MESSAGE FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTORAs a United Nations Programme with its Global Headquarters in Africa, UN-HABITAT has been actively engaged over the past twenty years in supporting African countries in their effort to develop sustainable human settlements, this includes ensuring that the poor are provided with adequate shelter and basic services. We are committed to helping the international community meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of poor people without clean water and adequate sanitation.
I am intensely aware that Africa needs the goodwill of the rest of the world, but this continent also remains a challenge to Africans. It was a moment of great satisfaction to me when the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which was held last year, in Johannesburg, gave a clarion call to the international community to focus its efforts on addressing the development needs of Africa. The Summit rightly identified the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) for special attention.
Currently, UN-HABITAT acts as the convenor of the NEPAD Cluster on Environment, Population and Urbanization. Last August, the Africa Unity Summit took place in Maputo, Mozambique. I left the Summit convinced that Africa has entered the new Millennium with a sense of hope and renewed confidence. With widening and deepening political reforms, economic liberalization and a strengthened civil society, increasing numbers of African countries are striving towards economic recovery and sustainable development.
Yet, this economic recovery could be in peril if Africa fails to manage its water resource efficiently and equitably. At the turn of the new Millennium, over 300 million people in Africa did not have adequate access to safe water. And this number is growing.
But perhaps nowhere is the challenge more complex than in the rapidly growing cities of Africa. With an average growth rate of five per cent per annum, Africa is the fastest urbanising region in the world today. Between 1990 and 2020, an important target year for the Millennium Development Goals, urban populations in Africa will rise fourfold from 138 to 500 million.
Water scarcity in African cities is fast becoming a potential source of social and political conflict. More than half of the populations living in African cities today are denied access to municipal supplies. Poor service provision is extremely detrimental to the health and economy of the African continent as has been underscored by UN-HABITAT’s recent Global Report on Water and Sanitation in the World’s Cities. Sustainable development starts with people’s health and dignity. Yet, Africa has entered the new Millennium with these fundamental conditions of human development unmet. An African girl child is often forced to trade education for water. Sanitation can be far more than a public health issue to her: it determines her privacy, safety and dignity; it determines whether her potential to become a productive citizen in society will ever be fulfilled.
It is indeed a sobering thought that a most blatant breach of a basic human right - the right of access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation - is happening right now to half of Africa’s urban populations living in slums and shanties. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was not being cynical when he said during the World Summit on Sustainable Development that, “no issue has ever been more neglected. And it has been neglected because it is of concern mainly to the poor and the powerless.”
It is unbelievable but true that a resident of Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi and one of the largest in Africa, earning less than a dollar a day, pays as much as five times the price paid by an average North American for a litre of water. This is also true of water prices in Dar es Salaam and in many of the least developed countries in this region.
For me, it is, therefore, truly gratifying to see that water and sanitation is finally receiving its due recognition at the international level. The Millennium Summit and the World Summit on Sustainable Development have set clear, time-bound targets for access to safe water and basic sanitation. These goals, however, will not in and of themselves change the lives of people. Concrete actions are needed at country, city and neighbourhood levels to translate these goals into reality.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development also saw a renewed call to UN-HABITAT from the African Ministers to expand and further strengthen its Water for African Cities Programme. This programme, which is currently assisting eight African countries to put in place integrated water management practices in their cities, has already been singled out by NEPAD for further support. The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 57/275 adopted in December 2002, also called upon UN-HABITAT to further support the implementation of the Water for African Cities Programme.
In the last Governing Council meeting of UN-HABITAT held in Nairobi in April last year, African Ministers joined their voices once again requesting UN-HABITAT to further strengthen the Water for African Cities programme in support of NEPAD.
More recently, in June last year, the leaders of the industrialised world met at the G-8 Summit in Evian to commit themselves to Africa’s development and to help support African countries to bring safe water to all.
Clearly, the time for action is now and at UN-HABITAT we have committed increasing resources to overcoming this problem, especially within Africa. For example, UN-HABITAT recently established a Water and Sanitation Trust Fund to provide a fast-track mechanism to cities and municipalities and enable them to reach out to the poorest of the poor. Focused on Africa, this Fund will provide a much-needed mechanism to foster pro-poor investment in cities and municipalities and will be the principal funding source for further implementation of the Water for African Cities Programme. Drawing upon UN-HABITAT’s core competencies, experience and networks, the Trust Fund will offer its members the opportunity to enhance their aid-effectiveness.
In October last year, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Hon. Susan Whelan, Minister for International Cooperation of Canada under which the Canada Fund for Africa will contribute Can$15 million to the Water and Sanitation Trust Fund of UN-HABITAT, in support of the second phase of the Water for African Cities Programme. In early December 2003, the Government of Norway announced a further contribution to the Trust Fund of 10 Million Kroners.
At the Pan African Ministerial Conference on Water held in Addis Ababa in December last year, the second phase of the Water for African Cities Programme was launched. The conference forged new partnerships on water in Africa with the ministers appealing for expanded support from other development partners for the newly established Trust Fund.
UN-HABITAT has the hard-won experience and core competencies to assist African countries in areas of advocacy, awareness building, strengthening managerial and institutional capacity and demonstration of new and innovative approaches through pilot projects. In fact, UN-HABITAT’s work on Water for African Cities has been so successful, it has provided a model for similar initiatives in Asia. Recently, UN-HABITAT signed cooperation agreements with the President of the Asian Development Bank and the Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, which will bring $ 10 million in grant support and $ 500 million in fast track credit to Asian cities for pro-poor investment in water and sanitation, through the Water for Asian cities Programme. Through this initiative, we are trying to establish a new model for cooperation, closely linking political mobilization and capacity building with follow-up investment in the sector.
I see a growing donor confidence in Africa, which augurs well for the continent. By combining the experience of UN-HABITAT and the strength of our partners, I am confident that we will develop a new partnership for international cooperation in supporting the internationally agreed goals for water and sanitation in this continent. I would therefore like to conclude by making a fervent appeal to all people of goodwill to join the continuing efforts of UN-HABITAT to support what world leaders alluded to at the World Summit on Sustainable Development: Clean water and adequate sanitation are “humanity’s best investment to achieve development and sustainability”.