Sustainable Development Commission Focus Water, Sanitation, Housing

NEW YORK, New York, April 12, 2005 (ENS) - “International efforts to address increasing water scarcity are fragmented, and insufficient international attention and resources have been given to sanitation, hygiene and wastewater treatment,” John Ashe told members of the Commission on Sustainable Development he chairs. Speaking Monday at the opening session of a two week meeting, Ashe warned, “the urgent problems of the cities of the developing world - where virtually all future population growth will occur - are not being adequately addressed." Ashe

CSD-13 Chairman John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda on opening day (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
More than 75 government ministers meeting at UN Headquarters in New York will decide on policies and practical measures to improve access for millions of poor people around the world to clean water, sanitation, and housing.

“These three issues encapsulate the silent humanitarian crisis in the world today,” said José Antonio Ocampo of Colombia, UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, ahead of the Commission’s 13th session (CSD-13).

The Commission will attempt to take action to save the roughly 4,000 children who die each day of diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water, while easing living conditions in crowded slums that permit communicable diseases to spread.

The Commission is the key UN forum bringing together countries to consider ways to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

Two years ago, the 53 member panel approved a multi-year work plan featuring different thematic clusters of issues for each two year cycle. This year is the second to focus on water, sanitation and human settlements, and it will be followed in 2006 with talks on energy, industrial development, air pollution and climate change.

Ocampo pointed out the correlation between the Commission’s discussions and the international targets set by the UN Millennium Development Goals. These eight goals, agreed by all 191 United Nations member countries, aim to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and ensure environmental sustainability, among other issues, by 2015.

Ashe, who hails from the small Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, told the delegates that poverty, lack of resources and capacity are the major obstacles to delivering these targets.


José Antonio Ocampo of Colombia is UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs. (Photo courtesy ENB)
Ocampo said that sufficient supplies of clean water are essential for meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Without adequate water, agriculture cannot feed the world’s growing population and that water-poor countries dependent on agriculture are among the poorest in terms of income per person, he pointed out.

The UN General Assembly will conduct a mid-term review of the Millennium Development Goals in September.

While there has been genuine progress since 1990, with more than one billion people gaining access to improved water and sanitation facilities, Ocampo said meeting water and sanitation targets over the coming decade will require that safe drinking water reach an additional 1.5 billion people, and that basic sanitation becomes available to an additional 1.9 billion.

To address the needs of these billions of people, billions of dollars are required. The cost of meeting water, sanitation and slum targets are in the range of $30 billion to $40 billion a year, the Commission estimates.

To fund this level of assistance will require "strong political resolve, translated into sizeable additional resource flows to poor countries, together with enhanced domestic resource mobilization,” Ocampo said. “Even in the best of all possible worlds, capital will remain scarce in most poor countries, so its effective investment will be critical.”

The focus on water at CSD-13 coincides with the launch of the International Decade for Action Water for Life, which aims to promote efforts to fulfil international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2015, placing special emphasis on the involvement and participation of women in these efforts.

In light of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recent report, “In Larger Freedom,” which calls on the global community to accelerate efforts to enable poor countries to break out of their poverty traps, Ocampo said the outcome of the Commission’s session would provide a “litmus test” of international political will to tackle global poverty and to achieve the broader UN development agenda.


Child drinks water at a new pump in Bangladesh. (Photo by J. Holmes courtesy FAO)
Policy negotiations and planning for action will take up most of the first week of the session. On April 18, a panel of finance and development cooperation ministers, moderated by the minister of finance, South Africa and the minister of international development, Norway, will discuss the economic benefits of implementing sound policies on water, sanitation, and human settlements. Representatives of the World Bank and UN Conference on Trade and Development will lead off the discussion.

An array of stakeholders, called major groups, have an opportunity to present their priorities. Women's groups warn that "the liberalization of water markets is pushing large sectors of the population further into poverty, forcing the use of unsafe sources of drinking water."

Youth organizations are emphasizing that "basic sanitation services should be available in every school," while affirming that basic sanitation is a "precondition for education."

Indigenous peoples stress that "issues with regard to human settlements, in both urban and rural areas, deserve equal attention."

Local authorities say that improving access to financing for water-related targeted service provision "requires increased financial autonomy of sub-national and local authorities."

Workers and trade unions call for recognizing "access to water, sanitation and habitation as fundamental human rights."

The business and industry sector says that "it is vital that governments and all major groups recognize the enormous and very diverse contribution that business will make to the development of new and sustainable models for meeting the world's needs for water, sanitation and human settlement."

As the CSD-13 session opened, Anwarul Chowdhury, under-secretary-general and high representative for the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing sStates, stressed that without addressing the needs of those three categories of vulnerable and disadvantaged nations, achieving the Millennium Development Goals by the target dates would not be possible.

The lack of resources, capacity and technology in those countries highlighted the need for the increased support and cooperation of the international community in their national efforts, said Chowdhury, who is assisting Indian Ocean nations devastated by the December 2004 tsunami.


Anna Tibaijuka of Tanzania is executive director of the UN Human Settlements Programme. (Photo courtesy ENB)
Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of the UN Human Settlements Programme, reported on that agency’s Governing Council meeting, held last week in Nairobi, Kenya.

While she expressed satisfaction that water, sanitation and human settlements are now seen as integrated issues for development, one issue not resolved in Nairobi was the adequacy of improving the conditions of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

That number is not adequate in the context of the world’s current one billion slum dwellers, said Tibaijuka. The slum target should be to halve the proportion of slum dwellers by 2020, harmonizing that figure with those of sanitation and water improvement.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said that water is the key to a viable and sustainable ecosystem. At previous meetings, ministers had adopted UNEP’s updated water and policy strategies, the Bali intergovernmental strategic plan on support and capacity building, and had agreed on greater investment in human settlements, he said.

Toepfer stressed that CSD-13 must not be about identifying what needs to be done, but about getting it done, at the current session.

Chairman Ashe said, “We have a daunting challenge ahead of us during the next two weeks, but we also have an opportunity to make a real difference in expediting the implementation of sustainable development."