Since time immemorial humankind has had a special relationship with water. Its life-giving essence has been the foundation for all development. Great civilizations have been built around water and in the future wars may well be fought over it.
Water is life – without it nothing can flourish or grow. At the 7th World Water Forum (WWF) held in April in South Korea it became apparent that there was an urgent need to turn words into action. The WWF specifically looked at the need to find solutions to the world’s water and sanitation challenges.
According to the UN, a child dies every 15 seconds from a waterborne disease, and an estimated 200 million hours are spent each year by women and girls carrying water to their homes. More than one in three people across the planet have no access to decent sanitation facilities, and one in seven have no choice but to defecate in the open. An estimated 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in open water courses every day.
Given these stark realities, South Africa must act. For us to realise sustainable development, we must secure our water supply in line with the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals developed by a UN working group last year. These goals are up for discussion at a UN summit set to take place in September in New York and are to replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expire at the end of this year.
Under Goal 6 countries are expected to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. This will be done by pursuing six clear targets that must be achieved by 2030.
Equitable access to safe, drinkable water for all.
Access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all.
Improvements to water quality through the reduction of pollution.
Substantial increases in water-use efficiencies.
Implementation of integrated water resource management at all levels, including through trans-boundary co-operation.
Protecting and restoring water-related eco-systems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes (this to be achieved by 2020).
The deliberations in Korea culminated in the release of an “implementation roadmap”, widely expected to act as a mechanism to turn long-spoken-of water and sanitation solutions into actions that will benefit those suffering shortages on the ground. It will also provide major inputs for the UN’s September summit.
It is important to stress that solving the world’s water and sanitation challenges must take local solutions into account. A one size-fits-all approach does not work. What we need is a single vision and many voices, and embrace local solutions.
We support the results of the 7th World Water Forum and look forward to the ‘Implementation Roadmap’, along with its relevant monitoring system, which could be considered as a reference for establishing implementation and monitoring guidelines of water-related goals in the post-2015 development agenda.
Challenges facing our department include: ageing water and sanitation infrastructure, a rising lack of technical skills, poor water services planning and prioritisation at many municipalities, shifting patterns in water demand, climate change and changing rainfall patterns and inadequate water supply in several areas of the country, with winter being a critical period.
Despite these challenges, South Africa has managed to exceed the Millennium Development Goal target set in 2000 by the UN. South Africa, the world’s 30th-driest country, hit the MDG target of countries halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2005 and 2008.
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