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US-Africa Conference to Focus on Improving African Infrastructure

The first annual U.S.-Africa Infrastructure Conference takes place this week in Bethesda, Maryland (September 27-29). One of the main goals of the conference is to bring together investors from Africa and the United States. Among the participants will be those whose work involves some of the continent's most important resources - its lakes and rivers.

Among those interested in using water for the continent's energy needs are officials of NEPAD - the New Partnership for African Development. The organization, established by leaders of the Organization of African Unity, aims to foster good governance, democratization and free market economic growth in Africa.

NEPAD officials have ambitious plans for the waterways. They want to build dams and reservoirs to serve the continent's needs for energy, irrigation and drinking water. For this, they are seeking private investment from the West, as well as from India and China.

Reatile Mochebelele, the adviser to the NEPAD Secretariat on Water and Sanitation, will be at the conference to explain NEPAD's initiatives to investors. He says that, to be successful, any initiative will have to recognize that several countries will be involved in any project because of the way the map of Africa was drawn up.

"African countries were split up along the lines of the colonial masters, and [you will find countries sharing] most of our river basins," he said. "You have the Nile River Basin with 10 countries - Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, etc.; then the Congo, with the biggest river in that basin; in West Africa, you have the Niger River [basin]. [Our effort] involves dialogue with countries involved."

Mochebelele says NEPAD is already working with the countries that border river basins to get them to discuss the various proposals for water resource management and agree on a plan that is most beneficial to all of them.

NEPAD'S projects in West Africa include the construction of power lines between Benin, Togo and Ghana. NEPAD also plans to rehabilitate the Inga Dam power lines on the Congo River that feed southern and central Africa. A third project will relay electricity generated in Zambia in southern Africa to Tanzania and Kenya in the east.

Improving the continent's drinking water is the goal of another delegate to the infrastructure conference - William Bucknam. He is vice president and general counsel for Moving Water Industries, which is based in Florida.

The group is working to help realize the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals by decreasing by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water in Africa by 2015.

Bill Bucknam says that hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to safe drinking water. He says nearly 9,000 children die every day from drinking contaminated water.

Bucknam says his group has developed a number of technologies to help with water related problems. He describes one of the most popular: a potable water supply system:

"We developed and hold a patent on a device called the SolarPedalflo, which can produce a continuous and reliable source of safe drinking water for an entire village using solar power with the back up of human pedal power," he said. "The water is filtered down [to such a fine point that there is little chance of carrying any waterborne disease]; it is pressurized and stored in an overhead tank to exclude waterborne diseases and to prevent the intrusion of airborne diseases."

Bucknam says that his company installed a SolarPedalflo in the village of Konodimini in Mali shortly before there was an outbreak of cholera in the region. He says the village was able to escape the outbreak because the SolarPedalflo had enabled it to have clean water. According to Bucknam, the chief of the village reported to the USAID country director that after the first year of operation not one child had suffered from diarrhea. He is convinced that the SolarPedalflo is one sure way to increase access to safe water and to assist countries to meet the challenge of the Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations.

With increased access to clean water, Bucknam says, "economic development and real poverty reduction will become a reality." Another benefit, he says, is that persons suffering from HIV/AIDS will have access to safe drinking water so that their anti-retroviral drugs will be effective.