Working Together on Water is Key to a Healthier Africa

Alice Ruhweza, Regional Director, World Wide Fund for Nature — Africa; and Francis Musinguzi, Regional Director, — Africa

Both World Water Day and World health Day 2021 is a good moment to pause and reflect on the changes that have swept our world over the past year. At that time, COVID-19 had only just been declared a global pandemic and few could have accurately predicted the comprehensive impact that the virus would have upon our global community and our global economy.

Chuma Wamunima with Namangolwa Mubiyana from Wada village fishing camp on the Barotse floodplain in Zambia, washing clothes and putting out a net in the river, respectively. Photo: WWF

In searching for the silver lining amongst the clouds, we can say with certainty that more people understand the connection between water, health and the economy than before. We can drill deeper and add that the connection between human health and landscape health is also more readily apparent than it was to a larger group of people. While the cost of this knowledge has been high, there is no going back to a pre-COVID status quo. Our new normal moving forward is with our collective eyes opened to the integrated nature of people and ecosystems, and not just for Health’s sake. Our global and local economies depend upon it.

With that lens, WWF and are pleased to share that we are joining hands with each other as well as with WaterAid, IRC-WASH and CARE to bring a One Health pillar to WWF’s Blue Heart of Africa Initiative. The Blue Heart of Africa seeks to ensure that Africa’s freshwater resources are effectively managed and conserved to sustain locally and globally important ecosystems, biodiversity and provide a foundation for sustainable development and secure livelihoods. Under One Health, WWF’s conservation expertise will unite with leaders in the water and sanitation (WASH) sector to co-develop comprehensive strategies and programmes in selected priority landscapes based upon the premise that human health is symbiotic with — not distinct from — ecosystem health.

We’re excited by what this partnership represents: leaders in distinct fields coming together to generate solutions that tackle the whole puzzle simultaneously, not small pieces of it. Moreover, the organizations coming together have distinct but complementary expertise. This allows each of us to do what we do best and eliminates the “Jack of all trades, Master of none” approach that we see so often when a well-meaning development actor tries to be all things.

To be fair, the ‘one-stop shop’ approach has advantages: collaboration across multiple actors is not always easy. Compromise is often required, and it can feel like overall progress is stalled while all parties come to agreement. But we are convinced that the results will be better in service to our shared goals of One Health, and we believe it is this kind of model that will accelerate Africa’s progress towards its Sustainable Development Goal commitments as well as achieving the 2025 Africa Water Vision.

The clock is ticking. Integrated actions are needed now to ensure Africa’s sustainable water future — before climate change and rapid urbanization and potentially another global pandemic combine to make the situation untenable. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go far, go together.” We’re doing just that and invite you to share the journey.