Vienna, 19 March 2003 - According to the UN World Development report, 1.2 billion people worldwide have no access to safe drinking water, and twice as many lack sanitary conveniences. Water is a key factor in the fight against poverty in developing countries. In order to highlight the great importance of this invaluable elixir of life, the United Nations have declared the year 2003 the International Year of Freshwater. The Austrian Development Cooperation has for years focussed on the issue of water supply and wastewater disposal in developing countries. These efforts will be intensified in the future, Austrian Foreign Minister Ferrero-Waldner declared on the occasion of World Water Day on 22 March.
A vicious circle: water shortage, disease and poverty
Clean water is a basic prerequisite for health and better living conditions for the poor. "The negative effects of a lack of safe drinking water are enormous and the poor are hardest hit by these effects," Austrian Foreign Minister Ferrero-Waldner stated on the occasion of World Water Day. Above all the lack of sanitary facilities constitutes a huge problem. "80% of all diseases in developing countries are caused by polluted water. Annually, more than two million people die of diseases that could be prevented," she declared.
But there are also considerable social issues involved in water shortages. Women and children, who are traditionally responsible for fetching water, often have to walk long distances to get the daily supply. This time could be used for social and economically productive activities and for attending school. Full area coverage of water supply is a decisive factor for the economic, social and political development of a country. Therefore, the United Nations in their Millennium Declaration set itself the concrete goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by the year 2015. This goal has also been the guideline for Austria's Development Cooperation in water-related issues.
Concrete help with alternative methods
For this reason, the Austrian Development Cooperation has for years been giving high priority to the development of water supply and sanitary infrastructure in development countries. As examples, the Foreign Minister named the development of full-area-coverage water supply systems in numerous towns in Uganda, the construction of a sea water desalination plant and distribution plants in Palestine, the development of the regional water supply in the province of Sofala in Mozambique, or the development support for municipal water supply systems and rural water supply cooperatives in Cap Verde. "With these concrete projects, Austria has rendered immediate and effective assistance. Safe drinking water and the availability of sanitary conveniences help to considerably improve the lives of people and to reduce the risk of disease."
Provisions have to be made that wastewater and sewage are adequately disposed of. It is important to prevent the pollution of drinking water and the impairment of hygienic standards within the settlements. In this context, Austria has been developing innovative solutions based on ecological sanitary concepts - e.g. the use of chemical toilets.
Focus on rural areas
Besides financing and the development of infrastructure, the commitments in the field of safe water supply also comprise the protection of resources, awareness creation and training to teach the economical use of water as a precious resource. According to Ferrero-Waldner, the development of independent, decentralised institutions for operating, managing and maintaining the water supply and sanitary infrastructure is of crucial importance in this context. "We consciously concentrate our efforts on rural areas. While citizens in built-up areas may be more easily connected to a supply network, rural areas are often neglected. This above all applies to the poorest of the poor and the migration pressure from rural areas to the large cities will increase even further."
In developing regional supply networks, the Austrian Development Cooperation has found it particularly useful to integrate the local population within the context of Public-Private-Partnership models. Activities in this area will be further expanded, among others through the EU initiative "Water for Life". These measures mark concrete steps towards the attainment of the Millennium goals. "Through improved coordination between donor countries we are trying to make sure that disadvantaged regions within the developing countries will not be left behind with regard to the development of water supply systems. What we consider as our task is to achieve a lasting improvement for poor people through sustainable development - and this also implies a decentralised and environmentally compatible development," the Foreign Minister pointed out by way of conclusion.