Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am greatly pleased to join you in this event on water and sanitation for cities. This is the first of five major parallel events that UN-HABITAT is organizing during this Governing Council session. These events are aimed to brief you on some of the key substantive issues which are central to sustaining our cities and towns, and which are receiving increasing attention in our work programme.
This meeting is taking place at a time when the issue of water and sanitation is drawing global attention as never before. World leaders meeting at the G-8 Summit in Evian next month will focus on the ways and means of achieving access to water for all. The Millennium Summit and the more recent World Summit on Sustainable Development have left no doubt that water supply and sanitation is central to achieving sustainable development.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, sustainable development starts with people’s health and dignity. Yet, we have entered the new Millennium with these fundamental conditions of human development unmet. More than a billion people in the developing world lack safe drinking water. Nearly three billion people live without access to adequate sanitation. An estimated 14 to 30 thousand people, mostly young children and elderly, die every day from water-related diseases. At this moment, as we discuss this issue, half of the developing world’s people are sick from the same cause.
I come from Africa and I have my own perspective of the dehumanizing aspect of poverty and how it impacts on human development and the environment. A girl child is often forced to trade education for water. Sanitation can be far more than a public health issue to her. It is for her privacy and dignity; for her time and energy; for her health and safety; for the quality of her life.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed a sobering thought that the greatest environmental crisis isn’t something that might happen in the future. It’s something happening right now to a third of the world’s people. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was not cynical when he said during the World Summit on Sustainable Development that, “no issue has ever been more neglected. And it has been neglected because it is of concern mainly to the poor and the powerless.”
I am indeed pleased to see that water and sanitation has finally received its due recognition at political level. This was overdue, but getting this recognition was not easy. I recall that nearly two years ago, at the New York preparatory meeting of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, I shared the platform with Hon. Ronnie Kasrils, Minister from South Africa and Sir Richard Jolly, Chairman of the Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council, to work out a strategy to raise the political profile of water and sanitation at the Johannesburg Summit.
In the Plenary discussion on water at the Summit I strongly highlighted the urban water and sanitation crisis which is now seriously threatening sustainable development of our cities and towns. I said there what I have said before: that sustainable development is not possible if our human settlements in the rapidly growing cities and towns become unsustainable; and the sustainable development of our cities and towns will remain a distant dream if we are unable to provide the basic human needs of safe water and adequate sanitation to our people, particularly to the urban and rural poor.
In the end, this collective effort contributed to the inclusion of the sanitation target in the Plan of Implementation.
An equally important accomplishment of the Johannesburg Summit was to keep its focus tightly on action. It was clear that abstract concepts and high level declarations could not make a difference in the lives of the common man. The important thing was to concentrate on concrete and measurable action.
I signed an agreement with the President of the Asian Development Bank, under which ADB and UN-HABITAT, with assistance from the Government of the Netherlands, will jointly bring in $10 million in grant support, to be followed by $500 million investment credit from ADB to Asian cities, specifically targeted to the urban poor. This pro-poor investment will be of critical importance in a region which is home to 70 per cent of the world’s poor.
I am pleased to inform you that this agreement was specifically singled out in the UN Secretary General’s report on the outcomes of the Johannesburg Summit, as one of four concrete, significant commitments to come from the international community on water and sanitation.
I congratulate the Government of Japan for successfully organizing the 3rd World Water Forum, held in Japan in March this year. Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto, the former Prime Minister of Japan and the Chair of the National Steering Committee of the Forum, had personally requested me to lend UN-HABITAT’s support to bring the water and sanitation issues for the urban poor to the Forum. Working with our partners - the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, leaders of the Water industry and leading NGOs in the sector, we coordinated some 27 events on the theme of Water and sanitation for Cities in Osaka. This provided the basis for the Ministerial Statement adopted in Kyoto at the conclusion of the Forum.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks to the sustained effort of the global community over the past years, we can now see growing political commitment to address the internationally agreed goals for water and sanitation. Much, however, remains to be accomplished to translate this political commitment into concrete action at local level.
As a member of the United Nations Millennium Task Force, UN-HABITAT has recently carried out the, first ever, global assessment of the state of water and sanitation in the world’s cities. The report, which was launched in Osaka during the 3rd World Water Forum, brings out three critical areas of action priorities:
First, there is an urgent need to appraise the policy makers of the true magnitude of the urban water and sanitation crisis. Official national statistics often disguise the real problem of the poor in cities and towns. For example, here in Kenya, the official statistics show that 96 per cent of the urban residents have access to ‘improved’ sanitation. A reality check can give a very different picture. In many slums in Nairobi, 150 or more inhabitants daily queue up for one public toilet. It is difficult to believe but, nonetheless, a grim reality that a slum dweller in Nairobi, forced to rely on private water vendors, pays 5 to 7 times more for a litre of water than an average North American citizen. The health and economic impacts of these service deficiencies can be very costly to a country in the long run.
