Pretoria — Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Ronnie Kasrils says the focus of this year's National Water Week will be on raising awareness about responsibly conserving water in the country.
This year's National Water Week takes place from 22-28 March with the theme "Water Washing away Poverty".
It coincides with government's ten years of democracy celebrations and International Water Day on 22 March.
In his statement ahead of the celebrations, Mr Kasrils said the event would also celebrate the success of government's water delivery programme and management during the first decade of democracy.
"This is a particularly important achievement given the backlog inherited in 1994," said Mr Kasrils.
He said that a decade ago, around 14 million people did not have access to safe drinking water and some 21 million people did not have access to a basic level of sanitation.
In the ten years since democracy, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has provided almost 10 million South Africans with access to clean water," said the Minister.
Mr Kasrils added that South Africa had more than achieved the rate of delivery required to meet the millennium targets set by the Heads of State at the United Nations in 2000.
"At that meeting President Thabo Mbeki together with 100 other Heads of State, committed to halving the proportion of people lacking safe water in the world by 2015," he explained.
The Minister said although the goal was to eradicate the backlog of access to water (5 million) and adequate sanitation (16 million) by 2008 and 2010 respectively, it was not enough for the government.
"Our vision for the next ten years is to move people up the Water Ladder, from communal taps to the convenience and dignity of water in people's own yards with each household having its own toilet and even, in time hot and cold running water inside their homes," said the Minister.
He said the provision of access to water, particularly for rural communities, was about improving their lives beyond mere subsistence.
"Apart from avoiding the hardship of carting water over long distances there are also other benefits that result directly from having easy access to clean water, improved hygiene and better sanitation, such as health benefits from reduced transmission of water borne and other diseases," explained Mr Kasrils.
Mr Kasrils said the "blueprint for survival", the National Water Resource Strategy, which will be launched this year, will ensure that the objectives of the Constitution and the Water Act were met.
"South Africa is a water-stressed country and this strategy describes the ways in which the country's water resources will be protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled," he said.
The department has spearheaded the Free Basic Water Policy which, when implemented by Local Government, ensures households receive 6 000 litres of clean water every month free.
"Many South Africans, even though they may have access to clean water, cannot afford to pay for a service that is so essential to their health and basic needs. Already more than 27,6 million people are benefiting from the policy," said the Minister.
Meanwhile, major events taking place during National Water Week include the Women in Water Awards on Friday, the Johannesburg Water Festival on the 23 March and the Baswa le Meetse (Youth in Water) Awards on 26 March.
The Women in Water Awards honour both professional and community-based women who are involved in water management. It aims to recognise the key role that women play in poverty eradication, education and sustainable development in both the urban and rural context.
The Baswa le Meetse awards are presented to schoolchildren or youth, who produce and convey inspiring messages to the public about water and sanitation, through theatre and the arts, such as drama, cultural music, poems, praise singing and drawing.