities,  public policy structures and private specialists, international development organizations, civil society in Africa and donor countries as to the necessity of developing and using new institutional mechanisms, that they be open to and solicit new technologies and scientific approaches, new approaches to field work that are adapted to African Context so that in the next 25 years, the issue of water will be at Africa’s very center and the focus of sustainable development.   Only in this way can the needs of the populations be answered in the form of drinking water, sanitation, and the availability of food and of energy.

·         To show how a new approach can improve the efficiency of intervention, in particular the relevance of the exchange of North-South and South-South knowledge, experience, expertise regarding sustainable development in the program areas.

·         To use tangible field work as a model to show how scientific, practical and local knowledge can benefit the population within the framework of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Among the many possible initiatives, to choose the best and most promising. What new process and what balance within the framework of realizing the Action Plan for Africa of the UA/NEPAD Action Plan 2010-2015: Advancing Regional and Continental Integration in Africa.