Decentralization: a sensible solution to water shortages in Africa?

Published on 15/05/2023 | La rédaction

In a report on water stress in North Africa and the Middle East, the World Bank calls for a new approach to water management. The response to the water crisis requires "bold reforms", including the decentralization of water management to local authorities.

Several countries on the African continent are affected by water shortages. But the phenomenon has worsened in recent years in North Africa, known for its arid and desert climate. And expert forecasts reinforce the concern of North Africans for the coming years. In its report Economic Aspects of Water Scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa: Institutional Solutions, published a few days ago, the World Bank estimates that by the end of this decade, the amount of water available will fall below the absolute threshold of shortage, set at 500m3 per person per year.

The report states that an additional 25 billionm3 of water will be needed annually to meet the needs of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by 2050. This situation requires rapid responses, including investments in non-conventional water resources such as seawater desalination. At least 65 desalination plants the size of Ras Al Khair would have to be built. Considered the largest seawater desalination plant in the world, the facility located in Saudi Arabia has a capacity of more than one millionm3 per day.

Financing desalination

But this solution requires investments that some countries are still struggling to mobilize despite the opening of desalination to public-private partnerships (PPP) in some countries like Egypt. To maximize opportunities for access to climate finance and global financial markets, the report says governments in the Mena region will need to build institutions capable of convincing "these markets that countries will be able to generate revenues to service their debt.

In addition to exploiting unconventional water resources, the report also calls for greater delegation of power to local authorities in water management as part of a national strategy. The institutions that currently manage the allocation of water between competing uses (particularly for agriculture and in cities) are often highly centralized and technocratic.This limits their ability to make trade-offs for water use at the local level," the report says.

Empowering water utilities

According to the World Bank, such reform could legitimize difficult decisions, including restrictions, as opposed to directives imposed by "ministries far removed from the field." "Giving water utilities more autonomy to get closer to their customers and inform them of price changes could also increase acceptance and accountability of the water sector.Giving greater autonomy to water utilities to get closer to their customers and inform them of price changes could also increase acceptance of and compliance with tariff structures, thereby reducing the risk of public unrest and protests over water," said Roberta Gatti, the World Bank's chief economist for the Mena region, who attended the presentation of the new report in Rabat, Morocco.

The Cherifian Kingdom has already opted for the decentralization of some basic public services such as water, electricity and waste. The Rabat-Salé-Témara region, for example, has chosen to delegate the management of its public drinking water service to Redal, a subsidiary of the French group Veolia. For its part, the Greater Casablanca region has entrusted this service to Lydec, now a subsidiary of Veolia, after belonging to the French group Suez until January 2022.


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