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Archive for May 18th, 2013

Repeating past failures

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2013

The Congolese government will today announce plans to move forward with the Grand Inga Dam at a conference in Paris. World Bank President Jim Kim is expected to support the return to mega-dam projects in Africa during his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda on May 21-24. The proposed dam on the Congo River – which would be the largest hydropower project ever undertaken – will figure prominently on the agenda of his trip. NGOs warn that with such projects, donors are about to repeat the grandiose failure of past mega-dams. 

International financiers have invested billions of dollars in the Inga 1 and 2 dams and transmission lines on the Congo River over the past 40 years. The projects produce power primarily for the mining industry, while only 6-9% of the country’s population has access to electricity. The new dams proposed for the Congo River are again designed to serve the mining industry and export markets in South Africa, and would bypass the rural poor in the DRC.

“If the World Bank and other donors plunge back into large hydropower in Africa, the majority of Africa’s poor will remain without power, at a time when better solutions are available,” says Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Program Director of International Rivers.

“Projects such as Inga 1 and 2 have not unleashed economic development, but have been major contributors to African countries’ unsustainable debt burden,” according to a May 15 letter to World Bank President Kim from 19 civil society organizations and networks from Africa, Europe and the United States. “In a period of growing hydrological uncertainty, focusing support on centralized dams will also increase the climate vulnerability of poor countries that are already highly hydro-dependent.”

The International Energy Agency found that grid-based electrification – including through large hydropower projects – is not cost-effective for much of rural Sub-Saharan Africa because of the continent’s low population density. Decentralized renewable energy solutions such as wind, solar and micro-hydropower projects are more effective at reaching the rural poor. According to the civil society letter, “distributed renewable energy solutions would provide the triple benefits of increasing energy access, strengthening climate resilience and protecting the environment.”

“We hope that Jim Kim’s Presidency will be associated with a break-through of energy solutions that reduce poverty, address climate change and protect the environment, rather than a return to the failed mega-projects of the past,” says Sanyanga.

The Bank announced its intention to return to funding mega-dams in Africa – including Inga on the Congo and also Batoka Gorge and Mphanda Nkuwa dams on the Zambezi – in a report for the IDA 17 negotiations and a recent media story. The governments of the DRC and South Africa will announce their plans to move forward with the Inga dams in Paris on May 18.



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In 2001 just 73,000 Burkinabés could access clean water, according to research by Peter Newborne at the Overseas Development Institute,

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2013

OUAGADOUGOU,  – Earlier this year Denis Ouedraogo, a tailor living in the Tampouy neighbourhood just north of Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, connected his mud-walled home to the water network for the first time. “Even without electricity, having enough water can make you happy,” he said.

He is among 1.9 million people to have connected to the government water grid since 2001, thanks to major changes in how the National Office for Water and Sanitation (ONEA) delivers water to urban Burkinabés.

In 2001 just 73,000 Burkinabés could access clean water, according to research by Peter Newborne at the Overseas Development Institute, which is trying to track and communicate examples of progress on development.

In 2002 just half of Burkina Faso residents had access to clean water. In 2008 (the latest statistics available) this had risen to 76 percent – 95 percent in urban areas. The plan was to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to double the number of those with access to clean water, in this case to 87 percent, by 2015. Those tracking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) progress in Burkina Faso, say the goal will be surpassed.


A number of factors made this possible: ONEA was nationalized and restructured in 1994 following a period in which it had become unprofitable and poorly functioning. The new national company ran along commercial lines, instilling a culture of performance and efficiency, said Newborne.

The second priority was to find a bulk water supply, in this case by building the Ziga dam 45km from the capital.

A mixture of government grant funds (from France and other European donors) and concessionary loans at low interest rates (predominantly from the World Bank), provided the required finances. This helped them bring costs down: for instance, connecting to the grid now costs a household US$61, down from on average $400 in the 1990s, according to ONEA’s chief operating officer, Moumouni Sawadogo.

