Africa: Open for water business!

The African continent is due for change on an unprecedented scale in the coming decades, with water taking centre stage as a vital agent for its social and economic development. With a population that’s set to double between now and 2050, and the fastest rate of urbanisation in the world, the pressures on African utilities services and infrastructures are only set to increase.

The Africa focus session at WEX is sponsored by CDM Smith, with Eric Kalmbach of CDM Smith chairing.

Yet alongside such staggering challenges facing many African countries, there is also great potential. At this year’s WEX Global Summit in Porto, Portugal on 5-6 March movers and shakers from international water and energy sectors will meet and discuss the exciting opportunities abounding in Africa. Through meetings, collaboration and partnerships, industry leaders are working together to transform African economies, reduce poverty and improve lives throughout the continent.

From the resurgence of desalination processes that are helping north African cities meet the demands of an increasing population and resultant industrial growth, to the application of innovative technology to reduce non-revenue water in rapidly developing sub-Saharan nations like Uganda and Ghana, water management in Africa is entering a new era.

Water in Africa: An overview

Access to clean water and sanitation in many rural and urban areas of Africa is severely limited, with many people lacking a basic household water connection. Throughout the continent, financial constraints result in poorly managed water and wastewater treatment systems; even when authorities develop such facilities, the cost of maintaining them proves too high and the overall infrastructure begins to collapse. With limited resources to routinely test supplies and repair pipes, risk of water loss is high.

Indeed, non-revenue water (that is, water that has been processed for consumption but is lost before reaching the customer) accounts for over a third of water consumption in Cameroon, Swaziland, Togo and the Republic of Congo. Even in countries that have experienced a surge of infrastructure development, such as Kenya and Ghana, utilities are losing half of their water through under-financed and poorly maintained water supply systems.

In sub-Saharan Africa, extraction of water from existing sources has increased due to massive growth in urban areas. Whether domestic or industrial, water demands across this region have outpaced the development of supply facilities. Without the means to access groundwater or desalinate coastal sources, rising populations across the sub-Saharan area will certainly face water scarcity in the next few decades.

To add to this grim picture, the threat of contamination is also rife across Africa, with surface water rendered toxic through industrial emissions, agricultural run-off and raw sewage, and processed supplies affected by poor maintenance and inadequate treatment. Even groundwater supplies are affected, with unregulated industries allowing heavy metals to poison underground aquifers.

On a continent as vast and varied as Africa, the challenges facing the water sector are just as huge and myriad. As overwhelming and bleak as things may appear, it’s worth remembering that progress is being made through new partnerships, confident investment and the application of technologies, aided by the assembly of influencers, advisors and experts at summits like the WEX Global Water and Energy Exchange.

Collaboration and partnership

In 2012, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) united with the African Water Association (AfWA) to create and implement a continent-wide program. Their aim: to address water loss in 20 African countries by assisting water companies and state water boards at national and metropolitan levels. USAID’s project of Further Advancing the Blue Revolution Initiative (FABRI) works with AfWA in conducting water audits in utilities to create a clearer picture of available water and survey how much is used. Chief of Party for USAID, Peter Reiss and the Secretary General for AfWA, Sylvain Usher, write of the project’s aims and expectations, describing how FABRI will enable African nations to identify the extent of and causes for water loss in their utilities sector and go on to develop technical solutions for the issues they face. Usher is quoted as recognising the challenge of adapting innovative water and wastewater technologies in Africa, pointing out the difficulties of ‘raising awareness of financiers to understand that wastewater and faecal sludge can even be a financial resource’ (ISO news, Brady, Jan 2018). FABRI is working with managers in the water sector to address this, creating a strong financial base for utilities in Africa.

Not only is the FABRI project boosting AfWA’s reputation as being at the forefront of water and sanitation technologies, it is also encouraging governments to consider the impact of non-revenue water in ways that will radically improve the lives of African people.

Sylvain Usher will be a chief speaker on the panel for the ‘Regional Business Forum – Africa’ (sponsored by CDM Smith) at this year’s WEX Global Summit in the City of Gaia, Porto, Portugal.

Smart Metering Technologies

Technological progress is advancing rapidly in 21st century Africa, thanks to those companies taking advantage of the opportunities to apply non-revenue-water (NRW) technology in supply chains.

In Ghana, NRW constitutes over 50% of the country’s total water consumption, with losses caused by a lack of awareness of leakages in the supply pipes, as well as poorly understood consumption rates. Chief Manager for Project and Planning at the Ghana Water Company, Michael Botse-Baidoo, envisions an annual reduction of 5% in NRW through intelligent monitoring and control, to reach the optimum level of 20-25% accepted by utilities globally.

