Access to water, energy key to SADC regional integration

by Kizito Sikuka in Gaborone, Botswana
Availability of adequate water and energy supplies is critical in advancing regional development and integration in southern Africa.

This is the key message of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministerial Workshop on Water and Energy that opened on 20 June in Gaborone.

SADC Chairperson, President Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana said limited access to water and energy has the capacity to render the integration agenda of SADC meaningless, hence the region should collectively work together in addressing challenges facing the two sectors.

According to the SADC Secretariat, access to electricity in the region is estimated at less than 40 percent in most member states, while 60 percent have access to safe drinking water.

“These figures indicate that the SADC region has to muster greater political will in order to improve access to safe water and affordable clean energy,” President Khama said.

He warned that “if the status of the energy and water supply services situation in the region does not improve, the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap could remain a pipe dream.”

For example, improved access to energy and water could reduce transactions costs of doing business in the region, thereby promoting investment, trade and industry growth.

He said SADC has a number of strategic documents, including the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP), that clearly spell out what is needed to improve the water and energy sector.

The challenge, therefore, is for countries to fully implement all agreed regional projects, programmes and activities within the stipulated timeframes so that the benefits of belonging to a regional community are enjoyed by SADC citizens.

“We should endeavour to do more and compel action on the plans that are so well set out and articulated in the regional strategic framework documents,” he said.

The RIDMP Energy Sector Plan, for example, has identified 73 power projects that will increase generation capacity from the current 56,000 megawatts (MW) and ensure that the projected demand of 96,000MW is surpassed by 2027.

The Water Sector Plan likewise contains a total of 34 infrastructure projects aimed at improving access to water in the region.

President Khama said it is equally important for the region to come up with innovative approaches to forge closer collaboration between the water and energy sectors as well as that of agriculture since these are inextricably linked, and any uncoordinated development in one area has the capacity to negatively impact on others.

“It is also important that we broaden our discussions to the existing energy, water and food nexus. Invariably, the interlinkages in the energy, water and food sectors cannot be overemphasised, and require efficient management of demand and supply to ensure proper correlation,” he said.

He said the recent decrease in water availability caused by low rainfall in the 2015/16 agricultural season had an adverse impact on the production of food and energy in southern Africa.

According to a concept paper produced on the SADC Energy and Water Ministers Workshop, declining water levels in Lake Kariba between Zambia and Zimbabwe – one of the main sources of electricity in the SADC region – resulted in low hydropower generation activities as water capacity was only 12 percent as of 1 February compared to the 53 percent recorded at the same time the previous year.

In October 2015, the United Republic of Tanzania was also forced to switch off all its hydropower plants due to low water levels in the country’s dams. As a result of the low water levels, hydro-electricity generation had fallen to 20 percent of capacity, making it difficult for the dams to operate.

Tanzania has since converted some of its hydroelectricity plants to natural gas.

SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said it is time for the region to develop concrete and practical solutions to address water and energy challenges.

“Energy and water play a vital role in regional economic growth, and access to the same has a direct impact on the quality of lives of our people,” she said, adding that the two “are fundamental enablers to economic development, and thus for industrialization, which SADC has frontloaded, a major focus of the region.”

Running under the theme, “Accelerating Energy Delivery and Access to Water Resources in the SADC Region – A Collective Approach,” the SADC Ministerial Workshop on Water and Energy is one of three regional meetings convened by President Khama and aimed at finding innovative ways of managing the competing environmental, social and economic dimensions of development in southern Africa.

A similar meeting on food security and poverty eradication was convened in May, while another one on illegal trade in wildlife is scheduled for July.

The water and energy ministerial workshop is expected to issue an action plan containing various activities aimed at mitigating the impacts of drought on water and energy development.

The action plan will be tabled for consideration at the forthcoming SADC Council of Ministers and Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government in Swaziland in August for adoption.

Various stakeholders, including energy and water ministers, representatives of national energy and water regulators and utilities, International Cooperating Partners, SADC energy and water thematic group members and implementing partners, academia, research institutions and independent power producers, are participating in the meeting.