19 June 2002

Africa: World Summit Must Find Ways of Helping Poor Nations

The World Summit on Sustainable Development is to be held in South Africa in September this year.

Its aim is to bring out strategies and ways to help less developed nations build their economies in order to sustain present and future generations, particularly with sustainable development of their natural resources.

However, as has been written before by others in different media, there is a growing gap between commitments and implementation, and the Earth Summit, is expected to focus on delivery, this being a follow-up on the Rio environmental sustainability summit held in Brazil in 1992.

The archaic question is: How does a summit of this magnitude deliver?

Why has there been a growing gap between commitment and implementation?

Despite the efforts brought about by the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation decade (1981-1990), regional water shortages and deterioration of water quality is serious in many parts of the world and are likely to worsen.

Global studies show projections of per capita all purpose water availability dropping from 1 000-5 000 cubic metres per year today to less than 1 000 cubic metres of water per year by 2030 in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Afghanistan.

Similar regression in per capita total use water availability is forecast in developed countries such as the US, the east European countries and European Russia, where the scale will slide down from over 10 000 cubic metres of water per capita per year to anywhere between 5 000 to 10 000 cubic metres of water per capita per year.

In summary, it appears the per capita water availability will be lessened by 35 percent due to population expansion alone, as compared to today's total use water availability.

The international drinking water supply and sanitation decade programme does not appear to have come to grips with the fact that in less developed countries of Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, though they would approach their maximum developable drinking water supply by the year 2000, it would be quite expensive to develop the remaining water.

In an industrialised country which belongs to the IDC group, competition among different uses of water - for increasing food production for new energy systems such as production of synthetic fuels from coal and shale for increasing power generation, and for increasing of other industries - will aggravate drinking water shortages.

How then should the Earth Summit tackle the problem of deliverance?

While many project proponents do seek public input, it is often too little, too late. More and more, the successful project must meet not only technical financial and regulatory criteria but must also meet the criterion of public acceptability.

Gaining public acceptance, also referred to as informed consent, has become a critical objective in most planning projects, thus initiating resource management planning process emphasis on early and continued public comment.

Why develop resource management plans? As the values and interests of society change, many different and often competing demands are placed on the country's land and water resources.

Resource management planning provides a process for making equitable and efficient decisions about the future use of the resources.

By integrating public comments into the planning process, a plan that balances varied public needs can be produced.

Each of the resources management plans will serve as a 10-year guide for making sound resource management decisions.

A challenging future? On a global level, the third millennium offers a chaotic view when considering total use of natural resources available. Debates will continue on natural resources management. History, however, teaches us that deliberate listing of real and imaginary difficulties has rarely resulted in a future collapse of society.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg should bring out deliverance to sustain and develop the world economy for present and future generations.

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