An Interview with South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs: “Water Knows No Boundaries”

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I interviewed Her Excellency Ms. Edna Molewa, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs of the Republic of South Africa, at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille. South Africa is unique — as a nation as it has a higher financial water budget than defense budget. This is a remarkable achievement for any nation irrespective of its economic status. Thanks to this investment in and prioritization of water, South Africa has made tremendous progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). It has met its goals for water but it lags on its sanitation targets and service deliveries.

In this interview, Ms. Molewa and I discussed the challenges to achieving the sanitation MDG target, possible fudging of numbers by some countries in their MDG reporting, South Africa’s stance on climate change and its position on Sustainable Development Goals.

Highlights of the Interview:

  1. South Africa has met its Millennium Development Goals for water and will fund projects to accomplish the sanitation target.
  2. South Africa’s statistics are monitored by an institution “Statistics South Africa”
  3. South Africa wants to understand the Sustainable Development Goals proposal. It will not deal with poverty as a “by the way” issue.
  4. We should be able to share water as a continent because water knows no boundaries and it is a god given gift to all humanity.
  5. Climate change is not a theory. It is happening. South Africa is working strongly with the continent on this issue.
  6. The World Water Forum was productive and enjoyable. The world should ensure that water is lifted up to a standard that it should be and managed well for the good of ourselves, for our future, and our children’s future.

Student Reporter Arjun Bhargava interviewed South Africa's Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs at the 6th World Water Forum

Paraphrased Transcript of the Interview:

Question: South Africa has met its Millennium Development Goals for water, what are some of the challenges you face in meeting your sanitation goals?

Answer: Water and sanitation are Siamese twins. South Africa’s capacity was higher for water than sanitation. As a result there was a slowing down on sanitation. Capacity and adequate funding have been identified as issues. Sanitation will be highlighted and lifted up to be given capacity and adequate funding to accomplish the MDG target for sanitation by 2015.

Question: Uganda’s Deputy Minister of State for Water accused countries of fudging numbers on MDGs. What are your thoughts on the issue?

Answer: South Africa has an institution called “Statistics South Africa” and throughout the year this institution monitors the Government’s statistical data and delivery work. In South Africa, Statistics South Africa has verified the data. The African Union Summit will discuss this issue as a continent. The African Union might also discuss the establishment of an institution that will help produce reliable statistics.

Question: Does South Africa support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposal from NGOs that will be discussed at the Rio+20 Conference?

Answer: The Millennium Development Goals are a world brand. They clearly articulate what must be done with issues of poverty, health, and environmental matters. What South Africa is saying is that nothing new should replace the existing MDGs. People suggest that the SDGs will include poverty issues, as issues such as energy and the water-energy nexus are discussed. South Africa does not want to deal with poverty as a “by the way” issue. South Africa is willing to understand the proposal.

Question: South Africa plays an active role in the African Union to mediate peace in the continent. What best management practices would you like to share with rest of the countries on transboundary waters and management?

Answer: South Africa does believe that transboundary management of water is doable. South Africa does have examples of Best Management Practices collaborating with Lesotho to transfer water from Lesotho to South Africa and then to Namibia and Botswana. It ends into Orange and Vaal Rivers. These are shared rivers. Consequently, the water does reach the downstream nations. It is worth emulating the mechanism of having a Commission between the two countries that is at high level such as the ministerial level that works on a protocol of an agreement at high level for both cabinets and also having a technical and project management team. As an established body, the Commission reports to the Heads of States meeting in the region. The Limpopo River between South Africa and Zimbabwe is also worth emulating in an amicable way as “sharing” is emphasized. We should be able to share water as a continent because water knows no boundaries and it is a god given gift to all humanity.

Question: What is South Africa’s stance on climate change?

Answer: Climate change is not a theory. It is happening. The impacts are already being felt by all of us and throughout the world. South Africa is experiencing weather patterns that we never used to see. The Eastern part is seeing disasters like Cyclones and this was not the case before. The Western part of the country is becoming drier and drier.

It is necessary to act. South Africa has decided to create a policy which will culminate into an Act and decide who must do what – in order to mitigate against climate change impacts and adapt to climate change. South Africa is working strongly with the continent. Such initiatives are occurring not only on South Africa’s soil but entirely on the continent.  The African Ministers Council on the Environment (AMCEN), and the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC ) headed by Prime Minister Meles are applying for adaptation and green climate funds to help those countries which are not able to work on their own programs/projects to mitigate and adapt on the continent.

Question: Has the World Water Forum been a productive and enjoyable forum for you?

Answer: Certainly the World Water Forum was very productive and enjoyable. We have shared so much and learned so much. The whole world should work together to ensure that water is lifted up to a standard that it should be and managed well for the good of ourselves, our future and our children’s future.

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