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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Developing Countries Take Initiative to Broaden Access to Water and Sanitation

4 June, BALI, Indonesia— At the time South Africa ended apartheid and became a democracy in 1994, 14 million people out of a total population of 42 million lacked access to clean drinking water.

But in seven years, South Africa has halved the number of people who lack access to safe water-ahead of schedule-according to Ronnie Kasrils, South African Minister for Water Affairs and Forestry, and if the present targets are met, he says everyone will have clean water by 2008.

Two years ago, however, the worst cholera epidemic in the country's history broke out in the KwaZulu Natal Province. Kasrils said, "It took us by surprise because we thought we were on the right track by providing clean water." As a result, South Africa had to reevaluate its strategy, and after meeting with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, adopted a new approach that included clean water, adequate sanitation and hygiene awareness.

"We made an error," Kasrils said during a press conference. "By concentrating on water, we neglected sanitation." Now, with a program that gives clean water and proper sanitation equal weight, he believes every South African will have access to proper sanitation by 2015.

The WSSCC, together with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, has embarked on a programme of launching initiatives that will deliver the infrastructure for basic water and sanitation services to the poor in an effort to halve the number of people, presently 1.1 billion, who lack access to clean water, and the 2.4 billion who lack proper sanitation.

The programme, "WASH" for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene launched its first programme in South Africa this April, and will soon launch another in Uganda. WASH hopes to replicate these efforts in 30 other countries.

According to WASH, some 6,000 children die every day from diseases caused by a lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. In the last 10 years, it says, more children have died due to diarrhoea than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II.

Negotiations on water and sanitation section of the implementation programme for the World Summit on Sustainable have been substantially completed, with the exception of what many consider the most essential element-a target for reducing by half the number of people who lack access to sanitation by 2015. Negotiations over whether the outcome document will specify a target are ongoing.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that water and sanitation was one of five areas where the Summit could achieve tangible and measurable results using existing technologies and resources.

"I believe in targets," Kasrils said. "The World Summit on Sustainable Development must agree on targets."

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24 August 2006