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Human Devt Report Highlights Water Threat


Calls have been made for an Global Action Plan under G8 leadership to address and help resolve the World water and sanitation crisis; even as the 2006 Human Development Report (HDR) calls for 20 litres of clean water a day for all as a human right.

Above call was made recently in South Africa during the release of the report to check a growing water and sanitation crisis that causes nearly two million child deaths every year.

According to the Report, entitled Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis, unclean water is an immeasurably greater threat to human security than violent conflict, across much of the developing world,.

Each year, the authors report, 1.8 million children die from diarrhoea that could be prevented with access to clean water and toilets; 443 million school days are lost to water-related illnesses; and almost 50 percent of all people in developing countries are suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by a lack of water and sanitation.

To add to these human costs, the crisis in water and sanitation holds back economic growth, with sub-Saharan Africa losing five percent of GDP annually, far more than the region receives in aid.

Yet unlike wars and natural disasters, this global crisis does not galvanise concerted international action, says the 2006 HDR. 'Like hunger, it is a silent emergency experienced by the poor and tolerated by those with the resources, the technology and the political power to end it,' says the Report. With less than a decade left to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, this needs to change, stress the authors.

"When it comes to water and sanitation, the world suffers from a surplus of conference activity and a deficit of credible action. The diversity of international actors has militated against development of strong international champions for water and sanitation," says Kevin Watkins, lead author of the Report.

The Action Plan would act as a 'virtual mechanism,' says the Report, which cites the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, run by a small secretariat with minimal bureaucracy, as a useful reference point.

1% GDP on water and sanitation

The HDR 2006 recommends that in addition to creating a Global Action Plan, the following three foundations are crucial for success:

- Make water a human right and mean it: 'Everyone should have at least 20 litres of clean water per day and the poor should get it for free,' says the Report: While a person in the UK or USA sends 50 litres down the drain each day by simply flushing their toilet, many poor people survive on less than five litres of contaminated water per day, according to HDR research.

The Report advocates for all governments to go beyond vague constitutional principles in enabling legislation to secure the human right to a secure, accessible and affordable supply of water. At a minimum, this implies a target of at least 20 litres of clean water a day for every citizen and at no cost for those too poor to pay, stress the authors.

- Draw up national strategies for water and sanitation: Governments should aim to spend a minimum of one percent GDP on water and sanitation, and enhance equity, the authors urge: Water and sanitation suffer from chronic under-funding. Public spending is less than 0.5 percent of GDP. Research for the 2006 HDR shows that this figure is dwarfed by military spending. In Ethiopia, the military budget is 10 times the water and sanitation budget in Pakistan, 47 times.

The Report's authors urge all governments to prepare national plans for accelerating progress in water and sanitation, with ambitious targets backed with financing to the tune of at least one percent of GDP, and clear strategies for overcoming inequalities.

- Increased international aid: The Report calls for an extra $3.4 billion to $4 billion annually: Development assistance has fallen in real terms over the past decade, but to bring the MDG on water and sanitation into reach, aid flows will have to double, says the Report.

It states that progress in water and sanitation requires large up-front investments with a very long pay-back period, so innovative financing strategies like the International Finance Facility are essential. This would be money well-spent, according to the authors, who estimate the economic return in saved time, increased productivity and reduced health costs at $8 for each $1 invested in achieving the water and sanitation target.

Progress for the poor?

The 2006 HDR estimates the total additional cost of achieving the MDG on access to water and sanitation- to be sourced domestically and internationally- at about $10 billion a year. "The $10 billion price tag for the MDG seems a large sum- but it has to be put in context. It represents less than five days- worth of global military spending and less than half what rich countries spend each year on mineral water," says the Report.

The human-development gains would be immense, stress the authors. The Report shows that closing the gap between current trends and the MDG target on water and sanitation would save more than one million children's lives over the next decade and bring total economic benefits of about $38 billion annually. The benefits for Sub-Saharan Africa (about $15 billion) would represent 60 percent of its 2003 aid flows.

As it now stands, the world is on schedule to reach the MDG on access to water, largely because of strong progress in China and India, but only two regions, East Asia and Latin America, are on track for sanitation. Moreover, this global picture masks real problems: On current trends sub-Saharan Africa will reach the water target in 2040 and the sanitation target in 2076. For sanitation, South Asia is four years off track, and for water, the Arab States are 27 years off track.

Measured on a country-by-country basis, this means that 234 million people will miss the water target, with 55 countries off track, and 430 million people will not reach the sanitation target, with 74 countries off track, says the Report.

"Can the world afford to meet the costs of accelerated progress towards water and sanitation provision?" asks Watkins. "The more appropriate question is: Can the world afford not to make the investments?"

Expert opinion

Halter Marek


Halter Marek
Le College de France
Olivier Giscard dEstaing


Olivier Giscard dEstaing
COPAM, France
Mika Ohbayashi


Mika Ohbayashi
Institute for Sustainable Energy Poliy
Bill Pace


Bill Pace
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
Peter I. Hajnal


Peter I. Hajnal
Toronto University, G8 Research Group

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