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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Delegates press severity of African water situation


Staff writer

KYOTO -- Participants at a special session of the ongoing World Water Forum voiced satisfaction Monday that Africa's water crisis is firmly on the agenda of the Group of Eight industrial nations.

They also agreed that the continent desperately needs both public and private investment to provide clean, safe and inexpensive drinking water, along with modern, efficient sanitation systems.

The consensus of African delegates at the confab came as the multilateral gathering entered its second day -- the Day of Africa -- at the Kyoto International Media Forum.

A special daylong session was dedicated to the myriad problems faced by the continent.

According to the World Water Council, which is sponsoring the forum and comprises the World Bank, the African Development Bank and French and American water supply companies, nearly 300 million of Africa's 680 million people lack access to safe water.

Due to a host of natural and man-made factors, the average amount of fresh water per capita now stands at around one-quarter the levels recorded in 1950, the council said.

Water is viewed as being closely linked to the continent's poverty.

Following the previous World Water Forum, held in The Hague, Africa announced a package of 10 measures. These include reform of agriculture, which accounts for between 70 percent and 80 percent of Africa's freshwater usage, improved sanitation and increased funding.

The measures are scheduled to be completed by 2025, with midterm goals set for 2005 and 2015.

David Grey, a World Bank official and expert on Africa, noted during a seminar Monday that to realize these plans, considerable funding from both public and private sources is essential.

"In order to meet one of the goals, which is to reduce by 2015 the number of Africans without safe water by 75 percent, an estimated $12 billion is needed," Grey said. "Eventually, perhaps as much as $300 billion will be needed for water security in Africa."

It remains to be seen, however, where this money will come from, as much of the developed world is experiencing an economic slowdown.

Despite these problems, delegates noted with satisfaction that water is now firmly on the political agenda of industrialized nations.

French President Jacques Chirac has promised to make development in Africa, including water resource management, a top issue at a G-8 summit in France this year.

"We are at the end of a long journey with this water forum," said Halifa Drammeh, deputy director and U.N. Environment Program expert on African water issues. "This is a very happy ending, because water issues in Africa are now on the political agenda."

'Massive challenge'

KYOTO (AP) Funding plans to supply water to Africa's poor and malnourished people poses a "massive challenge" compounded by the prospect of war in Iraq, South Africa's water and forestry minister told a major international conference Monday.

Ronnie Kasrils said that only strong aid commitments would make it possible to improve conditions for the 300 million Africans who lack drinking water and the 500 million who do not have water for sanitation.

"Financing the interventions required to meet these challenges is in itself a massive challenge," he said. "And of course, the war clouds are gathering at this very time."

Kasrils was speaking at the World Water Forum, during a session devoted to developing national water policies aimed at alleviating poverty in Africa.

The eight-day forum, which started Sunday, aims to halve the number of people around the globe without access to water and sanitation -- estimated at more than 2 billion -- by 2015.

The United Nations has said that achieving this goal would cost $180 billion a year.

In Africa, however, falling aid and investment have entailed little progress being made toward this goal, said Chanel Boucher, vice president of the African Development Bank.



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