A member of Israel’s Innovation: Africa team installs clean water for a refugee village in Central Africa earlier this year. .
(photo credit: INNOVATION:AFRICA)
The poverty in Africa is astonishing.
But even more astonishing is the world’s apathy and lack of strategic planning to help.
Last year the United Nations raised $13 billion for humanitarian aid, and this year it intends to raise more. UN Under Secretary- General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock explains that the priorities must be the emergency situation in Yemen, where eight million people are on the brink of famine; and the people in Syria and the refugees from Syria. Lowcock estimates that $2.5b. is needed to save the people in Yemen, $3.5b. for the people in Syria, and $4b. to help the county’s five million refugees. That’s $10b. to deal with the most immediate and devastating crisis situations. That leaves $3b. available for humanitarian aid if the UN simply raises the same amount it raised last year.
Do you know how much it would cost to provide every African with access to clean water – not for one year but forever? Three billion dollars.
I witnessed the dire situation first-hand last week as I traveled through the remote villages of Uganda. I learned that using the model of Innovation Africa – where I serve as executive vice president for Government and Community Affairs – a water project providing clean water to 5,000 people costs $50,000. To reach 300 million people in Africa who do not have clean water, we would need 60,000 such projects, totaling $3b.
I remember well as a child of the 1980s when the top singers came together and sang: “We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.”
The “We Are the World” effort raised $63 million for Africa, equivalent to $150m. today. Live Aid in England also raised tens of millions of dollars. Yet despite these efforts, more than 600 million Africans presently live without electricity, and more than 300 million people live with no access to clean water.
Most of the funds from the aforementioned projects were spent on birth control and food production. Of course, when there is starvation then emergency aid and food must be distributed first. But what did the world think would happen after it supplied the food? The world clearly forgot the ancient Chinese aphorism: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Had efforts in the 1980s focused on providing African villages with access to clean water, the villagers today could have built an economy based on a wide variety of businesses using this supply, including farming and growing their own crops. Once they would have established some form of economy and income, the issue of lack of electricity could have been overcome.
The failure in long-term strategic planning has left a continent in poverty. But we cannot simply say we failed and not try again, because we owe it to our fellow man, and because the 1.3 billion people in Africa today are projected to reach four billion by the end of this century. So the world must act – and it can – to solve this problem.
THE PROBLEM is not limited to Africa. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year.” Assuming the consumption rate continues as is, the WWF estimates that by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population could face water shortages.
It doesn’t have to happen. At an energy summit in Kampala, Uganda, I saw incredible new solar products that could provide individual homes with all their energy needs (with the option of paying for it over time, and only based on usage).
There are many technologies available including innovations from Israel, the Start-Up Nation, such as creating water from air, which India and Vietnam have chosen to address their water problems. These technologies and out of the box solutions can solve the world’s water and energy issues, if the international community wants to address them.
And that is the big if. International bodies with the United Nations at the helm must make a decision. If they continue to spend huge amounts of money on short-term solutions to put out fires, we will wake up one day to humanitarian challenges of staggering dimensions. But if they choose to lay out a long-term strategy now – starting with providing everyone in the world with access to clean water – then we will insure that all human beings on the planet have their most basic needs met. We will then have the freedom and peace of mind to use the billions raised for humanitarian aid to address every temporary crisis that arises.
The “We Are the World” singers declared that “love is all we need.” The world must go way beyond loving one another and donating. We need to show responsibility, and create and implement a plan for the long-term to provide our descendants with a functional and less-needy world.The writer was a member of the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party and currently serves as executive vice president of government and community affairs for Innovation Africa.