Africa: COVID-19 accelerates the digitalisation of African utilities’ service provision

During the Online-Update: Corona Crisis Africa GWP-members and experts discussed the current situation and Corona-related effects on the water sector in African countries.

Berlin, 20.05.2020. In the context of the current health crisis, the lack of water and sanitation is clearly a factor in exacerbating the contagion of COVID-19. To ensure the continuity of service provision during the Corona crisis, African utilities have put in place several measures. These include for example optimized maintenance and troubleshooting plans, reviewed procurement procedures to speed up deliveries, the local manufacture of water treatment products and increasing the number of generators to cope with eventual power outages.

Many African water and wastewater operators are currently dealing with deferred bill payments. Some African countries even offer free water supplies during the crisis. According to Sylvain Usher, Executive Director of the African Water Association, “this could have a serious impact on the finances of fragile utilities in terms of financial resources”. Therefore, a major challenge is to ensure the financial viability of water utilities during and beyond COVID-19.

New business opportunities resulting from the current health crisis in Africa

The current health crisis clearly increases the demand for innovative technologies that allow for remote management of water service provision. Sylvain Usher points out that “digital and remote management is the future for African utilities”. Potential business opportunities for German companies that may arise from the crisis are therefore the promotion of business management through mobile applications, such as remote meter reading and remote payment applications.

Thilo Vogeler, Head of the Competence Centre Energy and Environment of the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Eastern Africa reports about a positive effect resulting from the crisis: Interestingly, COVID-19 related changes in hygienic practices in Kenya seem to have an impact on the prevalence of other WASH-related diseases such as Cholera and diarrhoea.

German company active in Africa hit hard by Corona crisis

The Corona crisis also hits German companies active in Africa. According to Mathias Stief, Technical Director Water Supply and Sewage Treatments at Jos. Hansen und Soehne GmbH, most of the company’s project activities in Africa are currently on hold. He points out that the travel restrictions due to COVID-19 and quarantine obligations make it impossible for the company’s staff to implement the projects.



Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jean Luc HABIMANA