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Africa: Global Apartheid Update

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 24, 2006 (061124)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Speaking at the global launch of the 2006 Human Development Report in Cape Town, South African President Thabo Mbeki called for the world to fight "domestic and global apartheid in terms of access to water." The report documented high levels of inequality both within and between nations, with sub-Saharan African countries losing some five percent of GDP annually as a result of the water and sanitation crisis, far more than the region receives in international aid.

In South Africa, the right to water as a human right has been included in the constitution and in policies mandating the free provision of 6,000 litres of water to those unable to afford it. But the government has also come under criticism and protest from urban townships for promoting inequality by privatized water schemes that disadvantage the poor.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two press releases on the report from the United Nations Development Programme, the agency responsible for the Human Development Report series, one focused on water and the other on inequality as shown by the latest Human Development Index. AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from an interview with lead report author Kevin Watkins by

For the full report, as well as additional articles and an extensive collection of previous Human Development Reports at world and country levels, visit the UNDP's Human Development Report website (

For an analysis of the concept of "Global Apartheid" as it applies to today's global inequality, see the article by Salih Booker and William Minter in The Nation, July 9, 2001

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World Water and Sanitation Crisis Urgently Needs a Global Action Plan

United Nations Development Programme (New York)

November 8, 2006

Cape Town

A Global Action Plan under G8 leadership is urgently needed to resolve a growing water and sanitation crisis that causes nearly two million child deaths every year, says the 2006 Human Development Report, released here today.

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

Each year, the authors report, 1.8 million children die from diarrhoea that could be prevented with access to clean water and a toilet; 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 Human Development Report (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.

G8 countries must take action

"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 the development of strong international champions for water and sanitation," says Kevin Watkins, lead author of the 2006 Human Development Report.

"National governments need to draw up credible plans and strategies for tackling the crisis in water and sanitation. But we also need a Global Action Plan - with active buy-in from the G8 countries to focus fragmented international efforts to mobilize resources and galvanize political action by putting water and sanitation front and centre on the development agenda," he says.

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.

"I fully support the call for a Global Action Plan to tackle the growing water and sanitation crisis," said UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. "As the 2006 Human Development Report highlights, each one of the eight Millennium Development Goals is inextricably tied to the next, so if we fail on the water and sanitation goal, hope of reaching the other seven rapidly fades.

"Either we take concerted action now to bring clean water and sanitation to the world's poor, or we consign millions of people to lives of avoidable poverty, poor health and diminished opportunities, and perpetuate deep inequalities within and between countries. And we have a collective responsibility to succeed," he said.

Governments should spend 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:

1. 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.

2. 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 typically less than 0.5 percent of GDP. Research for the 2006 HDR shows that this figure is dwarfed by military spending: In Ethiopia, for example, 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.

3. Increased international aid:

The Report calls for an extra US$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 upfront investments with a very long payback 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.

What could progress mean 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 lead author Watkins. "The more appropriate question is: Can the world afford not to make the investments?"

Cost of the crisis

"Delivering clean water, removing waste water, and providing sanitation are three of the most basic foundations for human progress," says the 2006 HDR. But 1.1 billion people do not have access to water, and 2.6 billion do not have access to sanitation.

The Report adds: " 'Not having access to clean water' is a euphemism for profound deprivation. It means that people walk more than one kilometre to the nearest source of clean water for drinking, that they collect water from drains, ditches or streams that might be infected with pathogens and bacteria that can cause severe illness and death."

'No access to sanitation' means that in slums like Kibera, outside the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, people defecate in plastic bags - known colloquially as 'flying toilets' - and throw them into open sewers in the street because they have no other option.

And the poorer you are, the more you pay for clean water, according to HDR research: The poorest households of El Salvador, Jamaica and Nicaragua spend on average over 10 percent of their income on water. In the United Kingdom, spending three percent of family income on water is considered the hardship threshold.

Indeed, HDR 2006 highlights huge disparities in the prices that people pay for water. People living in urban slums typically pay 5-10 times more per litre than people living in high-income areas. And people living in the poorest parts of cities like Accra and Manila pay more than the residents of London, New York and Paris.

