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FEATURE: Youth and innovation – Transforming Africa’s inherent adaptive capacity into action

Paseka Lesolang, Youth, Innovation, Jobs and Industrialisation Coordinator at Global Water Partnership – Africa calls for creative funding models to help Africans’ big ideas on adaptation to take off. This is one of a series of blogs commissioned by CDKN on ‘Accelerating adaptation action in Africa’ to help frame the Africa anchoring event at the Climate Adaptation Summit, 25-26 January 2021.

In May 2019, heavy and prolonged rains during Tanzania’s annual wet season resulted in widespread flooding – disrupting fishing activities, impairing transport networks, destroying crops, increasing the risk of water-bourne diseases, and displacing over 1,200 households.

The events of May 2019 were not an isolated occurrence. Flooding has become an almost annual event in Tanzania. The World Bank estimates that almost 39% of the population of Dar es Salaam, close to 2 million people, have been affected by flooding with lower-income and women-led households shouldering a larger portion of the burden. Affected households lose almost a quarter of their annual expenditure to flood related damage.

Projections are for increased intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall. Together with rising temperatures and more frequent and intense dry spells, Tanzania is the 26th most vulnerable country in the world to climate risks.

One area that will be under increasing stress is water supply. This will affect the country’s agriculture sector, currently employing 80% of Tanzania’s population, the majority in smallholder rain-dependent farms.

A young population that is dealing with climate change

This is what climate change in Africa looks like, and stories similar to the one in Tanzania’s exist for most countries on the continent. Millions of Africans still suffer from water shortages throughout the year, due to the uneven distribution of the resources across the continent compounded by the impact of climate change. The situation stands to deteriorate because by 2030, Africa’s population will reach 1.6 billion, and with this expansion the demand for safe and reliable water resources for social and economic use will increase ten times (African Development Bank estimate). The need to adapt and invest in climate resilient water infrastructure is urgent.

The upside of continent’s rapid population growth is that Africa is a continent of young people with 65% of the population under 35 years of age, and with youth comes opportunity and innovation. As stated in the 2018 Gates’ Foundation Goalkeeepers Report – “Today’s booming youth populations can be good news for the economy; if young people are healthy, educated and productive, there are more people to do the kind of innovative work that stimulates rapid growth.”

Celebrate entrepreneurship with us: the Water ChangeMakers

As Global Water Partnership (GWP) in Africa, we believe that the innovation and determination, which will drive the adaptive capacity we need to meet to present and future challenges of climate change, lie inherent in our continent’s people. That is one of the reasons for the special selection of African Water ChangeMakers to be showcased at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021, during a special session on accelerating adaptive action in Africa.

The African Water ChangeMaker Awards entrants embody bold action and the potential for adaptive capacity on the continent. They have built climate resilience, despite facing massive challenges in the form of limited financial capacity to adapt.

However, what should be key to the conversations at the Accelerating African Adaptation session at CAS2021, is how this innovative capacity can be harnessed and catalysed. In our experience, African entrepreneurship requires a set of support structures.

Creative funding models needed

Lack of finance is the primary obstacle and seed-funding streams for proof-of-concept and early stage project development are the life force of innovative activity in Africa. Equally, creative funding models in the later stages of the project life cycle, such as social impact bonds, are equally important – specifically when it comes to projects focusing on the rectifying the unequal resource allocation endemic to Africa, as these are not as attractive to private financiers.

Mentorship is important, and not only on an advisory basis. The most effective mentorship relationships are those where a transfer of specific skills takes place on an ongoing basis.

African innovators require access to dedicated office spaces and smart technology facilities. These resources enhance morale, focus and most importantly – productivity.

Incubators and start-up labs that provide effective public sector facilitation play a critical role. Impactful scale-up in Africa often requires projects that exist within public systems of service delivery and those systemic implications need to be considered during the design stage of the project.

Finally, a great part of the work of GWP in Africa is focused on project preparation. Lack of preparation is one of the primary reasons African climate-resilient water projects fail to obtain sufficient  funding from global green funds. Facilities that support innovators and project owners in early stage project preparation, and in accessing funding available for early stage project preparation, are key for accelerating adaptive action on our continent.

About the author:

Paseka Lesolang is the Youth, Innovation, Jobs and Industrialisation Coordinator at Global Water Partnership Southern Africa and Africa Coordination Unit. He leads on strategies to involve African youth in water decision making on the continent and is the founder of the South African company Water, Health, Convenience (WHC).

 

Image: credit Oxfam, Ethiopia (flickr.com)

 

 

 

 

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