Long lasting change is about good governance and … On World Water Day, the minister of water resources in Sierra Leone shares his thoughts on meeting ambitious targets

As the newly appointed minister of water resources in Sierra Leone, I am acutely aware that we are at the start of a long journey towards achieving our national policy targets for water and sanitation (pdf). The policy contains the ambitious targets of extending national water supply and sanitation coverage to 74% and 66% respectively.

This represents a significant increase in the annual rate of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) service delivery. The policy also has laudable ambitions to ensure sound stewardship of national water resources, as well as strengthening government institutions to perform more effectively. For a new ministry, the burning questions are where should we focus our attention and what are our priorities? On the important issue of water resources management (WRM), this means we should focus on the four fundamental basic steps.

This is important because there is limited national capacity – in terms of expertise, finances and material resources. First, we cannot manage water resources if we neglect to monitor some important hydrological parameters, such as rainfall, groundwater and surface water levels, water abstraction and changes in land use. Second, raw data collection and the results of our analysis need to inform water resources management practices. This requires effective rules and regulations to be in place, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities across multiple organizations and at various levels. Next, we need to ensure continued improvements in the water supply infrastructure, with an emphasis on keeping water supply services working.

Finally, we need a holistic approach that recognizes the other health and economic benefits that come from sound stewardship of water and land resources. Though these four actions are fundamental and rudimentary, there are many interrelated reasons why the achievement of sound water resources management poses such a challenge for fragile states such as Sierra Leone. Countries like ours, for example, are often presented with a “one size fits all” blueprint for water-resources management that fails to recognize national capacity. This can inadvertently lead to inactivity because generic Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approaches can be overwhelming for government staff.

The project being undertaken in Sierra Leone – a three-year programme supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) – involves several local stakeholders who all have different concerns about quantity and quality of water resources as the basis for supply, or as the recipient of discharges. The most challenging discussions will be had within the Rokel-Seli river catchments, either upstream or downstream of the Bumbuna dam. As a result, we have decided to focus the project initially in this area. The Rokel-Seli catchment represents a microcosm of Sierra Leone’s water resources management issues, and a localized approach ensures that government institutions are not overwhelmed.

The project also aims to establish effective water resource monitoring and data collection as a basis for decision-making. To do this, we are setting up institutional arrangements for data collection, storage and publication; and for dialogue and decision-making among stakeholders with a wide range of diverse interests in water security. Despite growing recognition of the impact of climate change on WRM, it remains another important challenge that needs to be addressed at the local and national level, if the project is to be effective and have a long-lasting impact. Policymakers and water sector professionals need to better acknowledge the potential for monitoring and managing water resources at a local or community level. In particular, traditional water management practices need to be recognized and used as a foundation for the development of future water management strategies. This new way of working, I believe, will lead us on a progressive and deliberate shift away from the shortcomings of the past.

Three main principles guide this change process: The first is the promotion and establishment of hydrological monitoring and a repository for analyzed data. Water resources cannot be managed if they are not monitored. The second is the development of WRM activities at the local level that are practical in nature and strengthen national capacity in an incremental manner. Third is the enforcement of new water resources legislation. And progress has been good: fieldwork accomplished so far has seen the establishment of groundwater monitoring, the installation of rain gauges, with roles and responsibilities for water resources monitoring and management being clearly defined.

A new water resources bill has also been drafted following widespread national consultation. It is difficult to predict future impacts on water resources, but I have little doubt that we must focus on these priority areas and continue to work hard to increase the capacity of government institutions to manage water resources at trans-boundary, national and local levels. In this regard we are grateful for DfID’s technical, institutional and financial support. It lays the foundations for establishing water resource management activities in Sierra Leone. It will assist in enacting national water resources legislation, as well as supporting the creation of a WRM agency with regulatory functions.

It is intended to offer education and guidance to stakeholders whose activities impact on surface water and groundwater resources. Furthermore, it recognizes that national ownership lays the foundations for strong and clear leadership. Collaboration and co-operation with DfID and our other development partners is vitally important, but getting meaningful and long-lasting change is about good governance and national ownership. I am committed to seeing that through towards the achievement of our national water and sanitation policy targets.(Momodu Maligi is minister of water resources for the government of Sierra Leone)

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