The 2006 Human Development Report, titled Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis, focuses on the ongoing problems that surround provision of potable water and sanitation. The document was launched on Thursday in Cape Town by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Global figures presented by the report’s authors are depressing: currently, more than a billion people are denied the right to clean water, while 2,6-billion do not have adequate sanitation.
“Each year 1,8-million children die from diarrhoea that could be prevented with access to clean water and a toilet; 443-million school days are lost to water-related illnesses; and almost 50% of all people in developing countries are suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by a lack of water and sanitation,” the document notes.
“To add to these human costs, the crisis in water and sanitation holds back economic growth, with sub-Saharan Africa losing 5% of gross domestic product annually — far more than the region receives in aid,” it adds.
Some have already voiced doubts about whether the study will make a difference in the lives of the poor.
“Most of the reports, like the one being launched by the UNDP this week, are done at the higher level. Those who write them don’t have a clue about how the poor suffer from water shortages,” said S’bu Zikode, president of the Shack Dwellers’ Movement, based in Durban.
It was dark when Zikode spoke, but he could still see a hive of activity around a water collection point nearby. “There are about 20 people lining up to collect water in an open place right here, now,” he said. “And it’s already late. It’s about 8pm.
“These people don’t have the chance to collect water in the morning when the queue is long. They go to work and return late in the evening. They need water for cooking, washing, bathing and drinking.”
Zikode and his neighbours are poor. They came to the city in search of greener pastures and live in Kenneby, an informal settlement 5km from Durban. “About 7 000 people live here. They share five water-stand pipes [and] six toilets,” he said.
In nearby Foreman, an informal settlement 7km from Durban, 8 000 people make do with two water-stand pipes and two sets of latrines for men and women respectively, added Zikode.
Durban, with a population of three million, has more than 180 000 shack dwellers in dire need of water, according to Desmond D’sa, head of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, an NGO.
“People queue up for water from 5am in the morning, some the whole day,” he said. “And the queues are long.”
Added Zikode: “Water is a big problem in the informal settlements, and so is sanitation. People are losing their dignity by depositing faeces everywhere. It’s unhygienic. The stench and the diseases that go with it are worrying.”
Since October, he said, 18 people — including eight from one family — have died in shack fires. “There’s no water to put out the fire. Fire brigades take hours, and by the time they arrived you would have lost your property or even your life.”
Yet, “Just across the road from the shacks we live in is a mansion owned by a family of seven. The family has seven running-water taps and three toilets. You just look at the imbalance of the society. It’s unacceptable. Life is so unfair.”
Such glaring inequalities are whipping up bitterness. “We fought together during apartheid. We all contributed to the freedom that South Africa is enjoying today. Unfortunately the majority of our people have been forgotten. Our voices have been ignored around the issues of water and sanitation,” Zikode complained.
But during a budget speech delivered before Parliament in March, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said water-supply infrastructure now reaches about 90% of South Africa’s population.
The Department of Provincial and Local Government says 165 water-service firms currently provide 3,9-million households with free water.
“In South Africa every citizen has a right to water. This is enshrined in the Constitution. And water is a hotly debated issue in South Africa. This is what it should be,” Kevin Watkins, lead author of the 2006 Human Development Report, told journalists in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
The report lauds South Africa’s water policy. “South Africa has already legislated that every person should have a minimum of 25 litres of clean water each day.” However, it notes that challenges remained with “informal settlements … not connected to the utility or where households do not have meters installed”.
Zikode said people used to buy 25 litres of water for 30 cents until 2000. “Now we don’t pay for water. Our problem is how to overcome the lack of water and the long queues,” he observed.
But, Orlene Naidoo — chairperson of the Durban-based Westcliff Flat Residents’ Association — believes the water allocation is just too small. The association is a community funded-organisation that helps the poor gain access to water and electricity.
“You can’t expect a family of eight, for example, to live on 200 litres of water a day. This is not good enough. The system is cruel. Brutal,” she said. “If you have arrears they cut off your water. If you don’t have an income, how do you clear the arrears?”
“We have not heard about the report,” Naidoo also said, in reference to the 2006 Human Development Report.
As Inter Press Service spelled out the internet link where she could download the document, she added: “The poor don’t have access to the internet. They have no e-mail. They can’t access the report.” — IPS
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