Excellencies, distinguished guests, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen
Please accept my warm welcome to the launch of the UN-HABITAT report, Water and Sanitation in the Worlds Cities: Local action for Global Goals. I am delighted that you have joined us today at this special event. Many of you have traveled from Kyoto, and others of you have chosen to come to this event when many other events of the Forum are competing for attention.
Let me start by saying a few words as to why I see this as a special event. This report is being published at a time when the Millennium Development Goals and the Johannesburg plan of implementation are redefining national and international priorities in addressing the water and sanitation issue. Many countries have already started drafting their national action plans for meeting MDG.
The Millennium Task Force established by the Secretary General of the United Nations, is currently engaged in developing a global strategy for meeting the MDGs. For the first time ever, water and sanitation finds itself at the top of the political agenda and there is an extraordinary enthusiasm for action. This is indeed a historical window of opportunity to end the misery and indignity of the vast millions of urban and rural poor, who have been persistently denied adequate access to water and sanitation over the years.
The present report attempts to bring to the policy makers, planners, city managers and academics a wealth of analytical information that could be of great value in developing national and city-level action plans to achieve the Millennium Development Goal. I believe that the report will be equally important to the international development agencies as they redefine their development agenda and priorities for external assistance.
I am particularly glad that the report has attempted to correct a number of historical perspectives that have dogged policy makers and planners for many years. Allow me to flag up some of these issues.
First and foremost, the report has corrected the patently wrong perception that the water and sanitation situation is comparatively better in urban areas. The report brings to light the ground realities in many cities across the world, where over concentration of population and rapid urbanisation have led to crowding out of existing facilities and further impoverishment of the urban poor, in terms of their access to basic services and facilities.
The implications of this underestimation has serious implications and possible explain, the declining invest in urban water and sanitation over the years.
Analysing the current situation, the report further points out that the key barriers to improvement are not so much technical or financial constraints but institutional and political weaknesses, particularly at the local level. Clearly, city authorities are overwhelmed by the pace of urbanisation, and find themselves totally ill-equipped to take on the burgeoning water and sanitation crisis.
The report also presents a wealth of information on the ingenuity and innovation of local communities around the world, who are increasingly wresting the initiatives from local authorities to improve their own living condition. The challenge for the local authorities is how to up-scale these initiatives and integrate them to city-wide programmes funded by public budgets. Indeed, much could be gained by drawing upon these untapped resources of the civil society.
Finally, the report outlines the key elements of an MDG implementation strategy, and asserts that the key to achieving global targets may really lie in adopting local solutions. Locally developed solutions which are rooted to the specifics of local conditions and cultures are likely to be the most sustainable solutions in the long term.
The report has been produced in close consultation with the World Water Assessment Programme Secretariat which has recently produced the World Water Development Report. In fact, the executive summary of this report has been used to develop the Water and Cities chapter of the World Water Development Report.
UN-HABITAT is proud to present this report as its contribution to the International Year of Freshwater. I sincerely hope that this report will be widely used by both national and international agencies in developing strategies for the implementation of MDG in the area of water and sanitation.