Working on water infrastructure through COVID-19: an update from the end of 2020

Working on water infrastructure through COVID-19: an update from the end of 2020

COVID-19 struck in an important year for many of CRIDF’s projects, which were under way in countries throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC). As the year draws to a close, the mission of bringing resilient water infrastructure to all has continued, thanks to the perseverance and adaptability of our partners in each country.

Never so crucial

When we first wrote about the escalating outbreak in March 2020, we stated that CRIDF’s work to improve water supply and sanitation systems for communities along the SADC’s river basins has never been so crucial. That importance has been underlined time and again since, says Leonard Magara, CRIDF’s Chief Engineer. ”With no vaccine yet, washing with soap and water is still among the most effective preventive measures – including against other infectious diseases that are so common in this region,” he states. Despite the emergency redirection of many resources towards short-term needs, the pandemic shows exactly why the long-term resolution of water inequalities is so important. “If we spend a dollar to fight COVID-19 under emergency conditions, we must spend ten dollars to ensure that by the time the next pandemic comes, we are ready,” Magara says.

CRIDF forges ahead

CRIDF has continued, with delays but with determination. When COVID-19 arrived, the facility had projects under construction in Namibia and Tanzania; others were headed to procurement in Angola, Botswana, eSwatini and Mozambique; and many others were in various stages of preparation. Then lockdowns on regional travel and disruption in supply chains threw everything into disarray. Fortunately, CRIDF was able to make good use of its inbuilt flexibility in determining the paths of its projects. The CRIDF team have been working from their home offices in their home countries, while for the many activities that require in-person and in-field work, they have shifted to working more than ever through experts in project countries. “Whereas generally I would go to three different countries in one month,” Magara says, “now I am doing a lot of training so others can go and represent what I would do – as if I would be there working with them.”

Constructing an essential service

The momentum has built through the rest of the year as training, monitoring and daily online meetings have translated into progress on infrastructure. The recognition that water is an essential service has also encouraged authorities to grant CRIDF exemptions to continue project work, under strict COVID-19 management protocols. This has allowed the facility to count a number of successes by the end of the year. Among these, Magara considers the completion of the Makonde Plateau water construction project in Tanzania to be the most exciting. “It’s our first CRIDF Phase 2 construction project to be complete and it was completed under COVID-19 conditions. So to tick that achievement is a significant and proud moment for the whole team,” he says.