The Hope of Development - Romano Prodi
Africa is waking up. Of course, it would be somewhat exaggerated to call it an African Renaissance as some observers like to, but something new is happening. It certainly does not provide the remedy for the continent’s tragic poverty but at least it brings some hope for the future. From the Mediterranean to southern Africa, everything is on the move: streams of people are leaving rural areas for the sprawling outskirts of the cities. They follow the invisible new link of mobile phones, while Chinese engineers and workers are building roads and railways designed to open up the way towards modernity in a continent that has never succeeded in achieving it by itself.
Nevertheless, it would be as well not to harbour any illusions, because this process is only at the beginning and Africa remains by far the poorest continent in the world. Despite the signs of awakening seen over the past ten years, Africa’s share of the total income for the planet has not changed from that of thirty years ago, while its population is growing and will double before the middle of the 21st century. Africa’s journey will therefore be uphill, despite the immense natural resources that the continent possesses.
The greatest obstacle along the journey towards the African Renaissance is naturally the fragility of the political classes governing almost all the countries. This is partly due to an ancestral reluctance towards cooperation between the countries, too small to build up a robust economic life by themselves, and traditionally opposed to setting up the partnerships needed to give strength and continuity to development.
The gap between Africa’s potentials and the poverty of its citizens is still enormous: the world’s richest continent in terms of resources and territory is not yet able to produce enough food to feed its inhabitants and to generate the amount of energy required to make their living conditions bearable. As I said at the beginning of this introduction, what the new Africa needs is above all to find new men and women who are able to cope with the enormous changes that are taking place and use the incredible potential resources of the whole continent to guide it towards development. Africa has numerous resources, from oil to natural gas, from coal to copper, from gold to diamonds and above all a vast territory that is for the most part potentially fertile and always bathed by the sun. Its resources are abundant but there is one condition that is absolutely essential if all these riches are to transform the lives of Africans and that is availability of a sufficient quantity of water: drinking water, water for washing, for farming, for industry, water to produce energy, water to live.
Africa has lots of water. It has some of the largest rivers in the world as well as the most abundant aquifers, yet in Africa people die of thirst and suffer due to dramatic floods, while on the outskirts of cities even the most elementary sanitation facilities are lacking. At this point, redistributing water so that it is rationally used for the whole continent becomes a priority: water that must be available even in the poorest of districts, that must make vast arid areas fertile and fuel the operation of industrial concerns; water that, if not collected and distributed, can only lead to damage.
This is the task of dam builders: building the first link in the chain required to raise the living conditions of every citizen. It is a fascinating job, requiring technology, organisational skill, financial solidity and the sensitivity to understand the needs and problems of the territories where they are asked to take action.
The illustrations in this book show the spectacular aspects of this task, those that are most noticeable to observers, but behind these photos you need to be able to see the complexity of the projects, the difficulty of working in almost impossible conditions and the need to take account of all the consequences that will be produced by the major work in progress. It therefore makes me proud to see how many and which major projects Italian companies, amongst which Salini Impregilo stands out, have completed in Africa in an extraordinary variety of situations, ranging from the damming of great rivers to the collection of seasonal water in semi-desert areas.
These are colossal projects that demonstrate technical and organisational skills. Yet they appear even more remarkable when we consider the greater difficulties that Italian companies have encountered and continue to encounter as a consequence of the weakness of our financial system and the need to compete with rivals that are able to count on political pressure that is infinitely greater than ours.
Our tradition as great “dam builders” is confirmed even though it is increasingly difficult to find the incredible resources that are site workers, not just willing to travel all over the world but proud to accomplish extraordinary achievements that will remain for centuries to come.
Perhaps I am too optimistic, but when I look at a dam in Africa, I always think that it may also be a tangible contribution to future peace. When we think of the many conflicts of the past decades, we are necessarily inclined to trace them back above all to a battle to possess energy sources, but then I realise that oil and gas are certainly easier to replace by other sources of energy. This is not true of water! For this reason, those who collect, store and rationally deliver water to houses and to fields are also helping to reduce future conflicts.
Certainly it is not their prime concern and perhaps they do not even take it into consideration, but I like to think that, alongside a large dam, they may also be sowing the seeds of the hope that the dam will serve not only to take water to those who need it, but also to deter the conflicts that water shortages can cause.