I want to start by thanking President Mbeki and the South African government for hosting the launch of the 2006 Human Development Report. For all of us involved in preparing the report, it is a great privilege to hold this event in a country that has done so much to advance to cause of human development.
Let me also thank our Administrator, Kemal Dervis, for his support for the Human Development Report, and his leadership in UNDP.
As you know, the Human Development Report itself is the product of a team effort – and it has been a great privilege for me to work with an exceptionally talented group of colleagues in the Human Development Report Office. This report is the product of our collective effort - and I want to thank the entire team in New York and our Advisory Panel of eminent experts, including His Excellency Prince Wilhelm Alexander and Sunita Narain who are with us here today.
Mr President, there are many reasons for those of us working on human development to feel at home in South Africa.
The human development approach is about expanding human freedoms, realizing human potential, and overcoming inequalities in life chances rooted in social injustice – in disparities based on gender, race, and other markets for disadvantage.
These are themes at the heart of the Freedom Charter, the Bill of Rights adopted by the ANC in the mid-1980s, and – of course – in the South African constitution. There are many ways in which South Africa has touched the lives of people beyond your borders. On a purely personal note, I had the great privilege as a student of being taught by Ruth First. She was a brilliant scholar. But above all she, like so many others involved in the struggle against apartheid, Ruth was an ardent advocate for social justice at home and abroad.
Mr President, Vaclav Havel once said that politics is not the art of the possible, but the art of imagining the impossible – and then making it happen.
As we look towards the great human development challenges facing humanity at the start of the 21st Century – the eradication of poverty, the reduction of extreme inequalities, the expansion of human freedoms in health and education – we need to imagine what currently seems impossible – and then make it happen. Meeting the 2015 targets for the MDGs is an obvious starting point.
Water and human development
Nowhere are a vision and a strategy for change more urgently needed than in the governance of water.
“By means of water,” says the Koran, “we give life to everything.” That simple statement contains a profound wisdom. Without water for life and for livelihoods, people cannot realize their potential as human beings. Water is integral to human freedoms and to human rights. It is at the core of human development.
In today’s world water is something more than a source of life. Deprivation linked to water is a source of poverty, of inequality, of social injustice, and of great disparities in life chances. That deprivation matters because water is a human right – and none of should turn a blind eye to the violation of human rights. But it matters also because the violation of the human right to water is holding back human progress across a far broader front.
In my remarks I want to focus on water and sanitation, partly because of time constraints; but mainly because other people on this panel, including both Sunita Narain and His Highness Prince William, know far more than me about the governance of water as a productive resources.
Water for life
The headline numbers for the twin deficits in water and sanitation tell their own story.
At the start of the 21st Century, over 1 billion people are denied access to a resource that most of us take for granted: clean water. Many more people – some 2.6 billion – do not have access to adequate sanitation.
These are figures add up not to a problem, but to a fully fledged humanitarian emergency.
In today’s rich world one of the greatest leaps in human development was created not through new technologies or private investment, but through a revolution in water and sanitation provision. Put crudely, the provision of clean water and the safe disposal of human waste saved lives.
Today, the twin deficits in water and sanitation are the second most lethal killers of children in our world. 2 million children die each year, most of them because of diarrhea. Put differently, during this launch event roughly 2000 children will have died for want of a glass of clean water and a toilet.
Behind this headline number, of course, are countless millions of episodes of ill health and disease. But it is not just the health of nations that suffers.
Hours spent collecting water places a huge burden on women’s time and energy. It also keeps millions of young girls out of school, depriving them of a right to an education.
The economic costs of the twin deficits are insufficiently appreciated. We estimate that sub-Saharan Africa loses around 5% of GDP annually because of ill health and labor diversion linked to deprivation in water. The flip side of these costs is that investment in overcoming that deprivation, apart from being a moral imperative, makes economic sense: every $1 invested generates a return of $8.
Headline numbers on deprivation give us an insight into the dimensions of the challenge ahead. However, they can obscure another aspect of the crisis in water and sanitation: namely extreme inequality.
As we document in this year’s report, there are huge inequalities in access to clean water and to sanitation across the world. Indeed, this is a crisis rooted in inequality – between rural and urban areas, between regions, and between rich and poor. As we document in this year’s report, it is not unusual to find very poor countries with universal access to clean water and to sanitation for the richest 20%, while among the poorest 20% provision is almost non-existent.
Other inequalities are equally striking. Poor people living in the slums of Manila, Nairobi and Accra not only get less water than their fellow citizens in high income suburbs, they also pay much more per litres – typically 5-10 times as much. Indeed, they pay more per litre than people living in London or New York.
Recently I had an opportunity to visit Kibera in Nairobi. As many of you will know this is the largest informal settlement in Africa. Probably less than half of the population has access to water. Sanitation is virtually non-existent. Child death rates are 3-4 times the average for Nairobi.
Standing in Kibera, you can get a glimpse into a different water and sanitation world.
Just over the northern perimeter road, the sprinklers in the Royal Nairobi golf course help to maintain some of the greenest lawns in the city – and the water costs a fraction of the price paid in Kibera.
