Countdown to Kigali

Lake Kivu © Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB)

The 2023 IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition is approaching fast and will help advance options for low- and middle-income countries. Erika Yarrow-Soden previews the event.

The forthcoming IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition, taking place in Kigali, Rwanda, on 10-14 December 2023, is set to serve as an exceptional platform for knowledge exchange, collaboration and innovation, catering for the specific needs of low- and middle-income countries.

Organised in collaboration with Rwanda’s Ministry of Infrastructure and the Water & Sanitation Corporation (WASAC), with the support of the Rwanda Convention Bureau, it is being held under the theme of ‘Water, sanitation, and climate resilience – keys to a water-wise future’. The event will take place at the Kigali Convention Centre, a landmark venue in the capital, renowned for its excellent facilities and capacity to accommodate international conferences and exhibitions. It will bring together water and development professionals, experts, researchers, and stakeholders from around the world, to explore innovative advancements and solutions to the global water crisis.

“The Water and Development Congress & Exhibition is significant, particularly for low- and middle-income countries, which struggle with water scarcity,” says Osward Chanda, one of the members of the Programme Committee that has been responsible for preparing the event, and director of the Water Development and Sanitation Department of the African Development Bank. “The event congregates a diverse pool of water and sanitation experts, practitioners and entrepreneurs, providing an opportunity to examine challenges, share success stories, discuss the latest technologies to address climate change, and build partnerships. The event will also highlight evolving policy, governance and financing mechanisms for international development.”

Caroline Delaire is another Programme Committee member, and director of research and programmes at Aquaya in France. She adds: “I can’t wait for service providers and researchers to get together and discuss practical strategies to improve water and sanitation services among the poorest Innovation combined with pragmatism is what we need to make these services universal and equitable.”

The Congress targets the very real and pressing needs of low- and middle-income countries in the run-up to the 2030 deadline of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This year’s UN World Water Development Report 2023 highlighted the breadth of the task ahead. It reported that 26% of the world’s population (two billion people) do not have access to safely managed drinking water and 46% (3.6 billion people) lack access to safely managed sanitation. Addressing the actions required to progress SDG 6 in Sub-Saharan Africa, it stated: “Developing water infrastructure, harnessing groundwater resources, addressing climate change effects, and investing in science and technology are all needed to drive sustainable water security.”

Adding to this daunting picture, the UN Mid-term Review of the Water Action Decade found that because of an increase in population, development leading to increased demands on resources, and the impacts of climate change, 418 million people in Africa lack basic drinking water services, 779 million people lack basic sanitation services, and 839 million people still lack basic hygiene services.

A programme for progress

The focus of the Congress is on solutions and emerging options. The traditional solutions to water and sanitation, that are often infrastructure heavy, may not be the best options for meeting SDG 6 in low- and middle-income countries. This shouldn’t be seen as a negative. The challenge of the 2030 deadline provides an opportunity to innovate and find novel, aspirational solutions with built-in climate resilience.

A diverse programme for what will be the 7th edition of the Congress will create an environment to facilitate cooperation, stimulate research, innovation and science, and provide a space for open debate between a breadth of stakeholders.

At the heart of the event is the technical programme, featuring more than 150 platform presentations. The themes span drinking water, wastewater, integrated water management, utilities, and governance and finance. Almost 40 diverse sessions will cover topics from digital solutions for drinking water to securing inclusivity in urban sanitation, and from climate resilience and water security to policy and practice options for service delivery improvement.

The technical programme also includes more than 30 workshops across the event themes. These will cover diverse topics, such as looking beyond networked services, the impact of climate on sanitation, and equity and efficiency in utility operations staged, in many cases, with the input of organisations such as the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Alongside the technical programme, there is a suite of dedicated forums and special events. These key programme features provide opportunities to convene and work towards progress on specific areas.

Prominent among these will be a High-Level Summit. This will capitalise on the synergy between the input of local and regional leadership and experience on the one hand, and IWA’s capacity to convene globally authoritative expertise on the other. Drawing in key themes such as financing and climate, it is expected that this will look in particular at building momentum for progress on sanitation.

Given the great deficit in access and the diversity of emerging technologies, there are huge opportunities for innovation in the sector, especially with sanitation. For this reason, there will also be a special day-long event dedicated to unlocking progress with emerging technologies. This aims to bring together innovators, government, utilities, city managers and practitioners to explore the innovation landscape. Visitors to the Congress will also be able to learn first-hand about new technologies with particular relevance to Africa at a dedicated innovation showcase. This will feature innovators and innovations selected from an open call, and will be staged in the exhibition area throughout the Congress.

