New financing model to tackle water and sanitation challenges in Sierra Leone

Kingsley Ighobor: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 February 2021:

Isatu Sesay, a resident of Kissy Brook in eastern Freetown, Sierra Leone, buys water daily from young men in the community who hawk five-gallon water jugs loaded on flatbed pushcarts. “We pay Le500 [USD .50 cents] for each five gallons of water,” Ms. Sesay, a mother, told Africa Renewal. “Sometimes, we try to store water during the rainy season, and that lasts a little while.”

Acute water shortage in many communities in Freetown is commonplace, often leading to worsening health and sanitation.

Less than half of Freetown’s 1 million population have access to pipe-borne water supplied by the Guma Valley Water Company, which is controlled by the central government.

The Freetown City Council (FCC)’s Transform Freetown Agenda—an ambitious development undertaking to tackle the city’s socio-economic and environmental challenges—has at its core improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

If you don’t have access to drinking water, to sanitation, then it’s difficult for an economy to develop.

(Photo: Christel Alvergne – UNCDF’s Regional Coordinator for Western and Central Africa)

The city’s goal is to provide affordable and sustainable water for at least 75 per cent of the population and ensure the safe collection and management of some 60 per cent of solid and liquid waste.

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), which makes public and private finance work for the poor, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which coordinates international development for the Swiss government, are supporting the FCC’s WASH projects.

In December 2020, they joined the FCC to launch the Freetown/Blue Peace Initiative, which will deliver 40 water kiosks and 25 public toilets and support efforts at managing waste for the one million inhabitants of the city.

The projects will be constructed at water sources, such as boreholes and springs, and at strategic locations, such as markets and peripheral health units.

The Freetown/Blue Peace Initiative is the first fruit of the Blue Peace Finance Initiative, an innovative financing model for WASH projects co-created by the UNCDF and the SDC.

Using the same financing model, they hope to support WASH projects in other least developed countries, says Christel Alvergne, UNCDF’s Regional Coordinator for Western and Central Africa, in an interview with Africa Renewal.

The model consists of a new financial market and blends public and private sector funds to finance WASH projects.

A successfully implemented project will include not just repayments of project loans, which could then unlock capital for WASH projects in other municipalities, but also financial responsibility of beneficiaries as well as the sound management of the projects.

The city’s goal is to provide affordable and sustainable water for at least 75 per cent of the population. Photo: UNCDF

Ms. Alvergne talks about a “change of mindset” in project financing in LDCs. “[Previously] we spent many years on a programme-based approach: a UN entity mobilizes resources, develops and implements a programme, and at the end conducts an evaluation. And then we move on to the next programme.”

This time, she emphasizes, “It’s a very different conversation we are having with the local authorities.”

“It’s looking at what they need and to make them responsible for the commitment to not only implement a project, but to jointly mobilize resources and to be responsible for reimbursing those resources.”

She says that, “It creates a win-win for us and for them.”

The model relies on cascading levels of collaboration. For the Freetown/Blue Peace Initiative, for example, the UNCDF and SDC, with the support of the Geneva Water Hub, are partnering with the FCC.

Within Freetown, the FCC is coordinating with the Guma Valley Water Company—in other words, the central government.

Also, to ensure ownership and sustainability, beneficiary communities are expected to assist in project management, even as the international partners provide technical support and a sustainable management mechanism.

The Freetown/Blue Peace Initiative seamlessly unites “actors from the international, national and local levels,” said Simon Zbinden, SDC’s Head of Global Programme Water, after its launch last December.

In general, with climate change exacerbating the situation, global advocacy for sustainable management of water resources is gaining momentum.

The World Health Organization reports that by 2025, half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas. Also, it notes, “22 per cent of health care facilities [globally] lack water service, 21 per cent no sanitation service, and 22 percent no waste management service.”

“If you don’t have access to drinking water, to sanitation, then it’s difficult for an economy to develop,” maintains Ms. Alvergne.

The success of projects under the Blue Peace Financing Initiative hinges, in part, on the effective coordination between local and foreign partners.

Ms. Alvergne says, “The municipalities are more open than the national governments in the sense that, in Freetown, for instance, we have a Mayor who has the political will to change the water situation of the population.”

Ms. Alvergne says COVID-19 restricted travel for face-to-face meetings, but that, “The reason we chose Freetown [as a pilot] is primarily because of the determination of the Mayor to get something done.”

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr described the UNCDF team working on the project led by Ms. Alvergne and the SDC as “outside-the-box thinkers and challenge overcomers.”

There is a desire to have a good balance between affordability and sustainability, which would delight Ms. Sesay and others who spend so much money buying water.

“We also want to make sure that it is affordable,” Ms. Alvergne says.

The UNCDF and SDC have begun providing technical support to the Organization for the Development of the Gambia River in developing the Gambia River Basin, which links four countries—the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal.

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