Address by Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka Under-Secretary-Genera, United Nations; Executive Director, UN-HABITAT at the opening of the World Habitat Day celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Your Excellency the President of Brazil, Your Worship the Mayor of Rio, Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, the Housing and Building Foundation of UK, other Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am greatly honoured and pleased to be able to be with you here, in this extra-ordinary city of Rio, this cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city), for the observance of the World Habitat Day.
Every year, the World Habitat Day gives the world community an opportunity to reflect on the living condition of the people across this planet, to assess the progress made in achieving peoples’ aspiration for a better living environment, and to resolve with renewed vigour to take on the challenge ahead. Water and Sanitation for Cities is the theme of the World Habitat Day this year (2003), which is also designated as the Year of Freshwater by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Let me start by expressing my warm appreciation to His Excellency Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil, for gracing this occasion with his personal presence. My sincere gratitude also goes to the City of Rio and its Mayor, His Worship Cesar Maia, for graciously hosting the World Habitat Day this year and for the warm hospitality extended to all Habitat Agenda partners who have joined forces with us on this occasion.
The city of Rio, which hosted the Earth Summit in 1992, symbolizes hope for the future, hope for the generations to come. What could be a more appropriate venue to raise the global awareness on water and sanitation - an issue that is central to sustaining life and development on this planet?
Brazil is a an old, trusted ally of UN-HABITAT and has been an active partner in its recent revitalization process which culminated in the upgrading of the organization into a fully-fledged programme of the United Nations. With two ten-million-plus mega-cities, and as one of the highly urbanized countries in the developing world, Brazil has a deep understanding of the complexities of urbanization and the challenge of managing this process. The country is at the forefront of many innovations in urban management, which UN-HABITAT has always admired and disseminated widely among other developing countries. The Condominial sewerage system is but just one example of these innovations, which has been widely replicated in Asia and Africa.
I have therefore always looked forward to visiting this great country. This time, however, I come to Brazil with a heavy heart. The memory of the tragic loss of my highly respected colleague, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, a noble son of Brazil and the former UN Special Representative to Iraq, is still fresh in my mind. He had served with great courage and compassion some of the most dangerous places in Africa, Kosovo and East Timor, helping bring peace against all the odds. In losing Mr. Vieira de Mello, the world has lost a champion of justice and freedom and I have lost a trusted colleague on whose counsel I had the highest regard. The shining example he has set through his life will inspire his colleagues in the United Nations for a long time to come. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Hon. Børge Brende, the Norwegian Minister for Environment and Chairman of the 12th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, for taking the time out of his busy schedule and travelling a long distance to be with us here today. I am aware of the painstaking effort he is making to turn the next session of the Commission on Sustainable Development into a platform for concrete action, as it prepares to meet for the first time after the World Summit on Sustainable Development. I can assure you, Honourable Minister, of the support of UN-HABITAT and the Habitat Agenda partners in your effort to raise water, sanitation and human settlements high on the political agenda in the CSD process. I wish you great success in your endeavour.
Let me also take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to other Honourable Ministers, Mayors, Excellencies and other distinguished guests who have joined us on this occasion to express their support and solidarity with the noble cause that World Habitat Day represents. Your presence here sends an important signal to the rest of the world as the World Habitat Day is observed today in cities and towns, big and small, all over the world.
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. Deprived of these life-sustaining services, the poor cut their consumption of clean water and pay the price in death, disease, and lost wages. By the time we conclude our discussion this morning, some 1,800 children will probably lose their lives because their water supplies are contaminated and sanitation facilities are inadequate or non-existent.
Women today constitute 70 per cent of the world’s absolute poor and they pay a heavy price in procuring this life-sustaining commodity for their families through daily drudgery and lost opportunities. A girl child is often forced to trade education for water. Sanitation can be far more than a public health issue to her: it determines her privacy and dignity; it determines whether her potential to become a productive citizen in society will ever be fulfilled.