One-third of all people without access to water fall below the $1-a-day absolute poverty threshold. Another third live on no more than $2 a day. In sanitation, the poorest two-fifths of households in the world account for more than half the global deficit, according to the 2006 HDR. These figures are not evidence of causation - people might lack water and sanitation because they are poor, or they might be poor because they lack water and sanitation - but the numbers do signal a strong two-way relationship between income poverty and deprivation in access to water, the authors stress.

And the public-versus-private debate on water is not helping the poor, argues the 2006 HDR. "The debate over the relative merits of public and private sector performance has been a distraction from the inadequate performance of both public and private water providers in overcoming the global water deficit," says the Report.

Beyond the household

The poor need 'water for life' - for drinking, cooking and washing - as well as water to grow food and earn a living, says the Report. Yet poor farmers face a potentially catastrophic water crisis from the combination of climate change and competition for scarce water resources, stress the authors.

The great majority of the world's malnourished people - estimated now at 830 million - are small farmers, herders, and farm labourers. Climate change threatens to intensify their water insecurity on an unparalleled scale, with parts of sub-Saharan Africa facing crop losses of up to 25 percent. At the same time, competition over water to produce food is escalating at an alarming rate in developing countries, with political and economic power, not concern for poverty, acting as the driving force, says the Report.

Shoring up the rights of the rural poor, increasing their access to irrigation and new technology and helping them adapt to inevitable climate change will be imperative to ward off disaster, contend the authors.

Faced with these challenges, need for increasing cooperation across national borders to ensure water security for the poor is more tangible than ever, as by 2025, over three billion people could be living in countries under water stress, says the Report.

That said, the 2006 HDR challenges predictions that increasing competition for water will inevitably provoke armed conflicts. The Report finds, in fact, that cross-border cooperation over water resources is already far more pervasive and successful than is commonly presumed. India and Pakistan, for example, despite two cross-border wars and constant geopolitical tension, have for half a century jointly managed shared watersheds through the Permanent Indus Water Commission.

"Managing shared water can be a force for peace or for conflict, but it is politics that will decide which course is chosen," says Watkins. The 2006 HDR stresses that the right political choices on water and sanitation could in fact hold the key to solving the global crisis, as history demonstrates.

History shows the crisis can be fixed

Just over 100 years ago, infant mortality rates in Washington, DC, were twice what they are today in sub-Saharan Africa, write the authors. Water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid fever accounted for 1 in 10 deaths in US cities in the late 19th century, with children the primary victims.

The Report recounts that in the UK and elsewhere, people were getting wealthier through the industrial revolution, but not healthier. The poor moved from rural to urban areas to benefit from the boom while overwhelmed cities turned into lethal open-air sewers, and epidemics of typhoid and cholera regularly swept through cities like New Orleans and New York.

In the hot summer of 1858, the UK Parliament was forced to temporarily close during what became known as 'The Great Stink,' caused by sewerage flowing into the river Thames.

For the rich, it was a nuisance. For the poor, who got their drinking water from the river, it was a killer.

By the end of the 19th century, governments recognized that the diseases associated with water and sanitation could not be contained in the cities' poor tenements; it was in the greater public's interest to take action. In the UK, US and elsewhere, massive investments were made in effective sewerage systems and the purification of water supplies to great effect. No other period in US history, for example, has witnessed such rapid declines in mortality rates.

This change reflected a rare instance in history where a major social ill was successfully resolved. And it could happen again, says the 2006 HDR: "Resolving the water and sanitation crisis could be the next great leap forward for mankind," says Watkins. "We urgently need history to repeat itself - this time in developing countries."

Widening Inequality Takes a Toll on Global Human Development

United Nations Development Programme (New York)

Press Release

November 8, 2006

Cape Town

The gap between the richest and poorest countries in the world is growing, as human development in sub-Saharan Africa stagnates and progress in other regions accelerates, according to the pioneering UNDP Human Development Index (HDI), released today as part of the 2006 Human Development Report, Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis.

