13 November 2006
The United Nations Development Programme recognised South Africa’s advances in delivering basic services to its citizens last week, using Cape Town as a base to launch its 2006 Human Development Report.
The report – “Beyond scarcity: power, poverty and the global water crisis” – finds that 1.1-billion people in the world still have no regular access to clean water and that 2.6-billion people still lack access to proper sanitation.
Warning that the global crisis in provision of water and sanitation is above all a crisis for the poor, the report argues that better political leadership is needed to provide increased delivery of these services.
‘Model for others to follow’
The report’s lead author, Kevin Watkins, said at the launch that South Africa’s progress in delivering these services to its citizens over the past 12 years provided a model for others to follow in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.
South Africa has in recent years reduced the backlog in provision of water to its citizens to 17%. Water Affairs and Forestry Director-General Jabulani Sindane says the country will achieve universal access to water by 2008 and to sanitation by 2010.
This puts South Africa well ahead in the global race to meet the Millennium Development Goals, of halving global poverty by 2015, set out by the United Nations in 2000.
South Africa currently provides indigent households with a free basic six kilolitres of water a month, amounting to about 25 litres per person per day.
The UN has called for this example to be emulated worldwide, with a minimum of 20 litres per person per day as a basic, legislated right and free for those too poor to afford it.
It was partly because of the country’s rights-based approach to development that the UNDP chose South Africa as the country from which to launch its 2006 report.
In a letter to the government, UNDP head Kemal Dervis said: “Since South Africa has introduced progressive legislation on water as a human right, the report introduces this as an important example to follow, and highlights the three crucial policy ingredients for progress that are present in the South African case: a clear national plan with well-defined targets, a strong national regulatory framework with devolution to local authorities, and constant monitoring of performance and progress.”
Watkins, speaking at last week’s launch, warned that many developing countries – particularly those of sub-Saharan Africa, which is lagging behind the rest of the world in meeting the Millennium Development Goals – are facing a humanitarian emergency over the “twin deficits” of water and sanitation.
At the same time, the report notes, the failure to provide water at affordable prices to all citizens has led to a crisis which is now holding back economic growth, costing sub-Saharan Africa 5% of its gross domestic product (GDP) annually – “far more than the region receives in aid”.
Across the world each year, the report says, 1.8-million children die from diarrhoea when this could have been prevented with access to clean water and a toilet, while 443 million school days are lost to water-related illnesses – not to mention the school days lost to children, especially girls, who must fetch water from rivers and other sources.
Across the world, Watkins said, the poor are forced to pay more for clean water than their affluent neighbours. He cited the example of a Nairobi slum where people pay five to 10 times more per litre of water than wealthy people living in the same city.
The poorest households of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Jamaica, according to the report, spend on average over 10% of their incomes on water – in Britain only the poorest spend more than 3% of family income on water.
Rich-poor gap growing
More widely, the report finds that the gap between the richest and poorest countries in the world is growing, with sub-Saharan Africa showing no signs of improving.
“Being born on the wrong side of the street in the global village carries with it a large risk in terms of survival prospects,” says the report, noting that only three sub-Saharan countries will reach the Millennium Development Goal of cutting child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
“Globalisation has given rise to a protracted debate over trends in global income distribution, but we sometimes lose sight of the sheer depth of inequality – and of how greater equity could dramatically accelerate poverty reduction,” Watkins said.
Going by current trends, Watkins said, the Millennium Development Goal for water would only be achieved by 2040, and for sanitation only by 2070.
A purely market-based approach will not resolve the growing water and sanitation crisis, the report says. Rather, a global action plan under leadership of the Group of 8 highly industrialised countries is “urgently needed”.
“National governments need to draw up credible plans and strategies for tackling the crisis in water and sanitation,” Watkins said. “But we also need a global action plan – with active buy-in from the G8 countries – to focus fragmented international efforts to mobilise resources and galvanise political action by putting water and sanitation front and centre on the development agenda.”
UNDP administrator Kemal Dervis, also speaking at the Cape Town launch, also warned of the pending dangers of climate change, saying that rain-fed agricultural production – the source of livelihood for most of the world’s poorest people – faced “grave risks in many regions”.
According to the report, projections point to a decline of 30% or more in water run-off from rainfall for large swathes of the developing world by 2050, with drought-prone countries – including Angola, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe – facing some of the “gravest security challenges in the world”.
Human Development Index
The UNDP report includes a Human Development Index, used to rate countries’ achievements or failures in promoting human well-being through measurements such as life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income.
South Africa ranks 121st out of 177 countries and territories listed in the index, inside the “medium human development” category.