‘Water issues need inclusive approach’

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Southern African Development Community (SADC) Senior Programme Officer – Transboundary Water, Phera Ramoeli
Southern African Development Community (SADC) Senior Programme Officer – Transboundary Water, Phera Ramoeli

REPRESENTATIVES of African governments, civil society organisations, international donors and agencies last week participated in the Sixth African Water Week (AWW) forum held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Held under the theme “Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Water and Sanitation”, the forum explored ways by which each of the continent’s 54 states could provide clean water and sanitation to their people and find solutions to the impact of climate change on the availability of the resource.

Lesotho was represented at the forum by Water Affairs Minister Ralechate ‘Mokose, Principal Secretary Khomoatsana Tau, government officials and civil society organisations.

In this wide-ranging interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Pascalinah Kabi, speaks to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Senior Programme Officer – Transboundary Water, Phera Ramoeli, on the importance of achieving these multi-sectoral goals.

LT: Briefly tell us about yourself.

Ramoeli: Born and bred in Lesotho, Phera Ramoeli is the current head of the SADC Water Division with a background in water resources management and development at national, basin and regional level. My educational background is in science; I majored in biology and chemistry in my first degree. I also hold a post graduate diploma in Operational Hydrology and a master’s degree in Aquatic Resources Management. I began my career in the water sector at the Department of Water Affairs as a trainee Hydrogeologist before taking the position full-time. I later on became the head of the Water Pollution Control Division.

I joined the SADC Water Sector in 1997, after Lesotho assumed the responsibility of coordinating the SADC Water Sector. A Water Sector Coordinating Unit (WSCU) was established in the Ministry of Natural Resources. I then became the head of this unit in 1999 until SADC restructured its institutions and all sectors were transferred from the member states and centralised in five directorates at the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana in 2003. The Water Sector in this context falls within the Directorate of Infrastructure and Services together with Energy, Transport, Meteorology, Information Communication Technology, and Tourism.

Some of the key responsibilities of the SADC Water Division can be grouped into the following themes; coordination of the regional water programme, facilitation of the implementation of the programme, providing the management oversight in the implementation of the programme, acting as an honest broker between member states especially regarding cooperation on shared watercourses (rivers/lakes and groundwater basins), and promoting cooperation between member states in the utilisation and management of water resources of shared watercourses. We are also responsible for facilitating resource mobilisation for the implementation of the various projects and programmes.

LT: Why was it important for SADC countries to participate in AWW, and how is this going to benefit ordinary people in light of the SDG six which seeks to ensure everyone has access to safe water and sanitation by 2030? 

Ramoeli: It was very important for the SADC member states to participate in the AWW and other related meetings such as the African Ministers’ Council on Water Technical Advisory Committee, Executive Committee Meetings and the General Assembly. These gatherings offer a platform for sharing best practices and to learn from each other on the appropriate strategies to follow in addressing various water challenges facing the continent.

The AWW was structured into various sub-themes in which ideas were shared on pertinent issues such as water supply and sanitation for all, water and sanitation infrastructure development, transboundary water resources management and development and other relevant topics on water affecting each member state. These discussions ultimately benefit the ordinary citizens in that the knowledge and information gathered is transformed into practical approaches to improve access to both potable water and sanitation services to the populations in the respective member states. The officials who were in attendance will be able to benchmark their own efforts against the best in the African continent and beyond as the forum was also graced by international experts and practitioners in the field of water and sanitation.

LT: What strategy has SADC put in place to help its member states implement the SDGs, especially goal number six on water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH)? 

Ramoeli: The SADC secretariat, with the full participation of all member states has put together a Regional Strategic Action Plan on Integrated Water Resources Management and Development (RSAP-IWRMD) which contains several implementation programmes to assist member states achieve their SDGs with a specific focus on water and sanitation. The RSAP is at its fourth phase, and has specific programmes and activities that address three pillars of development in the water and sanitation sector namely; Strategic Water Infrastructure, Water Resources Management and Water Governance. In addition to this programme, which is also the Water Sector Chapter of the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, there is a Regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for Water, the Awareness and Communication Strategy and the Protocol of Shared Watercourses. The SADC Secretariat will facilitate the implementation of these programmes, the coordination of the member states’ inputs, resource mobilisation and funding of the programme together with member states. 

LT: Are there any mechanisms in place by the SADC Water Division to address the member states’ limited funding of the WASH sector given that water is multi-sectoral?

Ramoeli: With the support of the African Water Facility (AWF), SADC implemented a project supporting water supply and sanitation processes in member states that came up with various strategies and tools to finance their water supply and sanitation services. The project also addresses reporting, monitoring and evaluation, institutional strengthening and coordination. The outcomes of this project have been circulated to all member states so they can start implementing some of the strategies and innovative approaches in improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene at national levels. At a regional level, SADC has established a dedicated water supply and sanitation subcommittee where member states meet to discuss strategic issues in the water supply and sanitation sector. This will help improve coordination among members and provide best learning practices among member states.

LT: Since the introduction of the SADC Water Sector Gender Mainstreaming Project, do you think women’s participation in the water sector in different member states has increased in access to safe water, economic development and sustainable water resources? 

Ramoeli: This project was completed last year, and we have not yet undertaken a comprehensive assessment to determine the extent to which the gender mainstreaming exercise has helped to improve access. One can say awareness initiatives were made, and each of the member states implemented specific action plans to facilitate the increased and equitable participation by women and other vulnerable groups in the water and sanitation discourse. It is now mandatory for all member states, SADC and other implementing partners that, when they report on water and sanitation, their presentations are disaggregated into male and female statistics in appropriate circumstances. 

LT: SADC member states were hit by a severe El Nino-induced drought leaving millions of people vulnerable, not only in water, but agriculture and economic sectors. Is there any strategy in place to respond to future natural disasters like drought? 

Ramoeli: It very true the last rainy season was tough for the region, and we are currently facing a very serious drought. In response to this, and at the behest of the chairperson of SADC (Botswana President Ian Khama), a high level workshop of ministers responsible for water and energy was convened in Gaborone, Botswana in June 2016. Some of the recommendations from the workshop and the subsequent commitments of the respective ministers was to develop strategies and programmes that will make the SADC region more resilient and better prepared to handle these extreme events. As you may be aware, the region is characterised by acute variability and change in the water sector in both time and space. Droughts are often followed by extreme floods, hence the need to manage these two extremes comprehensively. This is especially important with the advent of climate change and variability which has served to increase the uncertainty in the prediction and forecasting of these events.

LT: What measures have been put in place to address issues of sanitation with regards to people who are physically-challenged in the region? Is there any policy being used in Africa in general and SADC in particular to respond to the needs of the physically-challenged? 

Ramoeli: At the SADC level, and through the various policies that member states have adopted, there are specific provisions to accommodate the needs of vulnerable and physically-challenged people, especially with regards to sanitation which is also seen as a component of human dignity. Some of the strategies developed in the Regional Water Supply and Sanitation Programme revolve around appropriate technologies and innovations to make sure there is equitable benefits and full participation by all in the area of sanitation. What remains, and will need a lot of effort from all concerned, is to ensure these are implemented fully.

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