Kader Asmal wins Stockholm Water Prize

The Stockholm Water Foundation has awarded this year's Stockholm Water Prize to Professor Kader Asmal, the former Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in South Africa.

Professor Asmal, currently South Africa’s Minister of Education, was awarded the 2000 Stockholm Water Prize in recognition of his “unprecedented efforts in the development of vision, legislation and practice in the field of water management in South Africa.”

The Stockholm Water Prize, founded in 1990, is presented annually to an institution, organisation, individual or company that has made a substantial contribution to the preservation, enhancement or availability of the world’s water resources. The Prize recognises outstanding research, action or education that increases knowledge of water as a resource and protects its usability for all life.

Asmal – a noted human rights scholar, teacher and activist who also serves as chairman of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) – will receive the $150,000 prize for his role in the drafting of the South African Constitution.

Professor Asmal became South Africa’s Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in 1994 and was responsible for developing an action plan to solve the country’s large water problems. The Foundation said Asmal had initiated a fundamental overhaul of water management policy and practice, ensuring that policies and practices were anchored in human rights, social justice and environmental sustainability (see related story).

Asmal’s introduction of the National Water Act of 1998 had ended the country’s use of water as a political tool to fuel racial segregation, the Foundation said.

At the time of his ministerial appointment, more than 16 million South Africans did not have reasonable access to safe drinking water, and some 20 million lacked access to safe sanitation. Today, some four million people having benefited directly through water provision close to their homes, and another three million have access at schools, clinics and work places.

Among the National Water Act’s key provisions were the ‘water reserve’ concept that puts human needs and basic ecological functioning before the interests of commercial or industrial uses; ‘water-use rights,’ which means water use is paid for on a sliding scale (major water users such as industry and agriculture pay more, and the poor pay what they can afford); and an acknowledgement that South Africa has a duty to ensure that neighbouring states have an equitable share of water from shared rivers.

Another of Asmal’s initiatives, the Community Water Supply and Sanitation Program, focuses on providing access to the basic levels of service required to assure health for South Africans, has employed some 300,000 people, more than half of whom were women.

By the end of 1998, the Professor Asmal’s Working for Water Program was employing 24,000 people in over 300 projects across the country. Their task was to clear invading alien plants species that robbed South Africa of up to seven percent of its mean annual runoff, overtook its most productive lands and threatened its biological diversity.

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