A City-Basin Approach to Water Security in Africa: Official Side Event of The UN 2023 Water Conference

FRIDAY, March 24, 2023 

This official side event program description took place in Conference Room 4 (CR4) at the United Nations Headquarters building on Friday, 24 March 2023, just prior to the closing plenary of the UN 2023 Water Conference. At the suggestion of the Conference Secretariat, the topics proposed by UCLG-Africa and the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU) were merged, and reorganized by Mr. Mohamed Nbou, Executive Director of UCLG-Africa, with the assistance of Soumia Benlebsir (UCLG-Africa) and Rick Bell (CSU). The program was introduced and moderated by Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General, United Cities and Local Governments Africa (UCLG-Africa) and Aziza Akhmouch of OECD. Opening remarks were shared by Barbara Pompili, Chair, OECD Water Governance Initiative

The combined program statement, distributed by the Secretariat noted that while the role of African cities in water management has evolved in recent years towards ensuring access to water and sanitation services and building resilience to the risks of ‘too much’, ‘too little’ and ‘too polluted’ water, national-local coordination challenges at the basin scale remain. According to the OECD report on Water Governance in African Cities, 42% of 36 African cities surveyed are part of a river basin organization. In the absence of integrated basin governance systems, the mismatch between hydrological and administrative boundaries can lead to competition between water uses and hinder the effectiveness of service delivery.

Local governments will ‘make or break’ the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on ‘Clean water and sanitation for all’ in Africa, but they cannot do it alone. Effective multi-level governance is needed to  manage water at the appropriate functional and territorial scale(s), within integrated basin governance systems to enhance rural-urban linkages and develop place-based solutions that reflect local conditions, as set out in the Action Plan of Mayors, Local and Regional Governments for Water Security signed by 80+ local authorities gathered within the OECD/UCLG-Africa Roundtable of African Mayors for Water Security. City-to-city cooperation within basins is needed to implement solidarity mechanisms between upstream and downstream locations and tackle the risks of water scarcity, floods and pollution.

Jean-Pierre Mbassi and Aziza Akmouch

Barbara Pompili

Rethinking urban water through a regional and environmental justice lens in cities around the world, including New York City, offers an opportunity to tackle these challenges by providing a systemic and transformative approach to delivering water supply, sanitation services, and flood mitigation systems in a more sustainable, inclusive, efficient, and resilient way. This session will examine urban water retrofit examples to centralize the experience of local governments, civic organizations, urban researchers and architectural designers working at the intersection of water, commun-ity development and infrastructure. Topics will span from the past and present to explore unbuilt ideas for the future. It will address the processes that have led to these changes and focus on the interconnected nature of people, places, and water.

This session will gather national government representatives, mayors and governors, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, multi-lateral banks and philanthropic organizations to contribute to the Water Action Agenda through the Action Plan of Mayors, Local and Regional Governments for Water Security adopted by the OECD/UCLG-Africa Roundtable of African Mayors for Water Security, which proposes twelve concrete actions for local and regional governments to drive water security at all levels. It will provide a platform for African leaders to voice their commitment towards the implementation of the Action Plan based on the OECD Principles on Water Governance towards better water security.

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, Chair of UCLG-Africa, in his opening remarks, spoke of the common issues of 36 cities across all of Africa, going back to discussions held in Dakar, Senegal, on World Water Day in 2021. The main takeaway back then was a focus on water governance with several distinct manifestations including water security, capacity building and consultative mechanisms. Information gathering was necessary, along with overcoming the knowledge gap. Consultation on security and governance needs to lead to action and results differential. He concluded by saying “the UN 2023 Water Conference is about commitment and action, recognizing the territorial nature of water issues and the urgency to act.”

Barbara Pompili serves as Chair of the OECD Water Governance Initiative (WGI), is a Member of the French Parliament and is the Former Minister for the Ecological Transition of France. She noted that Africa is among the most vulnerable continents in regard to climate change and water risk. This vulnerability is exacerbated by what she described as inadequate infrastructure and sustained population growth. Water should be managed at the appropriate local level of government, but requires strengthening national and local ties. City-to-city cooperation between upstream and downstream locations is a necessity. The Action Plan for Water Security has been signed already by eighty mayors and local leaders.

Nizar Baraka

Serigne Mbaya Thiam

A Ministers-Mayors dialogue

Nizar Baraka, Minister of Equipment and Water, Morocco. He previously served as the Minister of Economy and Finance in the government of Abdelilah Benkirane and holds a PhD in econometrics from Aix-Marseille University in France. He noted that Morocco is very vulnerable to climate change, and has experienced severe drought this year. He spoke primarily of desalination initiatives currently underway in the big coastal cities of Morocco, including Casablanca. In other cities, such as Fes and Rabat, water issues are being addressed by mobilizing ground water through wells, with interconnection systems in the works.