After a costly setback in human development in the first half of the 1990s, Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have recovered strongly, and progress since 1990 in East and South Asia continues to accelerate. But sub-Saharan Africa shows no sign of improving, principally because of the devastating effect of HIV/AIDS on life expectancy.

The Index analyses 2004 statistics from 175 UN member countries along with Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region, China), and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The HDI rankings this year do not include 17 UN member nations, among them Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, due to insufficient data.

Introduced with the first Human Development Report (HDR) in 1990, the HDI assesses the state of human development through life expectancy; adult literacy and enrolment at the primary, secondary and tertiary level; and income, based on the most recent reliable data from UN partners and other official sources.

The HDI statistics reveal that life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is actually lower today than it was three decades ago. In the 31 countries at the bottom of the list, 28 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, a person can hope to live on average only 46 years, or 32 years less than the average life expectancy in countries of advanced human development, with 20 years slashed off life expectancy due to HIV/AIDS, according to the authors.

Less visible though equally disturbing has been the significant impact of HIV/AIDS on the lifespan of women in the same region. Due to the feminization of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland the life expectancy of women will be two years less than that of men in the five year period between 2005 and 2010; between 1990 and 1995, by contrast, women in those countries lived on average seven years longer than men.

The countries at the top and bottom of the rankings in the 2006 HDR are unchanged from the 2005 HDR; Norway ranks highest, while Niger is last of the countries for which sufficient information is available. People in Norway are more than 40 times wealthier than people in Niger and they live almost twice as long. They also enjoy near-universal enrollment in primary, secondary and tertiary education, compared with an enrollment rate of 21 percent in Niger.

Figures in the 2006 Report make clear the entrenched inequality across the globe: The combined income of the 500 richest people in the world now exceeds that of the poorest 416 million people, for example. One of the central human-development challenges ahead, the authors stress, is to diminish tolerance for the extreme inequalities that have characterized globalization since the early 1990s, and to ensure that the rising tide of prosperity extends opportunities for the many, and not just the privileged few.

The 10.8 million child deaths in 2004 bear testimony to inequality in the most fundamental human challenge - staying alive, says the Report. "Being born on the wrong street in the global village carries with it a large risk in terms of survival prospects," write the authors, who note that only three sub-Saharan African countries will reach the goal of cutting overall rates of child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. Reaching that goal on time would save the lives of 4.4 million children who will otherwise die that year.

"Globalization has given rise to a protracted debate over trends in global income distribution, but we sometimes lose sight of the sheer depth of inequality - and of how greater equity could dramatically accelerate poverty reduction," said Kevin Watkins, head of UNDP's Human Development Report Office.

Same country, different worlds

This year's HDI also provides a snapshot of the disparities between income groups within countries. Children born into the poorest 20 percent of households in Indonesia, for example, are four times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children born into the richest 20 percent of families, says the Report. In Nicaragua and Peru, approximately 40 percent of child deaths occur in the poorest 20 percent of households.

In Bolivia, the richest 20 percent of people rank in the upper echelons of human development, alongside Poland, while the poorest 20 percent equate to the average HDI for Pakistan. Poland and Pakistan are separated by 97 places on the global HDI ranking, illustrating how the vast inequality within countries can mask the true extent of human development.

The same trend is found in affluent countries, says the 2006 Report. While the richest 20 percent of the United States population tops the list of human-development achievements, alongside Norway, the poorest quintile ranks considerably lower - slightly below the HDI for Argentina and on par with Cuba.

Reading the HDI

"People are the real wealth of nations," said Watkins. "That simple truth is sometimes forgotten. Mesmerized by the rise and fall of national incomes as measured by GDP, we tend to equate human welfare with material wealth. But the ultimate yardstick for measuring progress is people's quality of life," he stressed.

Due to shifts in how countries report the statistics from which the rankings are calculated, the Index is subject to constant adjustment, stress the authors. This year, for example, several countries, including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil and the United Kingdom, have seen their HDI scores drop not because of a change in underlying performance, but because of a change in how education statistics are reported.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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