Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would remain a distant dream if stakeholders failed to focus on slums that abound in the world's cities, the chair of Global WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Forum warned here Monday.
In a keynote address at the opening of a five-day Global WASH Forum, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Anna K. Tibaijuka, emphasised that official statistics often disguised the real problem of the poor in cities and towns.
More than 400 delegates at the Forum are discussing the problem of lack of safe sanitation, which organisers said "deprives hundreds of millions of people, not only of health, but of energy, time, dignity and quality of life."
The forum seeks to accelerate action in water, sanitation and hygiene towards achieving the MDGs by 2015.
"While poverty is the underlying theme of all MDGs, Tibaijuka emphasised that "water, particularly for the poor, provides an entry point for action to achieve each of these goals" and this view has been given prominence at all major conferences concerning the MDGs.
"Shelter and human settlements provide a concrete context for this action. The struggle for achieving the Millennium Development Goal for water will have to be waged in human settlements -- in our cities, towns and villages, where water will be consumed and wastes generated," Tibaijuka told the delegates.
She added: "Here is where the actions have to be coordinated and managed. It is at this level that policy initiatives become an operational reality and eminently political affairs -- conflicts have to be resolved and consensus found among competing interests and parties."
As the world prepares for a new decade, "Water for Life -- 2005-2015", Tibaijuka suggested that "we need to bring awareness among the people and politicians of what it means when large sections of society are denied safe water and basic sanitation.
"There is need to consider the concomitant price that society must pay for lack of water and sanitation in terms of sicknesses, diseases, loss of wages, human safety and dignity and lost economic opportunities."
Speaking against doing "business as usual," Tibaijuka outlined five policy challenges that stakeholders must address in order to translate the MDG for water into reality. She said 900 million people comprising 43 percent of the urban population of developing countries lived in slums at the beginning of 2000. "It is clear that all of the population increase (90 percent) over the years remaining to achieve the Millennium Development Goals will take place in urban areas of developing countries," she pointed out.
As "most of this will be absorbed by slums and shanties in the developing world, achieving the avowed goals that we have set for ourselves will remain a distant dream if we do not focus on the slums of Nairobi, the bustees of Kolkata and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro," she warned.
Tibaijuka said a recent UN-HABITAT survey of water and sanitation situation in the world's cities indicate that in many slums, 150 or more inhabitants, daily queue for one public toilet. The survey also revealed that a slum dweller in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam, forced to rely on private water vendors, pays 5 to 7 times more for a litre of water than an average US citizen. Thus the economic impact of these service deficiencies can be very costly to a country in the long run in real terms.
Hence, she called for the addressing of urbanisation and feminisation of poverty, translating global goals into local action, emphasising the right to water for all, bringing sector reforms to the local level and enhancing pro-poor investments as stakeholders work in partnership to achieve the MDGs.
On translating global goals into local action, Tibaijuka urged donors to look more closely at "some of the promising locally funded, community-driven initiatives which have produced city-wide improvements in water and sanitation services, by working in partnership with local governments.
See, Keynote Address Delivered at the Inaugural Plenary “The MDGs and the challenges before us” by Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, Forum Chair Under-Secretary General, United Nations, Executive Director, UN-HABITAT