Monday, August 30, 2004

Access to drinking water - Global Reports

Source: World Bank

Current status summaries from various countries regarding access to clean drinking water.

Business Day (South Africa) notes the reports said that since 1990, sub-Saharan Africa has provided drinking water to a growing number of its people, but still falls far short of what is required to achieve the UN's millennium development target. In sub-Saharan Africa, the portion of the population with access to improved water facilities, which are broadly defined as those providing safe drinking water, increased from 49 to 58 percent between 1990 and the end of 2002. But the two UN agencies say this falls short of the progress needed to achieve the millennium goal target of 75 percent by 2015. The report also indicates South Africa has made little progress in rolling out new water sources, but the South African water affairs department says the UN used the wrong data. According to the department, about 88 percent of South Africans now have access to improved water sources, up from 67 percent in 1994, at the time of the country's first democratic elections. The UN report says that 83 percent of the population had access to improved water in 1990, and 87 percent in 2002. The department's director general, Mike Muller, says the UN's 1990 statistics for South Africa excluded the former homelands.

The New York Times explains the report attributes Africa's slow progress to conflict, political instability, population growth and the low priority that is given to water and sanitation by regional leaders. At least 30 percent of the region's water systems are inoperable because of age or disrepair, according to officials from UNICEF.

Xinhua meanwhile notes Tanzania has been rated as the world's best country for improving its people's access to clean drinking water, WHO and UNICEF. The two UN institutions classified the east African country as having made 92 percent improvement in water purification for human consumption between 1990 and 2002. The two institutions added that 73 percent of Tanzania's population of 34 million now has access to clean drinking water.

Kyodo (Japan) adds that two-thirds of the 1.1 billion people drinking water from unsafe rivers, ponds and vendors live in Asia. There are as many people without safe water in China as in all of Africa, roughly 300 million, the report says. Poor, rural communities in remote areas are the least covered by sanitation systems. Two billion of those lacking a simple toilet live in the countryside, and only 560 million are in cities. Over half of those without as little as basic latrines, nearly 1.5 billion people, live in China and India, and such facilities are only available to 36 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, the report says. The news agency also notes that in order to cut the number of people without drinking water and sanitation in half by 2015, annual funds of $11.3 billion would be required, which would bring an economic return of $3 to $34 for each $1 invested, according to the report. Japan, still the biggest international donor in terms of water and sanitation, has drastically reduced its contributions from $1.3 billion per year in 1999 to $500 million per year in 2002, which considerably diminished the amount of international funds available as a whole.

The Economist meanwhile writes that one problem [in increasing access to water] is that governments have tended to declare that water should be free, so those with taps in their homes (typically the better-off) have no incentive to conserve it. Because water infrastructure has not been self-funding, it has not been extended to the poorest areas, so the poorest have ended up paying inflated prices to black-market water-sellers. In towns, private firms can work wonders if allowed to charge something like market prices, which often they are not. In rural areas, where the poorest of the poor live, the most progress has been made by concentrating on small (and usually publicly funded) projects, such as boreholes, rather than grand dams. Governments like starting new projects, but it is often cheaper to fix broken ones. Ideally, locals should be trained to maintain their own boreholes. Pumps can be designed to double as children's roundabouts, so that children pump water as they play. Tanks to catch rain are simple and efficient. In Mabuia, the poorest residents pay a few cents each week for water and a communal shower block. Richer ones pay extra for taps in their homes. The sums raised pay for an engineer to live in the village and fix its pipes.