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Mandela Underscores Importance of Clean Water During Johannesburg Summit - 2002-08-28

South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela has opened a project at the World Summit on Sustainable Development designed to show that cooperation can succeed in bringing clean water to people.

Nelson Mandela brought the Earth Summit the sound of Africa's signature thunderstorms and of rushing water when he opened the pump at the project called the Waterdome.

Seventy private and government bodies collaborated to build the large structure, which has water as its theme. Their goal was to demonstrate that it is possible to bring clean water to all people when government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and businesses work together.

Mr. Mandela told delegates that water is an essential element of sustainable development.

"Among the many things I learned as the president of our country was the centrality of water in the social, political, and economic affairs of the country, continent, and indeed, the world," Mr. Mandela explained. "I am therefore a totally committed water-person."

South Africa's former president was born and spent his childhood years in the impoverished hinterland of the country's eastern Cape region and has built his retirement home in its rolling hills. He says each time he returns there the importance of access to clean water strikes.

"When I return as I often do to the rural village and area of my childhood and youth, the poverty of the people and the devastation of the natural environment painfully strike me, and in that impoverishment of the natural environment it is the absence of access to clean water that strikes most starkly," he said.

Mr. Mandela said he is proud of the South African government's success in bringing clean water to 10 million people since he led the country to democracy in 1994.