The Ghana Water Company has invested in 40,000 intelligent meters made by Danish firm Kamstrup, which will facilitate the detection and repair of leaky pipes, as well as accurately monitor consumer water usage. Kamstrup secured the first water meter agreement in west Africa and has set a precedent for further potential in other nations on the continent. Kamstrup’s senior-vice president, Per Trøjbo said, “We expect the market to growing rapidly within the next three to five years and are following the development in Africa closely.”

In Kenya, there is no doubt that the market for water metering will expand within the next decade, especially when cities such as Nairobi face numerous problems concerning water supply and management. Nairobi Water Company has reported annual losses of Sh3.7billion due to NRW, largely due to ageing pipes, vandalism and illegal connection to supply. Kenya’s rising population and subsequent growth of business will only increase demands for water, placing more pressure on authorities to deliver. By applying intelligent water technology to help monitor and manage these essential utilities, authorities like the Nairobi Water Company will be able to meet water demands in the coming years.

Samuel Ojanga of the Nairobi Water Company and Michael Botse-Baidoo of Ghana Water Company will both be present on the panel for the ‘Regional Business Forum – Africa’ at WEX Global 2019, on hand to answer any questions about the exciting technological applications and opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa today.


One of the biggest problems for many African nations is the cycle of poverty that affects their ability to cope with scarcity and unpredictability of water supplies. By continually depending upon financial aid to cope with low income and national debt, many countries lack the funds to invest in an infrastructure, particularly in the water and energy sectors.

Uganda’s National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) presents a sub-Saharan success story for financial investment in water facilities, after attaining the highest ever credit rating of a utility in the region. Its former CEO, William Muhairwe, dramatically improved the utility’s finances over a 13-year period, doubling its revenue and increasing water connections before handing the reins to Silver Mugisha in 2011. Mugisha has continued to usher in an era of prosperity for NWSC and thanks to the award of the rating by South Africa-based Global Credit Ratings Company, the utility’s prospects for financial investment have grown exponentially. Mugisha cites it as “one of our biggest achievements”, stating that the award “was a very, very big vote of confidence in what we are doing, meaning that we can easily go on the financial market and get money for investments.” (GWI magazine, Jan 2019). Such developments are perhaps a sign of things to come for utilities throughout Africa – as such countries stabilise and modernise, they attract international investors who have confidence in their fast-growing economies.

NWSC’s access to private capital now means it can scale up its digital programme and sewerage facilities. Indeed, it has already begun development of the latter in Kampala, installing new sewer lines in the business district and constructing a EUR55million wastewater treatment facility in Bugolobi.

Silver Mugisha will be available to meet and speak with in person at the WEX Global 2019 summit, where he is a key speaker on the panel for the Regional Business Forum – Africa.

The Drive for Desalination in North Africa

Desalination is big news in North Africa. In a region already prone to drought-induced water scarcity, an increasing population and resultant growth in industry are placing even greater demands on water treatment and supply companies in the region. Utilities are stepping up to the challenge through international financial backing and ambitious, large-scale water projects.

The National Office for Electricity & Drinking Water (ONEE) has recently been involved with several projects in the north African region. In December 2018, ONEE signed two loan agreements valued at EUR115million with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and a Chinese fund that will finance a water project in Morocco, improving access to water for 2.5 million people via the Ghriss and Ibn Battouta dams. Khalid Tahri, technical and engineering director for ONEE, outlined desalination processes as a sustainable solution for water supply in arid areas in his talk at last year’s WEX Global summit in Lisbon.

With firms such as Algerian Energy Company (AEC) and Beni Saf Water Company representing desalination drives in Algeria, and investment in Tunisian desal plants made by Indian firm Va Tech Wabag and Tunisian national water company SONEDE (Societe Nationale d’Exploitation et de Distribution des Eaux) the stage looks set for construction of numerous large-scale plants along the north African coast.

WEX Global Summit 2019 give you the opportunity to meet with and discuss the opportunities arising in the north African water sector with a host of industry experts.

On the panel for the North Africa Regional Business Forum are:

  • Hocine Rizou – Director General at Algerian Energy Company
  • Mohammed Taibi – Projects Director at Algerian Energy Company
  • Khaled Zaabar – Director of Energy Management with Sonede
  • Khalid Tahri – Technical and Engineering Director at ONEE
  • Mohamed Chaffi – Director General at Beni Saf Water Company