 Serigne Mbaye Thiam is Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senegal, and previously served as Minister of National Education and as Chief Financial and Administrative Officer of the Port of Dakar. He represents his country on the UNESCO’s Executive Board. He addressed the theme of security and supply of potable water. He spoke of two aspects, first the differences between localities. In Senegal there are cities that are impacted by lack of water supply. There is definitely a local dimension to the availability of potable water. And the second issue is the need to resolve conflicts over the distribution of water. Water security is a challenge that sometimes defies collaboration between local and regional levels of government.

Oumar Ba

Alabi Kolade David

Oumar Ba, is the President of the Association of Mayors of Senegal, and Mayor of the municipality of Guédé Village, Department of Podor, located in the north-west part of Senegal. He spoke of the necessity for a global vision of water management, noting that territorial conflicts were extremely problematic. The issues of access and governance reflect a current lack of a systemic approach to all sorts of water-related issues beyond service delivery. These include, in particular, floods and pollution. Place-based responses are needed along with more efficiency and conflict avoidance.

Alabi Kolade David, President, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), which serves as the umbrella Association of all the 774 Local Governments and Area Council in Nigeria. The Association is a platform for a unified Local Governments voice on socio-political issues in Nigeria and globally. He noted that the goals of water security and sanitation demand cooperation. He stressed the importance of the call for inclusion that was discussed in Dakar in 2021. He concluded by saying that the local authority should be in the driver’s seat.

Dieudonné Bantsimba

Kayode Fayemi

Dieudonné Bantsimba has served as the Mayor of Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo since May of 2020. He serves, as well, as President of the Association of the Mayors of Congo (AMC). The sixteen mayors that are part of the AMC strive to make concrete the solidarity between their municipalities by exchange of information and experiences, and have established a permanent consultation on issues affecting decentralization and local development. Mayor Bantsimba has a degree in geography with a concentration in space management conferred  by the Université Marien-Ngouabi in Brazzabille and has a DEA degree in urban geography from the Université de Nanterre. He spoke of the need for solidarity and equitable management of the waters in the basins of the two large river systems of Congo, including the Congo River Basin and the Ngandi River Basin. He stressed that basin-level management is needed and called for fostering dialogue and preventing conflicts.

Kayode Fayemi is the former Governor of Ekiti State in south-western Nigeria, having served in this capacity from 2018 to 2022 and previously from 2010 to 2014. Between his terms as Governor he was Minister of Solid Minerals Development of Nigeria. He currently serves as President of the Forum of Regions of Africa (FORAF). He holds degrees from the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University and a doctorate from King’s College, University of London. He joked that it was beneficial being the last speaker in the Ministers-Mayors Dialogues because many of the points he would have raised have already been highlighted. Speaking of the case for municipal and city-based water management, he said that it need not be an either-or conflict between local and national planning efforts, but a whole-of-government approach. He noted that in many of our countries, water policy flows from the top. This can be augmented to better focus on sustainability, equity, affordability and the appropriate level of service. There need to be better strategies to address funding capacity. He concluded by reiterating that “we need a holistic, whole-of-government and comprehensive approach.”

How international organisations can help

Subsequent presentations pertaining to current relevant initiatives of various NGOs were made by representatives of organizations, including the World Bank, the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), the African Development Bank, Sanitation and Water for All, the Resilient Cities Network, UN1FY and the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization.

Organizational speakers

Eric Tardieu

Eric Tardieu serves as Secretary General of the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO). He holds degrees in engineering from the École Polytechnique and the École national du Génie rural, des Eaux et des Forêts. He spoke of the necessity for investment in approaches to secure water supply and potential use of alternative sources. In regard to pollution, he said the “declining water quality can affect water supply and sustainability.” He quoted a World Bank Report from 2019 which analysed the impact of Water Quality on GDP, saying “when rivers become very heavily polluted, regions downstream see reductions in economic growth, losing between 0.8 and 2.0 percent of economic growth.” He noted that “urban water policies are a critical element for effective water resource management” and called for a reinforcement of coherence in different areas of urban planning. He said “Water services management is too often disconnected from urban design projects. Mayors have an important responsibility in building and reinforcing the interlinkages between all the departments, including transportation, under their jurisdiction and establishing more coherent public policies at the city level. He concluded by discussing the need for investment in upstream-downstream solidarities and said “Responding to urban challenges implies strengthening the dialogues between the actors responsible for municipal water and sanitation services and those in charge of planning.

Keziah Theresee Gerosano

UN Headquarters Conference Room 4

Keziah Theresee Gerosano represented UN1FY, the youth movement of the Water and Climate Coalition, where she serves as Director of Partnerships while also working as Youth Engagement Portfolio Intern at the World Meteorological Organization. UN1FY has a goal to be a unifying agent aligning all water and climate advocacies from different UN-led and independent youth organizations. It has as a stated intent to be a youth movement that will fill the gaps and propose solutions over the shared challenges the world is facing.

During the UN 2023 Water Conference, UN1FY has been asking youth from different backgrounds about what they think of the water and climate issues. We consolidated this data along with proposed solutions about how to tackle specific water and climate-related challenges in their region. All of this is contained in the Water and Climate Youth Development Plan and Agenda (YDPA). It outlines how member states, the private sector and stakeholders can effectively engage and work with youth.

