BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Somali Swahili French Great Lakes Hausa Portugeuse
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Africa  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Politics clouds clean water debate
Residents of the Johannesburg suburb of Kliptown carry drinking water
Many South Africans live in homes without taps or toilets
Developed countries may take it for granted, but the BBC's Hugh Sykes in Johannesburg finds that providing clean water in poorer countries is no easy task.

Water for the bath, water for the shower. water for the toilet. Each leaf of the toilet paper in my hotel is over-printed with a message: "Stand up for better sanitation. More than 2.4 billion people have no toilet."


A lot of people will fight for water from the tap

Shamrock Miducka

Ten minutes down the road from the marble bathrooms of Johannesburg's big hotels is a squatter camp of thousands of rickety huts and shacks.

These makeshift houses have no taps or toilets. The taps are in muddy alleyways, shared by dozens of people.

Aida Matebone, whose home is 10 minutes walk from the nearest water supply told me: "It's difficult for me to come here to wash, and come here to pour water for drinking, because it's very far."

Demand high

Her friend Shamrock Miducka added that because demand for the water is high, a lot of people will fight for water from the tap.


We're talking about 20% of the world's population without access to fresh water

Andy Atkins, Tear Fund

"There's not enough water so that you can wash all your clothes.

"You have to give some other people the chance: this week, they have to wash, then you next week. Which means the cleanliness of the people is so difficult and health is at risk."

Along the edge of the camp are worn-out plastic external toilets with chemical tanks that often fill long before they are changed.

Water campaigner, Andy Atkins, of Tear Fund says that places like this should galvanise everybody to take action.

"It's very hard to know that is going on, and not see this conference take serious action," he says.

"We're talking about 20% of the world's population without access to fresh water, 40% of the world's population without sanitation.

"What that translates into is, for example, a child dying every 15 seconds because of easily-preventable diseases borne in water.

"It should not be controversial to bring fresh water and sanitation to nearly half the world's population. Sadly, it is proving controversial to some governments."

Privatisation debate

The dissenters are the United States and Australia, who do not want sanitation targets. Privatisation is another controversy in the water debate.

People collect water at a communal taps at a settlement in Soweto
Some South Africans have to use communal taps

"We must always acknowledge that water and sanitation are essential services, Simpiwe Nogiaisa of the charity WaterAid explained.

"They must be kept in the hands of government to ensure that everybody, regardless of their income, has access to water and sanitation."

Mr Nogiaisa believes that privatisation will globalise poverty.

"Those services will only be a privilege of those that they can afford, of those that have more dollars, more pounds and so on. The majority of the people that are poor in a number of countries will have no access to essential services," he says.

Free-market supporters

However another lobbyist, Richard Tren of the Sustainable Development Network, says that properly-regulated privatisation is better than centralised government water distribution.

"If you look at the 'privatisation is evil' group, they're largely made up of the unions," he says.

"In developing countries unionised labour is far wealthier than the people who live in shacks, that have no jobs and no access to clean water.

"[Union members] are very much an upper class. When you've got between 40-50% of the population unemployed, they're very much the upper class," he says.

"On the other hand, privatisation needs to be done very carefully. One doesn't want to give too much monopoly power to private suppliers of water, so that they can then use that power to lobby government for special favours."

At the squatter camp, I met a man who carries 40 litres of water in two containers, one and a half kilometres to his home every day.

I wouldn't dare tell him about the fountain of abundant water - going nowhere - outside my Johannesburg hotel.


Key stories

SPECIAL REPORT

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

28 Aug 02 | Africa
28 Aug 02 | Africa
28 Aug 02 | Africa
27 Aug 02 | Africa
12 Aug 02 | Americas
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes