Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the launch of the UNDP 2006 Human Development Report, Kirstenbosch, National Botanical Gardens: Cape Town, 09 November 2006

Programme Director,
The Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Mr. Kemal Derviş,
Director of the Human Development Report, Mr Kevin Watkins,
Ms Scholastica Kirimayo and esteemed members of the delegation from the United Nations Development Programme,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Premier of the Western Cape, Mr. Ebrahim Rasool,
Mayor of Cape Town, Ms. Helen Zille,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of the Government of South Africa I would like to thank Administrator Derviş and the UNDP for the accolade they have bestowed on our country by choosing South Africa as the venue for the global launch of the Human Development Report 2006, whose theme, as has already been said, is Water and Human Development.
We were indeed very humbled to receive Administrator Derviş’ letter earlier this year in which he said: “Since South Africa has introduced progressive legislation on water as a human right, the Report introduces this as an important example to follow and highlights the three crucial policy ingredients for progress that are present in the South African case: a clear national plan with well-defined targets, a strong national regulatory framework with devolution to local authorities, and constant monitoring of performance and progress.”

Whatever will be our views about the analysis and recommendations contained in the Human Development Report, I am certain that the Report will make a valuable and constructive contribution to the global efforts to achieve people-centred sustainable development by helping us more effectively to respond to the important issue on which it is focused, namely, “Power, poverty and the global water crisis”.

We are proud to say that over the years, we have relied, among others, on the UNDP Human Development Reports for our programmes, appraisals and further plans to address the challenge of building a people-centred society and attaining the goal of a better life for all.

Indeed, by virtue of the wealth of information and knowledge they present, the Human Development Reports also provide an overview of trends in the progress that humanity is making to overcome the many threats, challenges and obstacles in our advance towards the realisation of the objective of all-round human development.

As we know, the first Human Development Report was published in 1990. Since then, The Report has evolved steadily, in keeping with the dramatic and often rapid changes that have characterised the world. Yet, some realities have not changed at all. Today, development is as much about people as it was in the early 1990s. William H Draper III who was the Administrator of the UNDP in 1990, said in his Foreword to the very first Human Development Report that:

“…we are rediscovering the essential truth that people must be at the centre of all development. The purpose of development is to offer people more options. One of their options is access to income - not as an end in itself but as a means to acquiring human well-being. But there are other options as well, including long life, knowledge, political freedom, personal security, community participation and guaranteed human rights. People cannot be reduced to a single dimension as economic creatures. What makes them and the study of the development process so fascinating is the entire spectrum through which human capabilities are expanded and utilized”.

The imperative to expand and utilise this complete spectrum of human capabilities collectively forms the basis for the four indices that, to a very large extent, have been pioneered and improved by the Human Development Report, namely the Human Development Index, the Gender-related Development Index, the Gender Empowerment Measure, and the Human Poverty Index.

As with the various options to promote human well-being regularly advanced by the UNDP Human Development Reports, each of these indices should not be read in isolation. Clearly, putting people at the very centre of international dialogue on sustainable development, which is the stated purpose of the Human Development Report, means maintaining a holistic approach to development. In this regard, the attainment of a better life for all should drive whatever we do to promote sustainable development.

This is very important because the poor of the world are particularly passionate about the same options highlighted by William H Draper III, and are entitled to “long life, knowledge, political freedom, personal security, community participation and guaranteed human rights”.

We are happy that the Human Development Report for 2006 focuses, correctly, on some of the central and critical aspects of development which the more affluent members of the global community may take for granted, namely, access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation.

Indeed, we cannot speak about development while people subsist without clean water and proper sanitation, and thus become exposed to numerous preventable diseases.

As in many other areas of our lives, we have a duty to fight against domestic and global apartheid in terms of access to water. As the Report says correctly, in the past, in our country access to water reflected the inequalities of apartheid. Inevitably, as democratic South Africa sought to eradicate the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, we had to address this gross injustice. We therefore thought that it was right and proper that we should indeed proclaim and treat access to water as a basic human right.

This was important because during the apartheid years, water use was based on the English common law principle linking control and access to water to private ownership of landed property. This meant that the majority of black people had no access to water. Accordingly, after our liberation, water had to be declared a public resource, owned by the people as a whole, and policies and programmes put in place to ensure integrated water management and universal access to water.

Of course, as many South Africans would attest, the human right to water gave birth to other challenges such as a sense of expectation and entitlement among sections in society at times leading to disputes over supply and pricing. However, what is important is that both the public and private sector institutions and enterprises dealing with water are alive to the rights-based approach to water provision.

Whatever the progress we are making to respond to the task to ensure universal access to clean water and sanitation, we are very pleased that the UNDP Human Development Report 2006 will give us the possibility to learn from other success stories in water provision, so that the lessons from countries such as Colombia, Senegal, Chile and others are used to ensure that the poor of the world have better access to water.

Further, all of us, particularly from the developing countries, should fully understand the benefits of cooperation in water management and provision. In this regard, we may want to study the example of the European Union, which through cooperation among its Member States, has been able to improve river water standards thus creating gains for human health, better access for domestic users, and industry. Again, we may also want to look at the cooperation between Lesotho and South Africa and the benefits of revenue and improved water access for the two countries respectively.

