Water, Sanitation, Housing Engage Sustainablity Commission

NEW YORK, New York, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - People afflicted with water related illnesses fill more than half of the world's hospital beds, and up to four million people die each year from waterborne diseases, facts that have motivated the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development to focus its annual session on water, sanitation and human settlements, the Commission's chairman said Wednesday.

Norwegian Environment Minister Børge Brende, who chairs the Commission, told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York that the cost of the diseases represents an economic loss of $16 billion a year.


Norwegian Environment Minister Børge Brende is the current chairman of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The 12th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development opened Wednesday morning and is scheduled to run through April 30. It will undertake the first critical assessment of policies and programs instituted by world governments following the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

The Commission aims to focus on action needed to ensure safe water, sanitation and human settlements - the first cluster of issues under its multi-year work plan.

More than 80 government ministers, as well as the heads of UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations are attending. They have big problems to address.

On Monday UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will open the high-level segment of the Commission's meeting, with such participants as Crown Prince Willem Alexander of the Netherlands, who has demonstrated his commitment to expanding access to safe water worldwide.

Clean water would help eradicate poverty, reduce unsustainable consumption and production, protect and manage the natural resource base for economic and social development, maintain sustainability in a globalizing world, further African and other regional initiatives, and support gender equality and education, Brende acknowledged.

Estimates of safe water supplies suggest that 50 percent of developing countries are not yet ready to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the number of people lacking access to safe drinking water by 2015, he said.

Meeting that target would mean providing access for an additional 1.6 billion people over the next 11 years.

Another two billion people need to have improved sanitation by 2015 to meet the Millennium Development Goal, at an additional cost of $63 million per year, or a total of $11 billion, Brende said.

The human settlement target aimed to improve living conditions for at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, he said.


Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu (left) consults with Jagdish Koonjul of Mauritius, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States and spokesperson for the G-77/China, during the informal consultations Thursday. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The first three days of the Commission's session are devoted to preparatory discussions for the International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, to be held in Mauritius in August.

The vulnerability of islands and coastal areas first was recognized by the 44th session of the UN General Assembly in 1989, when it passed a resolution on the possible adverse effects of sea level rise on islands and coastal areas, particularly low-lying coastal areas.

The 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from which sprang the Sustainable Development Commission itself, brought the special case of islands and coastal areas to international attention when it adopted Agenda 21, - a blueprint for sustainable development agreed upon at the Earth Summit.

Agenda 21 includes a program for the sustainable development of small islands and called for convening a global conference on the sustainable development of small island developing states (SIDS).

In 1994, the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of SIDS was held in Bridgetown, Barbados. Some 125 states and territories participated in the conference, 46 of which were small island developing states and territories. The conference adopted the Barbados Programme of Action on the Sustainable Development of SIDS - a 14 point program that identifies priority areas and indicates specific actions necessary for addressing the special challenges faced by SIDS.


The people of Tuvalu fear that rising sea levels due to melting polar ice will inundate their low-lying islands. (Photo credit unknown)
The priority areas include: climate change and sea level rise, natural and environmental disasters, management of wastes, coastal and marine resources, freshwater resources, land resources, energy resources, tourism resources, biodiversity resources, national institutions and administrative capacity, regional institutions and technical cooperation, transport and communication, science and technology, and human resource development.

The Barbados conference identified capacity building; institutional development at the national, regional and international levels; cooperation in the transfer of environmentally sound technologies; trade and economic diversification; and finance as other important areas of development for small islands.

Six problem areas are in need of urgent attention on small islands - climate change, natural and environmental disasters and climate variability, freshwater resources, coastal and marine resources, energy, and tourism, the conference decided.

To achieve results, the delegates are working on sustainable development strategies, capacity building, resource mobilization and finance, globalization and trade liberalization, transfer of environmentally sound technology, a vulnerability index, information management through strengthening the SIDS Network, and international cooperation and partnership.

The 53 member Commission on Sustainable Development was established in 1993 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council to monitor progress in the implementation of Agenda 21.


Slum housing in India (Photo courtesy World Health Organization)
In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Devemopment (WSSD) in Johannesburg decided that the Commission should continue to be the United Nations’ high-level organ on sustainable development, and the Johannesburg Implementation Plan contains provisions on how that mandate might be carried forward.

From today through April 30, the delegates will review the actions that have been taken to date, and assess what needs to be done to help countries stay on track to meet the commitments, goals and targets agreed at the WSSD, as well as the Millennium Development Goals.

A major focus for the top government ministers for housing, environment and planning joining delegations for the two week meeting will be on boosting commitments to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation, to promote integrated water resource management, and to improve the lives of slum dwellers.

A partnership fair will showcase practical initiatives launched at the Summit and since, and will encourage other partners - governments, international organizations, business and other organizations - to join or initiate activities.

Last year, the Commission approved a work program built around two year, thematic implementation cycles on related issues. This year and next the theme is water, sanitation and human settlements.

The following cluster in 2006 and 2007 will focus on energy, industrial development, air pollution, and climate change.

The third set of sessions in 2008 and 2009 will be devoted to agriculture, rural development, droughts, and desertification.

The fourth cluster in 2010 and 2011 is set aside for consideration of waste management.

The fifth cluster in 2012 and 20013 will focus on forests, biodiversity, biotechnology, tourism, and mountains; and the sixth, to be discussed in 2014 and 2015, will highlight oceans and small island developing states.

The Commission is comprised of: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Japan, Lesotho, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sudan, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.