‘Sub-Saharan Africa needs information to help address its infrastructure challenges’

Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu


Why does Africa need annual infrastructure events like Water Africa and West Africa Building & Construction 2017, which returns to Nigeria on November 14-16, 2017?

The answer is simple: as long as population growth outstrips the provision of housing, roads and services such as water supply and sanitation, those whose responsibility it is to provide this infrastructure will need to find strategies and techniques to speed up supply and delivery.

Events like the show in at the Abuja International Conference Centre from November 14 provide a means for closing the communications gap between those who research, develop and market new technologies, materials and innovations, and those whose job it is to find the best and most cost-effective means to implement projects for their citizens.

The event this year will be opened by the Minister of Water Resources, Engineer Suleiman Hussaini Adamu, whose major challenge is the increase in urban populations associated with rural to urban migration and economic growth. This is accelerating the strain on natural resources, particularly in Nigeria and other sub-Saharan countries, where rapid urbanization is outpacing the urban water infrastructure and related service provision.

In most of the major cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, this population movement is placing unprecedented stress on fragile ecosystems and urban environments that have poorly developed urban water and sanitation infrastructure. With an estimated 72% of the region’s urban population currently living under slum conditions, urbanization has virtually become synonymous with slum growth reaching nearly 200 million in 2005 and continuing to grow at a pace.

Every Water Africa and West Africa Building & Construction event has a strong seminar programme for water and sanitation, and a similar one for building and construction. Last year’s conference discussed the shift from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These SDGs need to be attained by 2030, butthere are severe doubts about the ability of sub-Saharan countries,such as Nigeria and Ghana, to fulfil their stated objectives in meeting with these goals, particularly if they continue with business as usual.

Currently only 5% of Africa’s potential water resources are developed and only 5% of Africa’s cultivated land irrigated.Less than 10% of hydro-power potential is tapped. This suggests a great resource-utilization potential in Africa, as the continent has massive untapped resources.

However, though most of the water and sanitation projects undertaken to date were deemed to be potentially sustainable because of the use of local materials and standard/conventional technologies and approaches, fewer than half have met the needs of the beneficiaries. Many schemes are donor-funded and, on completion, fall into a state of disrepair due to either a lack of maintenance or sense of ownership or a combination of both.

At last year’s water seminar chaired by Dr Joseph Addo Ampofo, Professor Bob Andoh and others gave presentations showing that the conventional practices deployed to date are too costly and, in many instances, inappropriate for the givensocial/cultural context.

Open channels, in addition to being sullage and stormwater conveyance systems, have very often become receptacles for solid waste with open drains conveying highly polluted water into local streams and outfalls.

In some areas, people are practicing open defecation in these open channels.This year’s conference takes this a step further in recognizing not only the linkages between water quantity and quality, but also the need to include the socio-cultural dimension in a multi-dimensional integrated holistic pathway. This should be based on simple precepts such as “prevention rather than cure”integrating “Indigenous knowledge” in an adaptive and incremental development framework.

Such an approach makes use of community instincts, promotes shared responsibilities, harnesses positive elements of guiding beliefs and helps to foster close collaboration between a broad range of societal actors with the common goal of accelerating the business of water and sanitation for all.

On the building and construction side, last year’s seminar programme chaired by Engr. A. K. Amshi, FNSE (NSE) included presentations and discussions that resulted in the highlighting of several issues that were seen as critical and needing attention. These included enforcement of building regulations, the need to linkacademic research with public policy formation, capacity development, tax policy and security.

Presentations at the seminar made it clear that, while some new construction and development legislation might be necessary, government would better serve the citizenry by looking at building the capacity of law-enforcement agencies. Citizens, too, should develop a strong positive sustainable compliance attitude and culture, and proactively participate in urban development issues.

There was also agreement that most relevant research was ending up on shelves in academic institutions and not reaching the industry’s end-users. As a result, the construction and real-estate industries were underperforming.

Capacity building, particularly for youth, business development and technological development was a major concern for participants. It was thought that effective collaboration between government and the private sector could be useful in filling the gaps.

Money-laundering through real estate could be prevented by a holistic set of laws to regulate real-estate development, investment and management. There was concern also expressed about the imposition of VAT on real estate outputs, which was likely to worsen the current housing deficit and affordability problems.

All these vital topics and more are likely to be aired again and discussed in depth at this year’s construction and water seminars, which also give vendors a chance to put their products in the correct context for maximising the potential for their use to help address the infrastructure challenges. Organiser ACE Event Management, of the UK,in addition to providing certificates of attendance, always provides ample time for seminar delegates to browse the exhibition and discuss problems with the exhibitors.

In this article:
Suleiman Hussaini Adamu


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