Next came the work: building a network of pipes throughout Ouagadougou, including in the city’s unzoned [unplanned] suburbs, which house one third of the capital’s residents and had hitherto been overlooked in terms of household water supply.

“Even in non-zoned areas, people can pay their water bills,” said Halidou Kouanda, head of NGO Wateraid in Burkina Faso, citing a 2011 ONEA study noting that financial recovery rates in unzoned neighbourhoods were 95 percent.

Now, with a steady income and an 18 percent leakage rate, ONEA is one of the best-performing water utility companies in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank.

Targeting the poor

While targeting unzoned areas upped the percentage of urban dwellers who could access clean water (thus helping to meet the MDG), it did not ensure that water was affordable.

Now ONEA needs to try to target the poor, as it pledged to do in an initial equity strategy agreed with the Ministry of Water and Sanitation.

As part of its strategy, ONEA built 17,290 wells and standpipes for some areas without household-level connections. Water from a standpipe costs 60 CFA (11 US cents) for a 220 litre barrel (transported on wheels). But the very poor cannot afford such barrels, turning instead to water vendors who sell the same amount for 200-500 CFA (40-98 cents) depending on the season.

Thus paradoxically, the poorest families pay up to eight times more than others for their water.

ODI is discussing different pro-poor targeting methods that might work, including: subsidizing part of the water supply for certain households; targeting poor areas; allocation by housing type; means-testing; community-based targeting; or self-targeting.

At the moment, all households are charged the same connection tariff. “Is this equitable? We think not,” said Newborne. “You could means-test it; you could waive the connection charge for some; or charge the first X cubic metres at a different rate,” he suggested, adding that lower-income households could pay bills weekly or on a pay-as-you-go basis, to keep track of costs. “Think of how mobile phone companies have fixed their pricing plans to be accessible,” he said. 

The concern is that households who experience running water for the first time may use more than they can afford, then falling behind and drop off the grid, said WaterAid’s Kouanda. This happened to 6.8 percent of Ouagadougou’s ONEA customers in 2009.

Families must be made aware of this risk, said Kouanda. But many customers are so nervous of this happening, that they practice their own careful monitoring.

Ami Sidibé, who lives in Somgandé neighbourhood, which was connected to the water mains three months ago, said she continues to fill jerry cans – using tap water – to monitor her household’s use. “I’ll do anything to avoid returning to the situation before,” she told IRIN.

Reduced disease risk?

No studies have yet been published linking the spread of the water network with the incidence of disease, but some Somgandé residents who were recently connected to the grid said their children were falling sick less frequently. Water-borne illnesses are among the top five reasons for children’ health visits, according to the Health Ministry.

Future challenges will include how to extend such networks to rural areas, which are currently under-serviced in terms of clean water: 72 percent of rural Burkinabés access clean water, versus 95 percent of city residents.

The local authorities are responsible for rural water supply under Burkina Faso’s decentralized governance system.

According to a just-published report Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water 2013 Update by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, striking disparities remain between rural and urban water access, with rural communities making up 83 percent of the global population without access to an improved water source.

bo/aj/cb source

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Understanding the causes of violent extremism

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2013

DAKAR,  – Academics and government, military and civil society representatives gathered for a conference in the Senegalese capital this week to assess the interplay between development and violent extremism in West Africa, with some participants suggesting that underdevelopment, marginalization and weak governance create a breeding ground for militancy.

While local factors in West African and Sahel countries have contributed to extremist violence, the rise of global jihad in the wake of the US-led “war on terror” since 9/11 has also played a part in spreading radical militancy in the region.”In the Sahel, there is a combination of bad governance, poverty, insecurity as well as several internal and external factors [that contribute to extremist violence],” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, head of the Centre for Security Strategy in the Sahel and the Sahara, at the opening of the 6-10 May Dakar conference.

“The Sahel has provided an ideal ground for extremist violence to take root and spread beyond national borders,” he said.

