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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Majority Still Lack Access to Safe Water

Charles M. Mushizi

MBABANE, Swaziland, Jul 12 2011 (IPS) - Only two in every five people in the Southern African Development Community has access to safe water for drinking and household use. Three quarters of those lacking access, live in rural areas and the majority of these are women and children.

Drawing water in Lusaka. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

Drawing water in Lusaka. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

Chrispin Sedeke, head of the Transboundary Water Management Division of the Ministry for the Environment of the Democratic Republic of Congo, believes that even these discouraging figures are likely understated.

“The statistics from certain countries – like the DRC – are not up to date. The numbers are approximate; those from other countries are only partial. And all the numbers do not cover the same period; that’s what makes the global statistics presented less than reliable,” Sedeke told IPS on the sidelines of the Fifth SADC Water Dialogue, held in the Swazi capital, Mbabane, on Jun. 28 and 29.

“If we refer just to some of the large countries in the region, like the DRC where more than 75 percent of the population lacked access to potable water at the end of 2010, one can readily see how the reality for SADC is worse than the statistics show,” he added.

“More than 60 percent of the population without access to water in DRC is made up of women and children; to put it another way, more than 35 million Congolese women and children do not have access to potable water,” Cyrille Masamba, another Congolese delegate in Mbabane, told IPS.

According to a report published in March 2011 by the United Nations Environment Programme, the DRC possesses half of the water resources in Africa, but more than 50 million Congolese do not have access to water.

“With the support of development partners like the United Nations Development Programme, the Congolese government could extend water to only [an additional] two percent of the population between 2005 and 2010,” Masamba said.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has just provided two million dollars from its Africa Water Supply programme to strengthen the efforts of the DRC and other SADC member states to address weaknesses in the water sector.

According to Phera Ramoeli, head of SADC’s Water Division, “This amount will help to support member states in conceiving and implementing national policies that can help people to access water for drinking and household use.”

He said the funding from AfDB would cover project expenses for 27 months.

“Despite the assistance provided,” Ramoeli said, “the question of finance for water projects remains a political and social engagement that states take on individually. It is above all a political commitment that decision-makers must take for their own citizens,” Ramoeli told IPS.

“It’s in this sense that each state has a national policy to finance access to water as well as to guide sustainable management of water in the context of climate change,” said Jonathan Kampata, a Zambian expert in water finance. According to him, “water is becoming a big asset for adaptation to greenhouse effects and in the struggle against food insecurity through agriculture.”

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