As more than 2,000 water experts from 140 countries world gathered in Stockholm on Monday for the 18th annual World Water Week convention, HRH Prince of Orange, congratulated delegates for helping reduce the number of people around the world without access to water and sanitation.
In a keynote address at the opening plenary, the Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, who serves as Chair of the United Nations Secretary-General´s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, said that their years their work to achieve Target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals on halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 was now starting to pay off.
"The number of people living without a supply of improved drinking water has now dropped well below one billion!" he said to loud applause. "More than half the global population now have piped water to their homes and the number of people using unimproved water supplies continues to decline. That is thanks to your hard work."
He thanked the Stockholm International Water Institute for emphasising sanitation in its conference theme this year – Progress and Prospects on Water: for a clean and healthy world with special focus on sanitation.
Like other speakers, he was quick to say that billions of people still lack access to safe drinking water, many suffering ill health because of poor sanitation, at a time the worsening food crisis vies with bio-energy for land and water resources, and when climate change shakes the overall global water balance. He pledged to continue raising awareness of the 2008 International Year of Sanitation both with the public and with world leaders at major gatherings such as the Group of Eight, and the UN's own review summit of progress on the Millennium Development Goals scheduled in September.
"Ladies and gentlemen, in the wake of the cyclone in Myanmar, the earthquake in China and the floods in the United States, 'water', 'sanitation' and 'water-borne diseases' seem to have become some of the most commonly used terms in the media," he said. Yet only too often, the only response was crisis management rather than turning to some of the structural solutions the global community can offer to help prevent future disasters or at least mitigate their effects.
He was at pains to tell the delegates, whose numbers included government ministers, scientists and activists, that the International Year of Sanitation had made great strides in breaking the sanitation taboo by bringing "unmentionable subjects" like toilets and faeces out of the shadows and into the open.
His views were echoed by Honourable Ms. Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden's Minister for International Development Cooperation who started her address by stating how important it was that earlier in the day she had been able to use a clean toilet for women only – something still denied many millions of women and girls around the world.
Citing attacks on women around the world on their nightly trudge to to relieve themselves, she added: "Without access to water and sanitation, we cannot improve health and education."
Stockholm's Mayor Sten Nordin, in welcoming remarks, recalled that when a toilet was installed in the Swedish royal palace in 1770, the public at the time considered it something unnecessarily extravagant. Other keynote speakers at the conference include Malagasy President Marc Ravalomanana, and this year's winner of the Stockholm Water Prize, British Professor John Anthony Allan.
At a special seminar in Stockholm on the eve of the convention, UN-HABITAT warned that millions people around the world still lacked access to basic sanitation.
To reach the sanitation target of the Johannesburg Plan of Action of halving the proportion of people without access to sanitation, UN-HABITAT reported at a seminar in Stockholm experts told a seminar in Stockholm that to reach the target an additional 1.47 billion people would have get access to basic sanitation before 2015.
The seminar was chaired by Mr. Bert Diphoorn, Acting Director of UN-HABITAT´s Human Settlements Financing Division.
"As a whole this target means doubling the rate of progress of the last decade in rural areas," he said. "For urban areas, it means even more – since it is here that the current numbers almost certainly underestimate the lack of access experienced by slum dwellers and those who live on the margins of cities and towns."
The agency reported that official statistics suggest that somewhere in the order of 2.4 billion do not have access to 'improved' sanitation. Eighty percent (1.9 billion) live in Asia, 13 percent (0.3 billion) in Africa, and 5 percent (0.1 billion) in Latin America and the Caribbean. Speakers at the session included Ms. Amy Leung, Director Social Sectors Division of the Asian Development Bank in Manila, Dr. Sara Ahmed, Chairperson, Gender Water Alliance, India.
Meanwhile, a report released on Monday by the International Water Management Institute, said more than half of farmland near 70 percent of cities in developing counties is watered with sewage that threatens to spread epidemics.
"Irrigating with wastewater isn't a rare practice limited to a few of the poorest countries," said Liqa Raschid-Sally, a researcher at the institute. "It's a widespread phenomenon, occurring on 20 million hectares (50 million acres) across the developing world, especially in Asian countries, like China, India and Vietnam, but also around nearly every city of sub-Saharan Africa and in many Latin American cities."
Other experts said that 1.4 million children die every year from diarrhea-related diseases and poor hygiene, and described the global sanitation crisis as "the world's largest environmental problem."
In another word of warning from the Stockholm convention, corruption was cited as a major factor disrupting efforts to increase clean water supplies in poor countries.
Up to 45 percent of costs for providing clean water around the
world go toward corruption said Transparency International Global Programmes Director, Mr. Christiaan Poorter.
He said water production is particularly vulnerable to corruption because it involves large-scale infrastructure projects often burdened by several different ministries and official departments. He said corruption problems in water delivery also existed in member of countries of Paris club of wealthy nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.