Rwanda: hosting the dialogue on water and development

With registration now open for IWA’s Water and Development Congress & Exhibition in Kigali, Rwanda, in December, Programme Committee chair Doulaye Kone explains why it offers great opportunities for water and sanitation provision at a critical time. By Erika Yarrow-Soden.

“I’m super excited about this Congress and the fact that it is happening in Rwanda,” says Doulaye Kone, deputy director of the water, sanitation, and hygiene programme at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and chair of the 2023 Water and Development Congress Programme Committee.

Supporting the foundation’s work to help secure access to safe sanitation for the 2.5 billion people currently lacking it, Kone champions disruptive technology that challenges the status quo by reimagining the possibilities for sanitation in developing countries. The foundation aims to sow the seed for a new, innovative and equitable sanitation industry.

Looking towards the Congress, Kone continues: “I think there are many aspects of progress in water and sanitation services that we can showcase. There has been tremendous progress in the past decade on water services in Africa, but sanitation is lagging behind. Everyone is looking for the best way to deliver solutions at scale.

“In Rwanda, we will explore how policymakers are driving improvements, and provide an environment where delegates can learn from the experiences of others around the world.

“When I look at sanitation delivery, it is dominated by the private sector. This is a strong industry, but there is much work to be done. This Congress will provide an opportunity for good conversations to take place between utilities, service providers and the diverse breadth of stakeholders for which this issue is so important.”

The challenge of meeting SDG 6

The overall theme of this year’s Water and Development Congress is ‘Water, sanitation, and climate resilience – keys to a water-wise future’. This is particularly timely given the event is taking place in Africa, home to 1.3 billion people.

The UN’s Global Water Security 2023 Assessment found that all countries in the continent are facing water insecurity, with 13 of them assessed as being ‘critically’ water insecure.

Africa is a region of fast urbanisation and it has strong academic institutions, but it has the lowest levels of safe water, sanitation and hygiene services worldwide. Almost 31% of people in Africa do not have access to basic drinking water services, and only 15% have access to safely managed drinking water. In the case of sanitation, 82% of people still live without access to a safely managed sanitation service. These low levels of dealing with wastewater are linked to high mortality rates, with the World Health Organization raising the alarm in 2019 that 20 countries in Africa had ‘extremely high mortality rates’.

Kone says: “When it comes to sanitation, coverage is not that great across many countries in Africa. Rural sanitation is quite a challenge. I see a lot of very good examples, but it takes a lot to make things happen at scale.”

Big problems require inspired solutions

“Africa is not waiting for landline solutions,” says Kone. “We now have digital platforms and infrastructure that almost everyone can access. Africa has the opportunity to rethink and find new solutions to complement or close the gap when centralised services are not the best response. As we innovate, we must also build in resilience to climate change.”

While climate resilience is crucial to development across all regions of the world, it has particular significance to the continent of Africa. The region has the highest number of countries at high risk of floods and droughts, with water insecurity exacerbated by accelerated population growth, urbanisation, and industrialisation.

Kone says: “There are competing opportunities, but some of these are very well linked. Flooding is a concern. Water quality is a concern. Water scarcity is a concern. But a strong strategy can help to alleviate some of these pressures. I hope we can leave the Congress with some solutions. I think we can increase prospects for those without adequate water and sanitation. And I’m looking forward to an inclusive dialogue.

“The conversation at the Congress will provide important opportunities for stakeholder dialogue. The plenary sessions and the technical sessions are really important for stakeholders and partners to learn the principles and connect with one another. The Congress creates an incredible energy, and this is something we can build on to progress change.

“The Water and Development Congress, held in Sri Lanka in 2019, provided an opportunity for delegates to meet among themselves and exchange ideas. This enabled people to learn very quickly and to transfer this knowledge into policy recommendations. That is the type of dialogue we want to foster throughout this Congress.”

Book your ticket

This year’s event provides the opportunity to influence positive change in Africa and beyond, providing a catalyst to inspire water professionals to make a lasting contribution that will not only transform lives, but also save lives.

It is taking place in Rwanda’s capital and largest city, Kigali, which is an economic and cultural hub surrounded by breathtaking views of the region’s rolling hills and valleys. Whether your interest is in the circular economy, climate smart solutions, digital transformation, innovative technology or policy, IWA’s Water and Development Congress has much to offer.

Kone says: “The data shows that most countries will miss the 2030 target for the delivery of safe water and sanitation. But this doesn’t mean progress is not happening. We could progress faster with more resources. Sanitation delivery is more challenging. We need to completely rethink the service and business models, and acknowledge the level of investment that is required.

“The speed to close this gap is not about willingness; it is about resources. One of the biggest things that happened at the UN Water Conference was commitment at country level. This needs to be backed by strong investment to enable us to accelerate action. Resource mobilisation will be key. But we also need to have the policy framework, so that, when the resources arrive, we have the ability to deliver. We should be thinking about building water and sanitation opportunities that increase resilience and provide a response that reflects on what communities are facing today.”

Kone concludes: “My hope is for this event to ensure countries looking for solutions receive clear guidance on how to achieve a national dialogue. Very often, there is no framework for how to extend service delivery to poor communities. Poor communities suffer from lack of infrastructure and lack of financing. We need to fill that gap.” •

More information

To register and find out more about IWA’s 2023 Water and Development Congress & Exhibition, visit: