Water, water everywhere

Water. White gold. Without it, there can be no life. ‘Precious, every drop,” proclaims the SAB advertisement on the back page of this edition of Earthyear.

The international community has pledged to provide 1,6-billion people with access to clean water by 2015. As Nawaal Deane reports, terrorism and war have distracted many nations from the path to achieving that target.

In Africa, only 62% of the population has access to improved water supply (as against a global average of 82%). About 400-million people across the continent do not have access to adequate water and sanitation services. This situation contributes to poor health statistics on the continent, with up to 50% of Africans suffering from one of six water-related diseases.

In this context, the completion of the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is cause for celebration. The project captures rainfall in the mountains of Lesotho and makes it available for human use, not only as drinking water for consumers in Gauteng but also in the form of hydro-electric power for Lesotho. It was President Thabo Mbeki who used the phrase ‘white gold” at the mountain party marking the end of the first phase of this ambitious project.

Concerns were rightly raised during the building of the dams about people being moved and the impacts on natural river flows and mountain environments. As our feature indicates, the project managers have gone out of their way to mitigate these impacts and leave behind a positive legacy.

All things considered, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is the kind of mega-project that the newly created Africa Ministerial Council on Water, a continental body of water ministers, is going to have to look at to solve Africa’s water problems. The council aims to increase financing for water and to enhance regional co-ordination for the provision of water and sanitation.

Ten years ago, four million urban households in South Africa and less than one million rural households had access to clean water. At the launch of the Rand Water Foundation in mid-May, board chairperson Phiroshaw Camay reported that clean water has since been supplied to at least 1,7-million more urban households and 1,6-million more rural households.

The new Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Buyelwa Sonjica, aims to build on these achievements. As Earthyear went to print, her director-general, Mike Muller, promised that, in the second decade of democracy, the prime focus will be the delivery of quality water services.

Municipalities will be expected to use their increased funding from the municipal infrastructure grant to achieve the government’s goals. The targets include eradicating the water supply backlog by 2008, ending the sanitation backlog by 2010 and ending the bucket system by 2006. Future editions of Earthyear will continue informing readers about progress on these targets.

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