OECD Water Days - Water Governance in African Cities, 24 March 2021


Remarks by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 24 March 2021

Excellencies, Dear Friends of Water,

I am delighted to open this Session on Water Governance in African Cities as part of this inaugural week of OECD Water Days. Three years ago, when I received the King Hassan II Great World Water Prize at the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia, I pledged to raise global awareness on Africa’s water challenges. And this pledge is more important today than ever before.

COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of water security. In Africa, as around the world, the virus has exacted a heavy toll on livelihoods and lives – with over 100,000 deaths across the continent. But simple measures, such as hand washing, can go a long way in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Even before the pandemic, in African cities, 56% of the urban population living in informal settlements relied on shared toilets and public water points for basic handwashing; 40% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa lacked basic access to water supply; and 70% lacked access to basic sanitation. This is simply unsustainable for the protection and promotion of sound public health. In addition, it is women who are mainly responsible for fetching water, often walking long distances, which puts them at risk of sexual harassment and assault.

Access to clean water can save lives. Every hour, 115 people in African urban areas die from diseases related to improper hygiene, poor sanitation or contaminated water. If no action is taken to advance SDG 6 on “Clean water and sanitation for all”, 160 million Africans living in urban areas will have constant water shortages by 2050.

Our 15 years of developing better water policies at the OECD shows us that saving money on water security is a false economy. Not just in lost lives, lost human capital and higher health costs, but through preventable mitigation costs to manage floods, droughts and pollution.

Investments in water security and economic growth are interlinked. There are feedback cycles between vulnerability and exposure to water risks, and water-related limits to economic growth.

Our past work in OECD countries, and throughout the globe, has taught us that no country should take its levels of water security for granted. Today, we add three additional outcomes to that stock of knowledge and evidence. This is the result of an excellent collaboration with key partners who have joined us in our endeavours.

First, our report on Water Governance in Cape Town, which highlights how the city managed to avoid turning off its taps and reaching Day Zero in 2018. It took action to address shortcomings in planning, decision-making and a heavy reliance on grey infrastructure.

Our recommendations call for strengthening integrated basin governance; advancing the water allocation reform; collecting, generating and sharing accurate data for informed decision-making; improving the financial sustainability of utilities; strengthening capacity at all levels, and minimising corruption and political interference.

Second, our report on Water Governance in African Cities – produced in collaboration with UCLG Africa – assesses 36 African cities against the OECD Principles on Water Governance. It emphasises the critical role of cities in improving local water governance, not only to secure universal access to drinking water and sanitation, but also to manage floods, droughts and pollution. And I wish to thank all Mayors with us today for “opening their books” and sharing key challenges and best practices with us.

And third, the planned launch of a Roundtable of African Mayors for Water Security’ at the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar, in March 2022. I am happy to invite all African mayors to join us as a signal of their political commitment.

As shown by the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative – which the Mayor of Dakar has just joined – Mayors have a significant role to play in tackling inequalities and improving well-being. And water and sanitation are key levers to get there. Cities oversee critical policies and investments related to land use, solid waste, infrastructure and environmental amenities. All essential levers to drive water security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am proud of what we have achieved over the last three years. Championing the importance of water, the necessity to protect and preserve it, and understanding that without it, none of us can thrive. We can do more if we are united, and if we are bold.

Thank you.


Related Documents


Annual report
Discover the
Read our
annual report