World Water Day 2023: How WaterAid is accelerating the change in East Africa’s water and sanitation crisis

Wednesday March 29 2023
Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole

Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole, the Regional Director for East Africa and Ethiopia at WaterAid.


SDG 6 in EA: Need for increased funding

  • Government’s budgetary allocations to the water sector in EA have been dwindling, less than 10 percent of country annual budgets.
  • £50 million – the estimated investment in water that WaterAid has put in East African countries in five years.

Inclusivity and equity in WASH

“When we design WASH programmes we forget that we need to bring in those who are vulnerable and marginalised, it goes back to women and girls, and those who are living with disabilities. One of the things that we are changing at WaterAid is to see that we are putting women and girls at the center of our interventions,” - Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole, the Regional Director for East Africa and Ethiopia at WaterAid.

WaterAid East Africa

WaterAid has a water and climate campaign that has been running for three years.

Adequate financing, adaptive mechanisms to build resilience in EA’s water sector

OLUTAYO BANKOLE-BOLAWOLE, the Regional Director for East Africa and Ethiopia at WaterAid, shares with special correspondent MILLICENT MWOLOLO the strategies that WaterAid is taking to build resilient water systems in East African countries to accelerate towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) on the universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030.


Can you share some of the successes for WaterAid in East Africa since last year’s World Water Day?

WaterAid has a water and climate campaign that has been running for three years. Last year, it helped to shape what we were asking for from world leaders, governments and donors. It also helped us to take the vital message to the COP27 in Egypt. Water security issues are being heightened more because of climate change.

Between last World Water Day and now, we have launched our global strategy which has one of the focus areas on how we can build resilience against the climate crisis. Across our countries in East Africa, we are contributing to global discussions around how we can put water right in the middle of development, in particular climate change, such that we are able to conserve existing water sources. We are also building the knowledge and the capacity of people to understand how water and climate change interact.

We have done various projects in countries in East Africa. In Ethiopia, we have been able to implement climate resilient WASH programmes. In Uganda, we have been working very closely with the Ministry of Water and Environment, which will see some parts of Uganda having aspects of resilience building and capacity building to enhance water security. We are enhancing action through partnerships with organisations such as Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) in highlighting the water crisis and what we need to do differently.

How do you plan to build on this year's WWD theme “Accelerating Change”?

In the build-up to WWD, WaterAid had a roundtable conference with partners in the WASH sector in East Africa on the theme and shared some recommendations. Players in the water sector need to coordinate efforts with the civil society. For instance, we need to look at SDG 6 where we are and what we need to do differently. Rather than replicating aspects of WASH in several ministries and agencies of government, there should be effective coordination to minimize wastages of limited funds for the WASH sector. Also, the sector needs systems strengthening to build capacities and ensure sustainability of WASH infrastructure and services. We lose out on a lot of skills, especially in government, when human resources are reshuffled to different dockets. We also talked about funding, which has been dwindling over the years and needs to be increased.

WaterAid’s global advocacy priority over the next three to four years is the work around climate and water. We believe that the more we raise our voice and the voices of our partners and those we work closely with, the more we are able to demonstrate that we are in a crisis situation and we need to have those changes really happening as we accelerate towards 2030.

WWD Roundtable Conference in Rwanda

World Water Day Roundtable Conference in Rwanda.

How close is the EAC to achieving SDG 6 by 2030?

I have interacted with all the countries in the EAC, and I can confidently say that the only country that might meet the SDG6, if adequate funding is available, is Rwanda. This is because of the commitment, the drive and the zeal from the government. The other countries have the political will but we do not see that being demonstrated at scale. They are more reactive than proactive. It is when we have water crisis around flooding or drought, that governments appeal for support to manage the emergency. We need to do something deliberate and intentional, planning for long-term water security across East Africa.

One of the things that is impeding the attainment of the SDG6 by 2030 is financing, either from the government or from the donor communities. Secondly, there are lots of new water infrastructure being put on the ground, but nothing is being done to ensure the maintenance of existing infrastructure and the continuity of work. The approach that will make this happen, is not about the reach but how we can deepen the quality of existing infrastructure and gradually expand same.

What is WaterAid EA’s role in championing SDG 6?

In East Africa, we have strengthened and built the capacity of the civil society to advocate and raise issues around water. The more people are aware of what they need to do differently as governments and as donors, then they put in the right resources in that.

Covid-19 impacted so badly, but we intervened in ways that were transformative. We ensured that we put permanent infrastructure on the ground to not only provide water but also included sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in borders across East Africa. The needs of people living with disabilities and women were considered in the design of these projects.

We believe that when we strengthen the entire system, particularly the people who are supposed to do the work properly, there will be sustainability of the infrastructure on the ground. Over the last five years, with the support of partners, we have committed nothing less than £50 million in advancing SDG6 in the region, and have trained practitioners in government on new technology and skills.

What is your call to the East African Community, regional governments, the private sector and development partners towards championing SDG 6?

The challenge to all of us, particularly those who believe they are champions of WASH, is how we package our products to be attractive to the private sector to see that they are able to give back whilst they are making profits. The sector needs to adopt entrepreneurial thinking and help everyone to reach SDG 6.

Donors and governments need to develop an investment plan that factors inflation as well as operation and maintenance of WASH infrastructure increment. If that is not done, then we will still not meet SDG6.

A lot of coordination and communication amongst key players is needed. Development partners need to see how they can come together and synergise resources, evaluate the progress and see how far we are towards attaining SDG 6 and how to accelerate change.

What does the next five (5) years look like for WaterAid EA?

In each country, as much as possible, we want to achieve universal access at subnational level. Covid-19 taught us that there is a lot to be done and that we need to have WASH prioritized and adequately funded. Our second aim focuses on WASH being embedded within the public health system. Our third aim is looking at climate resilient WASH. Climate change strains the WASH system as the more we have infrastructure being destroyed by droughts and floods, the more we keep going back in a loop. If we put adaptive and resilient mechanisms around WASH, we will meet SDG 6.

WASH financing, our fourth aim, touches on what we need to do as WaterAid to create awareness, build consensus, and collaborate with others to put more funding in WASH. In our global strategy and country strategies, and the programming that we have put in place, the plan is to accelerate towards SDG 6. We will need funding for this to happen and how we do that is by creating innovative solutions that will be piloted. This will help us demonstrate what works and can be scaled up. The more governments and donors take up these pilots, the more the funding will be available to make universal access to WASH be a reality.