Secondly, the urban water crisis is essentially, a crisis of governance – of weak policies and poor management – rather than a crisis of scarcity, at least in the immediate term. The cities need sound policies and the political will to back them up; strengthened institutions and trained managers to run them; a responsible private sector and an enlightened public sector to work hand in hand; and finally, an informed public opinion and active participation of communities to draw upon the vast resources of the civil society. In short, the cities need an enabling environment, which could allow all stakeholders to pool together their resources to meet their needs.
Thirdly, there is an alarming decline in per capita investment in water and sanitation in most developing country cities. The annual flow of resources to the sector will have to increase all round – and should double at a minimum - if the MDG targets are to be reached. An important obstacle to stepping up investment flows in water and sanitation has been the reluctance of authorities to put in place realistic pricing policy that could stimulate conservation, discourage waste and ensure cost recovery.
The report also brings out, from around the world, many promising examples of innovation and ingenuity at local level. In many cases, with modest support, these could be scaled-up to provide city-wide solutions and could be replicated elsewhere.
The analytical work in this report, and its central finding – that local solutions are key to achieving global goals – should provide a valuable input to the work of the Millennium Task Force.
Over the past three years, UN-HABITAT has been assisting African countries to improve the management of water in cities. With support from the United Nations Foundation, the World Bank, the Government of the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Finland, the Water for African Cities Programme has created an enabling environment for new investments in the seven participating cities (Abidjan, Accra, Addis Ababa, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lusaka and Nairobi).
The experience of this programme was reviewed by the Ministers of the participating countries and the donors at an official side event of WSSD. I am pleased to inform you that the President of the UN Foundation considered the Water for African Cities programme as the most cost-effective among all UNF funded projects to date - with a total portfolio of about $400 million. The programme has been singled out by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and subsequently by the United Nations General Assembly, for further support.
An important lesson that we have also learnt from this programme is the need to link capacity building to follow-up investment. Collaboration with the World Bank led to significant investment in demand management in the city of Dakar. We have now strengthened this link in Asia by building partnership with the Asian Development Bank from early on. The 500 million dollars loan to be provided by ADB through the Water for Asian Cities Programme will facilitate investments in water and sanitation in Asian cities targeted to the poorest of the poor.
This year, I have also signed an MOU with the President of the Inter-American Development Bank for widening collaboration, with particular focus on water and sanitation in the Latin American region.
Ladies and gentlemen, soon after Johannesburg, on the World Habitat Day in October last year, I announced the establishment of a new Water and Sanitation Trust Fund. This Fund will assist developing countries in their effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goal for water and sanitation.
The Fund will have a special focus for Africa where the need is greatest. The Fund will enable us to take the Water for African Cities Programme to other countries, and to deepen its impact in the participating countries.
In Fund operation, first priority will be given to reinforcing the current programmes. As the Fund gathers momentum, new programmes will be implemented in response to initiatives proposed by partner countries. The strategy will be to promote sustainability, local ownership and the creation of an enabling environment for pro-poor investment.
Last week, with welcome support from the Government of Sweden, we organized an expert group meeting to get the advice of sector experts and fund management specialists on various aspects of operation and capitalization of the Fund. I hope that the expert advice will be useful in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Fund operation and in making the Fund a vehicle to improve the volume and effectiveness of ODA in the sector.
Ladies and Gentlemen, UN-HABITAT has got core competencies, gained through hard-won experience over the years, of what needs to be done in a cost-effective manner to assist member states to achieve the MDGs and the WSSD targets in urban areas. I have called upon our traditional partners to support the Trust Fund and I am encouraged by the positive feedback I have received from a number of donors. I can assure the donors and the prospective recipient countries that we will work together to improve the aid-effectiveness of the Fund supported activities.
I would like to conclude by making a fervent appeal to all of you here today to join the continuing effort of UN-HABITAT to support, what the world leaders eluded in Johannesburg as “humanity’s best investment to achieve development and sustainability”. I will repeat what was said: “We have the technology and talent. It is achievable. We have to act.”
There is time but little time. We must act, and act now.
I thank you for your kind attention.