Moving forward my call to action to all of you here are three things. One is turning commitments into action and discuss how we can all move forward with the Water Action Agenda with youth also in the middle. Second is to establish robust youth engagement programs and intergenerational partnerships to directly engage youth in various planning and implementation processes. The third one, continue the commitment building process from UN Water Conference to COP 28, and this is something that we in unify are looking forward to doing. It is not a question as to why youth should be included, but how.

The YDPA is a manifestation that we can all work together. If there is one thing I learned advocating for youth about water and climate, is that we all need to work together. Let’s break down silos. Because if there is one common thing that binds us all it is water.

Rick Bell, CSU President, briefly described the work of the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization, and its current initiatives including the Green Cities Program. He said the CSU promotes a better understanding of the role of resilience design in the planning of our cities. He continued by saying that instead of delivering his prepared remarks, he would prefer to highlight the key points made by the government representatives in the first panel. His takeaways were:

Governor Kayode Fayemi addressed the importance of the issues pertaining to sustainability, equity, affordability and appropriate scale.

Mayor Dieudonné Bantsimba spoke of a question of solidarity and equitable management at the basin level and the importance of regional management.

Mayoral Association President Oumar Ba spoke of risks of territorial conflict and a lack of a systemic approach to water-related issues including flooding and pollution.

Local Government Association President Alabi Kalade David said that local authorities should be in the driver’s seat.

Water and Sanitation Minister Serigne Mbaye Thiam spoke of the local dimension of water and how conflicts can be resolved between different levels of government.

Equipment and Water Minister Nizar Baraka spoke of issues of vulnerability and acting on water systems of interconnection.

Former Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili spoke of city-to city cooperation.

And UCLG-Africa President Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi addressed capacity building and overcoming the knowledge gap by serving as a consultative mechanism.

That is what the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization strives to do as well, to help overcome the knowledge gap and provide information and best practices to all stakeholders in government and in the private sector design community.


Emilia Sáiz, UCLG Secretary General, delivered concluding remarks that on key points of what had been said, bringing this into the framework of the connection of local and regional governments to decision-making and the conclusions of the UN 2023 Water Conference. She “thanked the Chair for this great opportunity, and thanked, of course, UCLG- Africa, OECD and all the partners that have made this exchange possible. And a very interesting exchange it is indeed. And as we reach the end of this conference it is particular importance to highlight the relevance and the role we have to play in the management of water if we are truly serious about considering water a common good and if we are truly serious about assuring that human rights about water are met. And as we have been saying, it does not make sense to have human rights if they cannot be met. And approaching water and the water cycle from the perspective of human rights means that the whole of the public sector needs to change. There needs to be a full involvement of the private sector in the management of water. It doesn’t mean that the private sector has a dominant role, but that the balance has to be different.

We need to assure that the local and regional governments do not only feel that they have a responsibility for water delivery, but also for the protection of the full  water cycle. And what I have been hearing at this session is of special interest because both the local and national government representatives on this panel have highlighted that we are talking about a trans-boundary initiative; that this is not something about the specific borders of the city, that blue water and green water extend beyond those borders. We need to identify how intertwined they are, and we need to assure that the multi-level government that we put in place to manage water includes every single level. One of you was referring to the whole-of-government effort. It is a whole-of-society effort. Because communities will also need to play a different role in the management. So the reasons to include local and regional governments but also to include national governments and the multi-national system, is to include all partners and knowledge partners and decision-makers and that includes communities, that includes local and regional governments and of course the rest of the series of governments. And this is the message that we are bringing today to the final session and that we brought yesterday to the general debate.

Reality will be critical and taking care of the workers at local and regional governments will be critical but also acknowledging that there is a very big part of our cities, of our settlements, that are informal, and that guaranteeing infrastructure for those informal settlement or  traditional settlements as we prefer to call them will be critical and a game changer. These impact economies around not only water but most of the common good that need to be changed.

One of the other sessions that we were dealing with with the OECD, the global Commission for Water Economy and there we said that this is a governance issue. And governance will need to be addressed. On a happy note there has been a greater role and greater acknowledgement of the role of local and regional governments in this conference and we have been hearing that as well in other policy making sessions in the past years. We applaud the creation of more robust multi-lateral mechanisms to deal with water and we do hope that we will be part of the outcome. But the role of local and regional governments in that particular iteration is not clear. And I think that we will need to make that point to make it possible.

A final word is about the importance of assuring capacity building because we are not only taking responsibility and agreeing to that responsibility, but capacity will be needed. Not only financial, but also human capacity and technical capacity. And a call to the important players and investors that have been here that do believe in learning about decentralized operations as a great way to increase capacity and have heard the words of hope going forward.

I won’t add more to this other than thanks to my team that has organized this session, particularly Oriana Romano and Juliette Lassman, and of course Mohamed Nbou of UCLG-Africa and Aziza Akhmouch of OECD.

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