The Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS) in collaboration with START International, in partnership with the Sustainable Water Future Program held a two-day expert consultation workshop on Water and Higher Education in Africa. The meeting which took place from 8-9 August 2019 at the Tomreik Hotel in East Legon was to explore the needs, priorities and opportunities to advance innovative learning approaches for 21st century water security challenges in Africa.
The highly participatory meeting focused on the elements of higher education and post-academic qualifications and trainings that advance capacities for addressing water security and water safety in the context of the SDGs, and how Africa and the African narrative can contribute towards setting the post-SDG capacity needs for water security. Specifically, the meeting sought to identify;
- Areas of progress as well as existing and emerging gaps in data, skills, and knowledge related to water, in the context of the SDGs including the current and future workforces needed to address water challenges
- Promising initiatives and approaches in higher education, and professional learning and training that could be applicable to capacity development in the area of water security
- New approaches to capacity development for addressing water challenges.
- Areas for potential collaboration.
Prof. Chris Gordon (IESS) in his opening address noted that the meeting was to strategise the way forward for addressing water security issues which is equally important as food security. He added that the consultations provide the needed opportunity to create the African narrative and agenda, thereby amplifying the African voice in major assessments such as IPCC Reports, GEO6 Reports and SDG discussions, noting that Africa has a lot of great scientists and needed to be seen contributing to such global discussions. While lamenting the existing ‘silo’ approach as the key obstacle to water resources management in Africa, he was quick to add that the expert consultations was a timely as it speaks to future professional training needs in line with efforts towards the achievement of agenda 2030. He emphasised the need to adopt a holistic and comprehensive ecosystem approach to looking at the issues of water security including governance, biophysical, socio-economic and environmental issues.
Jon Padgham, Director of Partnerships (START) on the other hand indicated that the agenda 2030 water initiative of the SDGs was to address complex water issues in Africa and a significant step involves the integration into curricula. The meeting therefore was to convene experts around Africa to talk about the challenges and explore efforts at developing capacity for the water system by focusing on value addition, especially at the regional level for capacity development.
A needs assessment of existing mindsets, skills, and knowledge and attitudes to understand the gaps, needs and challenges in the water sector identified the following as critical basis for the development of a higher education curricula:
- Appropriate and sustainable approaches to achieve water security
- Smart Water infrastructure
- Integrated and continuous learning
- Communication that advances water security
Changes in Knowledge, Skills and Mind-sets needed to enhance holistic socio-economic, environmental and multi-stakeholder efforts at tackling water security issues in Africa
Principles, approaches, methodology, key concepts, audiences, envisaged outcomes and anticipated obstacles were also identified as the main elements to be included in the curricula. For appropriate and sustainable approaches to achieving water security, it was agreed that the higher education curricula should include key concepts such as Water Demand Management, Socio-economic water valuation, Use-based Water Quality assessment, Demand driven research as well as the Integration of Indigenous knowledge and skills into policy. The curricula was to be guided by the following overarching principles:
- Transformative, for producers, deliverers and recipients of information on water security.
- Flexible - approach for addressing various stakeholders, priority, context, etc.
- Innovative - new methodology and approaches)
- Inclusive - engaging all social groups/sectors
- Integrative - across all disciplines
- Valuing - indigenous knowledge
- Ethical- respect for all
- Partnership/collaboration/ agency
- Advocacy- bringing out various perspective
- Accountability/Auditing/ Responsibility- external evaluation and monitoring
- Appropriate for sociocultural, ecological etc. for sustainability
- Demand driven- applicability
- Responsive to global, regional, national and local agenda
The meeting was attended by participants from African University Networks, water researchers within universities, regional centers working on SDGs, representatives of youth water network, Ghanaian NGOs, Ministries, Departments and Agencies working on water, and the Accra offices of international funders and multilateral organizations such as UNESCO.
Background to the Expert Consultations
The complexities of water security challenges require integrated responses, as reflected by the unique, cross-cutting role of water in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Africa. The international attention on Africa as related to the SDGs, to climate change (e.g., Paris Climate Agreement), and other global sustainability efforts, potentially creates an opening to expand existing, and develop new, approaches to capacity development on water security.
The ideas, perspectives and expertise within Africa are critical in providing important resource for designing a collective and impactful effort towards addressing the water security related challenges. In line with this recognition, the hosts of the two-day meeting (University of Ghana, START and the Sustainable Water Future Programme) in early 2019 began discussions, with the consultative meeting as the first step of the process leading to the development of a collaborative effort to advance capacities for addressing water security challenges in Africa.