The region has a history of instability. Since the first post-independence coup in West Africa that toppled Togo’s founding president in 1963, it has seen a string of coups, some of which have sparked civil wars.

West Africa is also one of the world’s most impoverished regions despite its natural resources. Seven West African countries occupy the bottom 10 places in the UN Human Development Index.

Poor political and resource governance have often led to explosions of violence by disgruntled segments of society, and a number of studies have linked bad governance to insecurity in West Africa.

For example, Mali’s Tuareg have been fighting perceived marginalization by the central government and demanded an autonomous homeland in the country’s north. Following the March 2012 coup in the capital Bamako, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad seized towns from government troops in the north, but was soon driven out by militant Islamist groups.

Nigeria‘s increasingly violent Boko Haram militia, which wants an Islamic state, should be seen as a reaction the government’s entrenched corruption, abusive security forces, strife between the disaffected Muslim north and Christian south, and widening regional economic disparity, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Some observers stress the local aspect. Militant Islam in Africa, while linked to broader ideological currents, is mainly driven by the local context, with Islamist groups emerging, evolving and reacting to immediate local concerns, University of Florida’s Terje Ostebo, argued in a November 2012 paper published by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS).

“Supporting development is a long-term approach to undermining drivers associated with violent extremism.”

“The Malian government’s failure to consistently invest [in] and maintain a strong state presence in the north. created an enabling environment for the expansion of Islamic militancy and the escalation of violence in this region,” said Ostebo, an assistant professor at the university’s Centre for African Studies (ACSS) and the Department of Religion.


“Poverty and underdevelopment and a sense of marginalization and exclusion that comes from lack of governance, particularly at the local level, are seen as drivers associated with violent extremism,” Benjamin Nickels, an assistant professor with the ACSS, told IRIN.

“Supporting development is a long-term approach to undermining drivers associated with violent extremism,” he added.

“You do have a number of underlying factors that make certain regions particularly vulnerable to violent extremism and extremist ideologies, and then you have a number of factors that trigger violence. Amongst these factors there is an underlying economic dimension that often gets missed,” said Raymond Gilpin, the ACSS academic dean.

Poverty, unemployment and socioeconomic deprivation partly explain the rise of Islamist movements – violent and non-violent – argued Ostebo.

“There are other factors of extremist violence. However, it is easier for militant groups to recruit unemployed youth who see no future for themselves, than those who are in employment. The more young people are able to be employed the less chances there are that they can be recruited by militant groups,” said Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group.

“Development is part of the measures against extremist violence. But we are already in a situation [in West Africa] where underdevelopment is so deep that reversing it is very difficult,” he told IRIN.

Ould-Abdallah cited other factors such as West Africa’s wide geographical area, weak public institutions and people’s and governments’ loyalty to tribe and clan rather than the nation state as also contributing to crime and extremist violence in the region.

In a bid to end insurgencies, Nigeria and Mali have attempted negotiated settlements, but they have also resorted to the use of force, which is limited in resolving the fundamental causes of rebellion. Repression by governments or external forces can cause Islamist militants to fight for their very existence and at the same time deepen perceptions of state illegitimacy, Ostebo warned.


The French-led intervention in Mali has dislodged the Islamist rebels from their strongholds, but triggered fears that the fleeing militants could destabilize countries in the region from where they hail, target foreign nationals in neighbouring countries and even win the sympathy of other extremist militia.

The January attack on an Algerian gas plant is believed to have been in retaliation for the French military drive in Mali. Nigerian troops heading for Mali as part of an African intervention force came under attack by Boko Haram-linked militants in January.

On 7 May, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posted a video message calling for attacks on all French interests across the world for its intervention in Mali.

Nigeria has teamed up with its neighbours to form a multi-national force to counter Boko Haram.

“The priority for Sahel right now is to help resolve the Mali crisis. After Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, West Africa does not need another protracted crisis,” said Ould-Abdallah.

ob/cb source

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