I mention Kibera because it demonstrates two broader problems.
First, it highlights the sheer scale of inequality in access to water. Second, it points to a wider problem in urban areas. Across much of the world, water utilities are delivering cheap subsidized water to one part of society, while others are left to fend for themselves in unregulated markets dominated by private traders.
Business as usual is not an option in water and sanitation.
If we continue on our current course, sub-Saharan Africa will achieve the MDG target of halving the share of people without access to water not in 2015 but in 2042. The target for sanitation will be achieved three decades later. Getting back on track is a daunting challenge: average connections to clean water will have to rise to 23 million from 10 million over the next decade.
And while Africa is the region that is furthest off track, the world as a whole will miss the targets. The very real danger is that the twin deficits in water and sanitation will hold back progress elsewhere.
Looking at the MDG projections it would be easy to descend into acute pessimism – easy but unjustified.
Many countries have shown that rapid progress is possible. South Africa is one of these countries. Since 1994 the share of the population lacking access to clean water has fallen from 41% to 17%, surpassing the MDG target. Elsewhere, we have seen countries as diverse as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal and Brazil achieve rapid gains.
However, collections of individual good news stories do not add up to a global breakthrough. We need a step change in approach. In short, if I could return to the Vaclav Havel principle, we need to imagine a world in which all people have access to clean water and sanitation – and then we need to make it happen.
There is no blueprint, of course. What works in a city like Cape Town or a country like South Africa might not be what works in Lagos and Nigeria. There are, however, some broad principles. And I would like to conclude by setting out four such principles.
First, we need to stop treating the twin deficits in water and sanitation as a problem, and start treating them as a crisis. In many countries, water and, even more so, sanitation, do not register as core political priorities. Perhaps the problem is that this is a crisis born overwhelming by a constituency with a weak political voice: namely, the poor in general and poor women and children in particular. Ultimately, political leaders at a national and local level have to create the condition under which nationally owned strategies can deliver results, including strategies that empower the poor.
Second, governments need to make water a human right – and mean it. That means putting in place a legislative structure that quantifies the right to water, with a minimum target of 20 litres per person, free of charge to the poor. In South Africa, the constitutional right to water is backed by legislation – the 1997 Water Services Act – that does precisely this. Of course, I am aware of the intense debate surrounding water and sanitation provision. But in any democracy water should be at the heart of public debate.
How should the right to water be delivered? That question is another source of heated debates about public versus private provision – debates which we argue generate more heat than light. What is important is that all water providers are governed by regulatory systems that set out clear rules of the game. Those rules cannot be based on the simple application of commercial market principles. “Delivering water where the money is” is not an option. All providers should be governed by well defined targets for increasing water and sanitation provision among the poor, for ensuring affordability, overseeing quality. And the rules should operate through institutional structures that empower the poor, enabling people to hold providers and government to account.
Third, we need national strategies for water and sanitation that set ambitious goals backed by strategies for capacity building, institutional development, and – critically – the mobilization of finance. We argue that at least 1% of GDP should be allocated to water an sanitation – that is some two to three times current provision in many countries. While private providers may have a role to play in delivery, public finance holds the key to ensuring delivery for those too poor to pay. Cross subsidies from high income to low income users are also vital. The problem is that subsidies all too often fail to reach the poor.
Fourth, we need a genuine global partnership in water and sanitation, with northern governments supporting and backing credible national strategies.
Speaking bluntly, the partnership in water and sanitation is broken – and it needs fixing fast. True, there is no shortage of high level international conferences, high level panels, or high-sounding communiqués. But in stark contrast to other areas – such as HIV/AIDS and even education – words have not been followed by actions. Aid for water and sanitation is lower today than it was a decade ago in real terms, and it has fallen as a share of overall development assistance.
The fact that water and sanitation scarcely merits a mention in the Gleneagles Agreement is another indicator that something is wrong. Three years ago the G8 met in Evian and adopted what was described, somewhat optimistically as it turned out, as a global plan of action for water. Since then there has been no plan and no action.
In the HDR we call for a genuine plan of action. That plan should include a commitment to provide the estimated $3-4bn needed to bring the MDGs within target. But it should also support capacity building and resource mobilization in countries lacking a critical mass of donors.
Mr President, South African history demonstrates the truth behind the expression ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.
In our increasingly prosperous world, we do not lack the financial resources, the technology, or the ingenuity to consign the water and sanitation crisis to its proper place in history books. The poverty, the child deaths, and the gender inequalities which attend this crisis are not inevitable. We are not dealing here with an immutable fact of life or a tsunami-like unpredictable event that we have to accept with resigned toleration. This crisis is the product of policies and priorities that can be changed, and of a complacency that can be overcome.
Let me conclude by returning to the great lesson that South Africa has taught the world, and to Vaclav Havel’s reflection on the art of politics.
We need to imagine a world in which no children die because of water and sanitation deficits – and we need the political leadership, the strategies, and the resources to make that world happen.
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