27 March 2003

Africa: Water Summit's Value Questioned

THE value of international summits and forums and the high costs of organising such events were questioned by many participants at the end of the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan, last week.

Critics say the expected outcome and activity plans of such international events do not justify the huge amount of money pumped into organising them.

They argue the money would be much better used in achieving the Millennium and World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) targets set in Johannesburg last year.

Agnes van Ardenne, Minister for Development Co-operation of the Netherlands, said at a press conference at the Forum on Friday: "We must stop producing more papers and start implementing action plans. We do not need another forum, we need sustainable action".

She said such forums cost too much money.

The WSSD cost more than N$400 million to organise.

No figure had been given for the cost of the Forum in Japan.

While Ronnie Kasrils, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in South Africa, was positive that the targets could be met despite the U$20 billion a year needed to meet water requirements on the continent, Van Ardenne was less optimistic.

In response to a question from The Namibian on how the Iraq war would affect the attainment of the targets on water and sanitation, Van Ardenne said she was not certain whether the targets could be met "with or without the war".

She said she could not really predict how it would affect the targets, but added that the war would cost massive amounts of money and cause a lot of damage in Iraq.

"We need to do a lot more than fighting a war. War is terrible. I can only hope it will end soon".

Another hurdle hampering development in the water sector is corruption.

"There is too much corruption in water management, which affects the poor the most," Van Ardenne said.

She said the problem was particularly acute in Africa.

"Africa has to change its governance at national, regional and local level".

She said the decentralisation policy of many African governments over the past 10 years has led to chaos: "Local authorities have become responsible for water supply, health and education, but they have no money and no capacity. They have their hands in the air".

She said one way to address the problem would be for civil society to be more assertive and alert in Africa.

"This could move governments to change their attitudes towards the poor".

Van Ardenne also had words of criticism for European countries, saying the protection of European markets was a matter of injustice.

"An amount of US$50 billion per year is given to poverty reduction by these countries, but at the same time US$300 billion per year is spent on protecting our markets".

She said this meant African countries had no access to European markets and lost out on income.

" We must reduce these barriers," she said.

The Minister said it was also vital to combine poverty reduction with water.

"The two are inter-related. If you provide access to water and forget the poverty side, you would not have solved your problems".

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