Clearly, cooperation and mutual benefit are very critical, especially for countries and regions with low levels of water. For instance, I am informed that countries in our bigger neighbourhood, such as Malawi, Kenya and our own country, are already below the water-stress threshold while the Democratic Republic of Congo has more than a quarter of the region’s water.

Programme Director:

To ensure that we expand and utilise the entire spectrum of human capabilities that William Draper spoke about, requires also that we give equal weight to all components of development, be they political, economic or social. We therefore agree with what the outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his report In Larger Freedom that:

“…we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

Clearly, development and security complement and mutually reinforce each other. It is clear that one simply cannot be achieved without the other, and neither is sustainable without respect for human rights, which empowers individuals and communities with the freedom to make better choices.

When the world leaders gathered at the United Nations Headquarters last year to assess the progress made to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, collectively they expressed concern that globally, and especially with regard to Africa, the disparities and inequalities of the past continued to persist.

The Human Development Report 2006 must help us to respond to the real and dire conditions of the poor with regard to adequate access to water and sanitation, not with lofty words but with concrete actions. We have to translate our words into actions that make a difference in the quality of life of billions of poor people.

As we know, Africa is working to respond to the many challenges facing the continent through the development programme of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NEPAD. NEPAD seeks to engage different sectors to mobilise internal and external resources so as to contribute to the regeneration of our continent and the expansion of the full spectrum of human capabilities that this entails.

Today, in response to the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to unlock the full benefits of sustainable water management and sanitation for poverty reduction and economic growth in Africa, co-ordination is taking place between Governments and development institutions through a number of major policy instruments, namely the overarching framework of the NEPAD Water Resources Management Programme, as well as the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative (RWSSI), and the African Water Facility (AWF). These programmes are driven by the understanding that sustainable solutions to water and sanitation problems require national, regional and international cooperation.

Within the global context, the framework offered by the Millennium Development Goals for planning and monitoring progress achieved in the international development agenda will become irrelevant if Africa fails and becomes even further marginalised.

Accordingly, the measure of success in achieving the Millennium Development Goals lies not merely in global aggregates, but in the tangible benefits that are made to improve the quality of life of the desperately poor in each and every country.

Accordingly, we have a duty to ensure that we persist in our effort to achieve the national targets we have set ourselves with regard to water and sanitation. A few days ago on November 6, our Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, the Honourable Lindiwe Hendricks, addressed this challenge and said:

“For South Africa (the response to the water challenge) started with our Constitution, which guarantees the right to water for all and is supported by international agreements, such as the Millennium Development Goals. From this starting point of recognising provision of water services as a basic human right, we as the relevant government department, are able to put in place the policies, legislation, and institutional mechanisms so that these critical services are delivered to our people. We are supported by our President who has given us targets of achieving universal access to water by 2008 and sanitation by 2010, as well as the Minister of Finance who has allocated resources towards achieving these targets, as well as towards creating the bulk infrastructure for building new dams and pipelines which are required to meet the increasing demand for water.

“This year I was able to attend the Stockholm International Water Week, and one of the issues being discussed was the concern that we will start running out of water in 20 years due to increasing demand and change in weather patterns, as some have predicted. The message coming through was that if we better manage our water resources we can avoid such a crisis. It is of course necessary for us to respond to climate change issues and we look forward to positive actions from the current discussions that are taking place in Kenya on the new commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.”

The tribute paid to our country by the UNDP through its decision to carry out the global launch of the 2006 Human Development Report, the purpose of this ceremony most appropriately taking place at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, imposes an obligation on us to ensure that indeed we do everything necessary to meet our water and sanitation targets. We will do this.

In his famous poem, “The Wasteland”, T.S. Eliot used the allegory of a world without water. He wrote:

“Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water”

Together, we have a responsibility to ensure that our common globe does not turn into a mountain of rock without water, a place where we cannot stop and think, where we can neither stand nor lie nor sit, condemned to sneer and snarl from doors of mudcracked houses. We need to work together to create a vibrant, developed and prosperous world where the full spectrum of human capabilities can and must be expanded and the full potential of every human being realised.

The outstanding South African poet and writer, Antjie Krog, wrote the Preamble to our 1997 White Paper on a National Water Policy for South Africa. She said:

“There is water within us, let there be water with us. Water never rests. When flowing above, it causes rain and dew. When flowing below it forms streams and rivers. If a way is made for it, it flows along that path. And we want to make that path. We want the water of this country to flow out into a network - reaching every individual - saying: here is this water, for you. Take it; cherish it as affirming your human dignity; nourish your humanity. With water we will wash away the past, we will from now on ever be bounded by the blessing of water.

“Water has many forms and many voices. Unhonoured, keeping its seasons and rages, its rhythms and trickles, water is there in the nursery bedroom; water is there in the apricot tree shading the backyard, water is in the smell of grapes on an autumn plate, water is there in the small white intimacy of washing underwear. Water - gathered and stored since the beginning of time in layers of granite and rock, in the embrace of dams, the ribbons of rivers - will one day, unheralded, modestly, easily, simply flow out to every South African who turns a tap. That is my dream.”

Let the UNDP Human Development Report 2006 serve to guide all nations as all humanity combines to achieve the fundamental human right of universal access to adequate water and sanitation. Let this be our common dream. Thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

9 November 2006


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