From: The Edwardsville Intelligencer
U.N. Summit Addresses Water Problems
EXPERTS: TAILORING AID KEY TO SAVING LIVES, ENDING WATER CONFLICTS
By KATHY CHENAULT | Posted: Saturday, August 31, 2002 12:00 am
Associated Press Writer
SOWETO, South Africa (AP) _ A putrid smell rises from a brackish stream bubbling over rocks and trash heaps next to a squatter camp, where cholera outbreaks and sewer runoff are facts of life.
“You never get used to the smell or the dirtiness,” said Skhumbuzo Ntshangase, 26, who lives with his wife in a shack about 40 yards from the polluted water. “Kids play in the water and many get sick with cholera and other things. We try to stop them but they are kids. They like to play in water.”
The suffering of families living next to that foul creek touches the heart of talks Saturday about 15 miles away at the U.N. development summit’s water conference. Experts and government officials from around the world said urgent steps are needed to solve water problems ranging from shortages to cleaning up contaminated streams.
“We are not just talking about quantity of water, but also water quality,” said Jeremy Bird of the U.N. Environmental Program, based in Nairobi.
Bird said he fears the scope of the world’s water crisis overwhelms local officials and those who endure the harshest living conditions.
For Ntshangase, the problem is not just that his hut lacks running water, forcing him to rely on a communal tap and use an outdoor pit latrine. But every day, he said, the stench from the stream reminds him of the surrounding squalor.
“People hate living like that and they shouldn’t have to,” said John Briscoe, senior water adviser at the World Bank. “People have a higher need for dignity.”
U.N. experts say more than 2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die each year because they lack clean drinking water and proper sanitation. According to the U.N. Environment Program, about half of the world’s rivers are seriously depleted and polluted.
Officials at UNEP, based in Nairobi, don’t need to look far for examples of urban pollution.
Referring to the Nairobi River, which runs through the Kenyan capital, UNEP chief Klaus Toepfer said: “It is basically sewage. Nothing more.”
Water shortages and contamination tie in with other hardships _ food scarcity, dismal job prospects and health threats _ ravaging impoverished areas, so addressing pollution and limited resource problems can lead to huge gains, experts said.
“For those living in absolute poverty, nature is their most dependable resource _ a source of food, shelter, clothing, heating and water,” said Rob Flavin of the Knowledge Pool, a British-linked network of water experts. “So any environmental degradation will have a disproportionate effect upon their livelihoods.”
On Saturday, a British economist unveiled a Water Poverty Index to help local officials get water to more people, clean up pollution and avoid fights over scarce resources by tailoring projects to a community’s most critical needs.
The index, modeled after the internationally recognized Consumer Price Index, also can eliminate graft that could prevent those who most desperately need help from getting it, said Caroline Sullivan of the independent Center for Ecology and Hydrology. She led a one-year research project to devise the index.
“This way, an official can’t just decide to put a water project in his hometown because he wants it, or in a village where his aunt lives,” she said. “The index determines who needs resources the most. And it gives data to policy-makers to decide the best way to help those people.”
At the Soweto squatter camp, people shrug when they describe the days when sewage from nearby houses runs in ruts near their tin-sided shanties. South African officials say the camp is just temporary, so they have no plans to clean it up.
Ntshangase has lived there 10 years.
“I don’t like it, but what can I do?”