Africa’s water challenges present opportunities for innovation, private-sector involvement

3rd May 2024

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Water scarcity poses a significant hurdle to Africa’s growth and development, with climate change and deteriorating infrastructure intensifying the challenges.

However, the challenges present opportunities for innovative solutions and private-sector participation, says Frost & Sullivan consultant Hannro Steenekamp, unpacking the scale of Africa’s water challenge and the solutions driving innovation.

With population growth and development projects, the demand for clean water in Africa is set to surge.

He highlights the increase – from 350-million in 2000 to 387-million in 2020 – in the number of people across sub-Saharan Africa who lack access to essential drinking water, which demonstrates the staggering scale of need.

“Moreover, as of October 2022, 226-million people in Eastern and Southern Africa lacked access to essential water services and 381-million lacked basic sanitation.

The challenge is particularly acute in nine key countries, [including Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda,] where 80% of underserved people in the region reside.”

He further highlights one of South Africa’s recent water crises, where about half of the City of Johannesburg’s 5.5-million residents were without water or experienced shortages for weeks, which also serves as a dire warning.

As some residents waited in lines for government water trucks, with the supply frequently running out before reaching everyone, the crisis highlights the urgent need for solutions and the immense opportunity for businesses and innovation to make a difference, Steenekamp says.

“The warnings are clear. Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ crisis in 2018 or Durban’s loss of 35% of its water supply to theft is just a glimpse of the future. South Africa’s looming water crisis, with the potential for complete water depletion by 2030, highlights the importance of urgent action.”

However, these challenges open opportunities and show the vast potential market for those providing water solutions.

“Government limitations in tackling the multifaceted water infrastructure challenges underline the crucial role private-sector investment and innovation can play.”

He outlines decentralised desalination powered by solar energy as a promising solution, particularly in remote or water-stressed communities with access to coastlines or saline aquifers.

“This technology is becoming increasingly crucial for Africa’s water supply mix,” he says, adding that another key opportunity is investing in scalable water technology startups focused on advanced treatment solutions.

“These companies lower costs, reduce energy consumption and prioritise environmental sustainability, making them crucial in addressing water shortages.”

Further, the private sector has an opportunity to invest in maintenance, skills development and partnerships with public institutions to mitigate South Africa’s severe water infrastructure challenges.

“Companies seeking these opportunities should consider bold investments in novel water technologies like desalination and advanced water treatment. Collaborations with research institutions play a vital supporting role,” Steenekamp says.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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