The backdrop against which the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development (August 26, September 4, 2002) was held was the issue of environmental degradation caused by human actions to achieve speedy economic growth, threatening the course of life-sustaining natural process and depleting the resources that future generations will need for their progress and prosperity.

Although environmentalists have been raising a hue and cry over the degradation of the environment for quite some time, global concern about the environmental issues was first seriously discussed as late as 1972 at the Stockholm Conference. There was, however, no immediate serious follow-up action. It was nearly eleven years after the Stockholm meet, that a World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) was set up. This Commission, in its historic document “Our Common Future” (1987), suggested the concept of “Sustainable Development”, and called upon all nations to address the issues of the environment while implementing development programmes. This was followed by The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when a far-reaching programme of sustainable development was adopted. Following the acceptance of the Brundtland Commission Report by the United Nations General Assembly, several international institutions made fundamental commitments to sustainable development. The Rio Summit resolved to fix targets, draw time-tables and name partnerships to speedily increase access to clean water, sanitation, adequate shelter, food security and the protection of bio-diversity. The Summit had addressed poverty–alleviation measures, especially the adequate provision of water, sanitation and healthcare facilities to disadvantaged people without easy access to the basic minimum needs of life. The Rio-Conference, known as Earth Summit-I had before it a very wide and ambitious agenda on climate change, depletion of ozone layer, shrinking of tropical rain forests, loss of bio-diversities, worldwide loss of top soil and a lot of issues intimately linked to the alleviation of poverty in terms of income, health, education, food and nutrition.


johenesburg-2002The Earth Summit-II, (the Johannesburg Summit held in 2002), reiterated the global commitment to sustainable development to ensure the relationship between nature’s resources and human needs (or reeds) which meant that the development which comes at the cost of natural resources should not exceed the Planet’s carrying capacity. It resolved to build a humane, equitable and caring global society cognizant of the need for human dignity for all. The Conference recognized that poverty eradication, changing consumption and production patterns, and protecting and managing the natural resource base for economic and social development are overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development. More than 21,000 people attended the Summit, including 9101 delegates, 8277 NGO representatives and 4012 accredited Media. Among the participants was Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh Sanitation Movement, who presented a special paper on sanitation.

The Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment Report 2000 by the WHO and the UNICEF provided an overview on the water supply and sanitation sector. According to the Report, nearly one of five people, or 1.2 billion men, women and children have no access to fresh water and a staggering 2.4 billion suffer from lack of adequate sanitation. Dirty drinking water and poor sanitation are recognised as the biggest killers in the world, responsible for 2.2 million deaths a year. According to Ms. Carol Bellamy, the head of the UNICEF, nearly 1.1 million children under the age of five die each year of easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea. According to the U.N. two million people, mostly children, die each year from water or sanitation related diseases – the equivalent of a jumbo-jet full of children crashing every four hours. The relationships between water, poverty–alleviation and sustainable development are increasingly evident. People suffering from lack of water, or those who become ill from water and sanitation related diseases are unable to sustain their own livelihoods or to contribute to the social and economic development of their society. Their road towards sustainable development is impeded.

Every year, 2.2 million people die of diarrhoea; millions more suffer nutritional, educational and economic loss through diarrhoeal disease, which improvements in water supply and sanitation could prevent. At any one time 1.5 billion people – one in every four people worldwide – suffer from parasitic worm infections, stemming from human excreta and solid wastes in the environment.

Better sanitation services and clean water are critical if the lives of the urban poor are to be improved, Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, U.N. Habitat Executive Director, has stressed. “Access to such life-saving basic needs is an important first step in the process of slum upgrading.” The number of urban dwellers not receiving safe water reached an all-time high of 118 million in 2000, an increase of 62 million since 1990. The situation with sanitation is much worse, with more than three times as many people denied even minimal sanitation facilities over the same period.

The Summit

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, in his vital speech on May 17, 2002, identified five specific areas where concrete results are both essential and achievable:-

Water and Sanitation: To provide access to at least 1 billion people who lack clean drinking water and 2 billion people who lack proper sanitation.

Energy: To provide access to more than 2 billion people who lack modern energy services; promote renewable energy; reduce over-consumption; and ratify the Kyoto protocol to address climate change.

Health: To address the effects of toxic and hazardous materials; reduce air pollution which kills 3 million people each year, and lower the incidence of malaria and African  guineaworm, which are linked with polluted water and poor sanitation.

Agricultural production: To work to reverse land degradation, which affects about two thirds of the world’s agricultural production.

Biodiversity and ecosystem management: To reverse the processes that have destroyed about half the world’s tropical rainforest and mangroves and are threatening 70% of the world’s coral reefs and decimating the world’s fisheries.

This agenda, known as WEHAB, is about having safe, clean water to drink. It is about  utilising energy in a sustainable way in our businesses and industries. It is about enabling people to have heating, and lighting, and to cook food in a much less damaging way to the environment. It is about being able to have good health wherever you are in the world. It is about having land to grow our food and the biodiversity the planet needs to sustain itself.


johenesburg-2002-2Mr. Kofi Annan on Sept. 2, 2002 rallied national leaders attending the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg with an urgent plea to preserve the global environment. He said participants must face “an uncomfortable truth that the model of development we are accustomed to has been fruitful for the few but flawed for the many”. Noting that governments could not meet environmental challenges alone, he said civil society groups have a critical role “as partners, advocates and watchdogs”

Johannesburg Declaration

Committing themselves to build a humane, equitable and caring global society cognizant of the need for human dignity for all, the heads of States and governments assumed a collective responsibility to advance and strengthen the interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development, social development and environmental protection – at the local, national, regional and global levels.