What is often forgotten is that countries pay equally dearly when an epidemic visits a city and even engulfs a region - as it happened in Peru in the early nineties and more recently, in East Africa - with disastrous loss of lives, trade and tourism and enormous national medical bills.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed a sobering thought that a most blatant breach of a human right - the right of access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation - is happening right now to a third of the world’s people in the slums, shanties and favelas of our cities and towns. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was not being 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.”
It is, therefore, truly gratifying to see that water and sanitation is finally receiving its due recognition at the international level. The Millennium Summit and the World Summit on Sustainable Development have set clear, time-bound targets for access to safe water and basic sanitation. World leaders, meeting at the G-8 Summit in Evian, France in June this year, have adopted a Plan of Action for Water. Much, however, remains to be accomplished to translate these internationally agreed goals and targets into concrete action at local level. The World Habitat Day this year provides a good opportunity to reflect on the challenges ahead.
Let me now focus on some of the key action priorities that we see as critical to achieving these goals.
Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, distinguished guests, I have said this before at the Johannesburg Summit, but this bears repetition: the battle for water and sanitation will have to be fought in human settlements, particularly in the slums and shanties of the growing urban areas of developing countries. Ninety per cent of population increases in the coming decades will take place in developing countries, and most of this will take place in the peri-urban settlements which currently are home to nearly half of urban populations. 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.
Winning this battle will not be easy, given the mounting population pressures, rapid urbanization and all round resource constraints within which all of us will have to work. We all know that a business-as-usual approach will not be enough. We need a fundamental change in our approach – we need a strategy that is workable, realistic and will make a difference in the lives of the people. What are the key elements of this strategy?
Unquestionably, the commitment of policy makers to translate these global goals into country and city level goals and targets will be the first step. The goals may be global in character but they must be implemented locally, where the people live and shelter and services are required. UN-HABITAT’s regional water programmes are helping to establish city-level, multi-stakeholder forums to capture the real aspirations and needs at the local level, which will allow local voices to be heard and their perceptions to be relied upon.
It will be equally important to put in place, early on, an effective monitoring mechanism that will allow tracking progress towards achieving these goals. UN-HABITAT has been assigned the responsibility to assist United Nations member states in monitoring the global “Cities without Slums” target of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. Access to safe water and sanitation will be two important indicators of slum improvement.
Turning to policy priorities, I feel that the time has now come for governments to shift gear from a needs-based approach to a rights-based approach in providing water security to the poor. Last year, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognized that water itself was an independent right, as it was one of the most fundamental conditions for survival. Recognition of this right in national policy making and legislation is critical to bring about a fundamental change in our approach that I have referred to earlier. We are focusing on this issue through our two Global Campaigns on Secure Tenure and on Good Urban Governance and also through the Housing Rights Programme.
Secondly, there is an urgent necessity to manage the urban water demand onto a sustainable track before it spirals out of control. Unfortunately, much less attention is paid by governments and the international community to demand management strategies than they actually deserve. Effective public information campaigns and water education can go a long way to sensitize people to use water with responsibility and reason. Demand management could "buy precious time" by postponing costly investments. UN-HABITAT’S regional programmes are helping to establish a new model for urban water management in African and Asian cities.
Thirdly, we must address with priority the increasing pollution of water sources by wastes generated by the cities. Inadequate response by governments and the international community has already degraded the rivers passing through many major cities into open sewers devoid of aquatic life. Current inaction also makes the cost of cleaning up exorbitant. UN-HABITAT’s regional water programmes are helping cities to put in place monitoring, assessment and forecasting systems that can identify imminent threats to sustainability of urban water resources Finally, I must come to the all-important question of financing water and sanitation for our cities. 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 lesson that we have learnt from our regional water 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 African cities.
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.
Excellencies, 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. I am grateful to Sweden and Norway for their initial support to the Fund. The recent announcement by the Government of Canada to contribute $15 Million to the Fund is most welcome and will be a great help to African countries in their effort to achieve MDG targets.
I would like to conclude by making a fervent appeal to all of you here today, and to those of you who are observing World Habitat Day in other parts of the Word, to join forces in building a global consensus for meeting a critical challenge of this century. Thank you.