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Companies court partners among world's poor.

JOHANNESBURG, 28 August 2002 - By the middle of next week, the UN hopes to have in place a political declaration, a plan of action and a plethora of development partnerships between companies, governments and civil society.

Business Action for Sustainable Development, representing international business at the summit, has identified 230 such partnerships - many of them under way already. They include projects to make mining tools, promote better preparedness to handle oil spills and tourism initiatives in Mauritius.

Company executives and non-governmental organisations agree that the most lasting partnerships are at the most local level, between companies and communities, rather than the more high profile stuff of global agreements. But both are concerned that companies may be being cajoled by the prevailing enthusiasm for such schemes into supplying basic services in place of developing country governments.

Some of the most urgent partnerships concern the delivery of clean water and sanitation. Demand for water is expected to jump by 50 per cent over the next 30 years and the World Bank warned on Wednesday that Africa may the first region to run out of water.

Suez, the French water company, has put its water supply partnership in Queenstown in South Africa's Eastern Cape forward for recognition as a UN-endorsed partnership. Suez is working with the Queenstown municipal authority to provide the town's water and modernise its water and sanitation infrastructure. With the support of EU donor funding, the company has also extended its supply to 250,000 additional people who did not have access to essential services in the surrounding rural area.

Source: Financial Times (FT.Com)