Recognizing that humankind was at a crossroads, the world leaders had united in a common resolve to produce a practical and visible plan that should bring about poverty eradication and human development, the Declaration said.

The heads of States and governments recognized that poverty eradication, changing consumption and production patterns, protecting and managing the natural resource base for economic and social development, were overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development.

They welcomed the Johannesburg Summit’s focus on the indivisibility of human dignity and resolved through decisions on targets, timetables and partnerships to speedily increase access to clean water, sanitation, adequate shelter, energy, health care, food security and the protection of biodiversity. At the same time, they would work together to assist one another in gaining access to financial resources, benefit from the opening of markets, ensure capacity-building, use modern technology for development, and ensure technology transfer, human resource development, as well as education and training, to banish underdevelopment forever.

According to the Declaration, the world leaders would continue to pay special attention to the development needs of small  developing States and the least developed countries. They recognized that sustainable development required a long-term perspective and broad-based participation in policy formulation, decision-making and implementation at all levels. They would continue to work for stable partnerships with all major groups respecting the independent, important roles of each.

The leaders agreed that in pursuit of their legitimate activities, the private sector had a duty to contribute to the evolution of equitable and sustainable communities and societies. They also agreed that there was a need for that sector to enforce corporate accountability within a transparent and stable regulatory environment.

Describing the 1992 Rio Summit as a significant milestone that had set a new agenda for sustainable development, they reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. Between Rio and Johannesburg, the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development and the Doha Ministerial Conference had defined a comprehensive vision for the future of humanity.

The world leaders said the Johannesburg Summit had brought together a rich tapestry of peoples and views in a constructive search for a common path towards a world that respected and implemented the vision of sustainable development.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development concluded in Johannesburg on  September 4, 2002, with world leaders declaring that the “deep fault line” between rich and poor posed a major threat to global prosperity and stability, and then adopted a broad plan to address it, containing specific global targets in poverty reduction, clean water and sanitation and infant mortality.


The UN-HABITAT organized important side-events during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Due emphasis was given to water and sanitation at the Water Dome where all important stakeholders in this sector were participating and sharing information. The Sulabh International Social Service Organization displayed various technologies and models of on-site sanitation at the U.N. pavilion which was visited by numerous dignitaries and people from all over the world. The Water for Asian Cities was launched from the Water Dome as well as seminars on Urban Sanitation and Water for African Cities were held there. The Millennium Development Task Force on Water organized a side event on the Millennium Development Targets on Access to Safe Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation. The Handwash Event was organized on September 2002, ‘World Health and Poverty Day’ to emphasize hygienic practices and focus on safe and clean drinking water.

Implementation Plan

The wide-ranging plan which was adopted, calls for by 2015: (i) halving the number of people living without safe drinking water or basic sanitation; and (ii) reducing mortality rates for infants and children under five by two thirds, and maternal mortality by three quarters. Achieving  these goals would cost an estimated $ 180 billion each year to tackle water problems.

Achieving progress towards global targets on sanitation will require immense efforts. Previous progress in the sector suggests that reaching the targets will be impossible without considerably increasing the capacity of the sector. To achieve the 2015 targets as envisaged in Vision 21, an additional 2.2 billion people will need access to sanitation and an additional 1.6 billion people will need access to water supply. This means that water supply services need to be provided to 292,000 people, and sanitation facilities to 397,000 people every day until 2015.

Improving access to water supply and sanitation will dramatically reduce the numbers of people suffering from diseases such as diarrhoea, intestinal worms, trachoma and schistosomiasis. It is important to bear in mind that most of the water collected through sewer systems in developing countries is not treated and disposed of properly.

Most of this wastewater is discharged directly into rivers, lakes and oceans without any treatment. This has serious consequences for the health and economic development of those affected, especially in downstream and coastal population, and  the ecology.

For 2000-2015, all population growth is expected to occur in developing regions. Developed regions are projected to see their populations decrease by 6% over the next 50 years. Side by side, the global rural population is expected to stabilize at around 3.20 billion in 2015 (from 2.97 billion at present) and population growth will mainly occur in urban areas. The challenge, therefore, is to provide the basic water supply infrastructure required by nearly 1 billion urban dwellers by 2015, and by 1.9.billion by 2025. This is on top of the 2.7 billion urban people currently served. The efforts will have to be even greater for sanitation services, as 1.1 billion urban dwellers will need to gain access by 2015 and 2.1 billion by 2025, on top of the 2.4 billion served in 2000.

The needs arising from this rapid urbanization should not detract from the extensive needs of people living in rural areas, where around 581 million people will need to gain access to water supply facilities, and 1.1 billion to sanitation services, by 2015. By 2025, 1 billion people need to gain access to sanitation, to achieve the universal coverage proposed in VISION 21.

Meeting the targets will require a better understanding of the sector and the progress being made, so that efforts can be more efficient in achieving results. This requires better and more broadly-based monitoring to collect, analyze and use data locally for the development of more effective initiatives. These efforts must move beyond simple coverage surveys, and must explore the issues of performance, equity, cost and quality and adequacy of services.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) has set up a trust fund aimed at halving the number of people who do not have access to basic sanitation or clean water. Launched as part of the worldwide observance of World Habitat Day, the “Water and Sanitation Trust Fund” is a key follow-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“The aim of the Trust Fund, which has an initial investment of $1 million, is to kick-start a plan of action to meet the targets set in the (UN) Millennium Development Goals and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation concerned with water and sanitation,” said UN-HABITAT Executive Director, Ms. Anna Tibaijuka.