Kigali will see the return of several regular important Congress features. The Utility Leaders Forum will provide an opportunity for those tasked with managing utilities to exchange views, network and, in particular, to access the insights of prominent water utility leaders. The International Water Regulators Forum (IWRF), now reaching its 8th edition, is the international meeting of the global network of regulators of IWA. Gathering high-level representatives of regulatory authorities and officials of agencies with regulatory and supervisory functions over the provision of water, sanitation, and wastewater treatment services, this edition will run under the theme of contextualising water and sanitation regulation in different settings. Meanwhile, the IWA Emerging Water Leaders Forum, in what will be its 5th edition, will focus on empowering Young Water Professionals to champion the course for a water- and climate-resilient future.

Marcelo Kenji Miki is another Programme Committee member, and engineer at the Department for the Implementation of Research, Projects Development and Innovation at utility SABESP in Brazil. “The Water and Development Congress & Exhibition will be a fantastic opportunity to make progress on water and sanitation in low- and middle- income countries,” he says. “Lots of investments are being channelled towards water and sanitation infrastructure in the Global South, so it’s necessary to focus on reliable technologies, good policies, and efficient management. The Water and Development Congress in December will be an excellent place to gain relevant knowledge and experience.”

A fitting location

As a country, Rwanda provides a fitting location for the Congress. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and so highlights the challenges that population, climate change and industry (tourism in particular) mean for the delivery of SDG 6. These are challenges that are shared with many other low- and middle-income countries, so Rwanda provides a very relevant choice of destination for collaborative discourse and knowledge sharing on these subjects.

The destination is also highly appropriate from a sector perspective. Early in 2021, the 40,000m3/day Kanzenze water treatment plant came into service as the central element of the Kigali Bulk Water Supply Project. This plant was constructed and is operated under a public-private partnership contract with a fully owned subsidiary of Metito. This was heralded as the continent’s first large-scale independent water producer project.

Alongside this, utility WASAC has been progressing the Kigali Water Project to extend and improve water supply services in Kigali City and neighbouring peri-urban areas. The city is home to more than a million people and, before this project was completed, only 30% of households were connected to Kigali’s mains water network. Implemented by WASAC and begun in 2019 with a loan from the African Development Bank, the project has required the construction, rehabilitation, and extension of more than 600 km of water network.

According to a WASAC spokesperson, before the project’s implementation it was not unusual for some parts of the city to face water shortages for up to four consecutive days. Now a regular, sustainable, water supply has been achieved. To improve network efficiency, old pipes have been replaced to reduce non-revenue water. Small distribution pipes have also been replaced. Storage capacity has been increased in highly populated areas, and networks have been extended. As part of this project to increase capacity, seven pumping stations were installed and 47 reservoirs built, increasing storage to 86,250 m3.

The network sources water from the Kanzenze water treatment plant, with 30,000 m3 of the 40,000 m3 per day supply capacity supplied to Kigali and the remaining 10,000 m3 supplied to the nearby Bugesera District.

As a result of this project, now nearly 400,000 people have access to clean water in areas that had previously experienced water rationing, temporary suspensions of water supply or no water connection. The project replaced 21,000 old water meters with new ones and 1400 vulnerable households were provided with water connections free of charge.

There will be many lessons from this project that will be relevant to other locations and the Congress will provide an important opportunity for these to be shared.

“Countries in the Global South are at different stages of development, with some currently facing severe water crises,” says Min Yang, Programme Committee member and Distinguished Fellow at the National Engineering Research Center of Industrial Wastewater Detoxication and Resource Recovery in China. “The IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition offers a platform for countries in the Global South to engage in mutual learning and exchange. The wealth of their first-hand experiences and lessons learned can ignite sparks of inspiration and serve as seeds for innovation in other nations. I look forward to a successful event that will foster greater consensus on water-related issues, generate actionable plans, and create abundant opportunities forÊcollaboration.”

Tourism rooted in conservation

While the direct water sector work in Kigali is testament to the ambitions of Rwanda, it is notable too that the country has a thriving tourism sector. This is based on its stunning landscape, access to the African Great Lakes, and conservation projects that attract visitors in the hope of viewing native mountain gorillas and white rhinos that have been successfully translocated to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park and begun breeding.

As a location, Rwanda brings cognisance of the challenges to development and experience of responding to the pressures of urban development, and population and economic growth. Its natural environment plays an important part in its economy, so requiring policies that support sustainable development. These things come together to make Rwanda the ideal place to start a conversation about sustainable, smart, resilient water management. It will also provide the perfect opportunity to take some time out to take in the country’s beautiful landscape and enjoy its incredible diversity. •

More information

Registration is open for the IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition. To secure your place at this influential global event and to find out more, visit the official website: