29 July 2011
General Assembly
GA/11126

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Plenary

117th Meeting (AM)


General Assembly Wraps Up Two Meetings — on Achieving Human Right

 

to Water and Sanitation; Revitalizing Conference on Disarmament

 


Mauritius Elected Vice President for Assembly’s Sixty-Sixth Session


As the General Assembly concluded its debate today on challenges to achieving the human right to water and sanitation in the context of the Millennium Development Goals, delegates shed light on their nations’ struggles to resolve the practical implications of that quest.


The representative of the Solomon Islands said that for many least developed countries, access to clean drinking water and better sanitation was a real challenge, especially among women and children.  The rising seas had caused salt water to seep into groundwater supplies in small island developing States, leaving local water supplies for human and agricultural consumption brackish.  Those nations were also grappling with coastal erosion, drought, floods and king tides.  To address such “water poverty”, tangible programmes and resources to ensure sustainable water must be incorporated into overall development frameworks.


New Zealand’s representative pointed to a recent report on the issue’s impact in the Pacific region, which revealed that the most pressing concern for Pacific families was access to water and sanitation.  Extreme weather events threatened to damage or destroy water infrastructure, while sea-level rise could threaten the availability of safe, clean drinking water.  Atoll communities were particularly vulnerable, while growing urbanization was straining existing supply systems.  To address those concerns, New Zealand was supporting improvements in rainwater harvesting and distribution infrastructure in the Cook Islands and other areas.


The Permanent Observer of Palestine said Israel continued to violate the Palestinian people’s right to water and sanitation by exploiting 90 per cent of the shared water sources for its own use, forcing Palestinians to survive on just 10 to 30 litres per day per capita, far below 100 litre daily minimum set by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Israel had not supported General Assembly resolution 64/292, which stated that clean drinking water and sanitation were integral to the realization of all human rights.  On the contrary, Israel had destroyed several cisterns, wells and other water infrastructure, he said, urging the international community to ensure Israel respected the human right to clean water and sanitation; allocated shared water resources equitably and immediately stopped destroying Palestinian water and sanitation infrastructure.


Some delegates shed light on their nations’ strategies to implement the goals set forth in the Assembly resolution.  For example, Kyrgyzstan’s representative said that with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), his Government was carrying out new projects to ensure its population had access to clean drinking water.  It recently had installed water pipes in 550 villages across the country — a move that had increased access to water and lowered the prevalence of infectious diseases.  The Government recently passed the Drinking Water Act, along with related legislation, to that end.


India’s representative, quoting national hero Mahatma Gandhi, said “sanitation is even more important than independence”.  But Mr. Gandhi’s dream of total sanitation for all was elusive; India was still confronted with widespread lack of sanitation and about 12 per cent of its population lacked safe drinking water, posing a major challenge to India’s development goals.  Addressing that issue as a matter of priority, in the past five years, India had increased investment in rural sanitation by as much as six times.  Its Total Sanitation Campaign focused on the demand-side to effect change through local community leadership, while nearly 300 villages were being added to the drinking water supply network each day.


The Assembly also concluded its debate on follow-up to the high-level meeting held on 24 September 2010:  Revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations.


In other business, the Assembly elected Mauritius as a Vice President of its sixty-sixth session, thereby completing its selection of 21 Vice Presidents. 


Also speaking today were the representatives of Colombia, Slovakia, Thailand, Luxembourg, Serbia, Nigeria, Morocco, Ecuador, Romania, Paraguay, Georgia, Argentina, Portugal, Slovenia, Chile and Tajikistan.


Background


The General Assembly met this morning to conclude its High-level Meeting on “Revitalizing the Conference on Disarmament and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations”, and to hear the remaining speakers under the agenda item on the human right to water and sanitation.  (For summary coverage of the earlier meetings, see, respectively, Press Releases GA/11120 of 27 July and GA/11125 of 28 July, and GA/11123 of 27 July).  The Assembly was also expected to elect its Vice-Presidents for the sixty-sixth session.


Statements on Conference on Disarmament


MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ ( Colombia) stressed the need to move forward in the pursuit of complete nuclear disarmament.  It was important that negotiations on nuclear issues be undertaken in the framework of United Nations bodies and conferences; however, Colombia shared the widespread frustration over the Conference’s paralysis.  What was needed was “flexibility to yield on national positions” so that we can “all win”, he stressed.  Despite Colombia’s endeavours during its presidency of the Conference on Disarmament, between 30 May and 24 June, disorder was still the “order of the day”.  There was no reason justifying that paralysis, he stressed.


He said it was important to note that the Conference on Disarmament’s programme of work was “merely a tool” designed to facilitate the body’s activities; deciding on a programme of work did not guarantee that the Conference would be able to move forward, as its 2009 session had demonstrated.  Colombia, therefore, promoted the idea of the adoption of a simplified work programme, which did not contain mandates.  The next logical step for the Conference was the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty, with the concept of stocks as part and parcel of that process.  He also listed several suggestions, aired by various Conference members, that Colombia considered both feasible and useful.  Those included appointing a special coordinator to study the efficiency and methods of the Conference; streamlining the body’s meetings, and holding plenary sessions only when necessary; rationalizing the Conference’s expenses; exploring the possibility of expanding its membership; and considering revitalizing the disarmament machinery in the context of the General Assembly, with the possibility of studying other courses of action.


MANUEL KORČEK (Slovakia) associated his statement with that made by the representative of the European Union and by the representative of the Netherlands on behalf of the cross-regional group.  In his national capacity, he said “we share the frustration and dissatisfaction of many delegations” on the body’s lack of action.  The Conference on Disarmament was the single negotiating forum on multilateral disarmament negotiations, and what was needed was to “resuscitate and revitalize its potential”.  However, if that was not possible, it would be necessary to seek other methods to move forward.  The central issue to address was how the Conference could regain its function and confirm its potential in meeting the expectations of the international community; that responsibility lay primarily with its members.  Slovakia considered a fissile material ban to be an “indispensable step” in accomplishing a world free of nuclear weapons.  But he warned against “binding ourselves with a single approach” that did not allow for any flexibility, saying that a work programme as a “tailored uniform worn at every occasion” might not help the Conference to move towards nuclear disarmament.


JIM MCLAY (New Zealand), associating himself with the statement made by the Netherlands and underlining his country’s long commitment to global nuclear disarmament through a multilateral process, said, “It is unsustainable for us to continue portraying the CD as the primary multilateral negotiating forum on disarmament”, given its failures of the past 15 years.  Something fundamental must change.  He welcomed efforts of the past year to revitalize the body and signalled he would welcome a decision to proceed with a balanced and meaningful programme of work agreed within existing structures and procedures, although it was a mistake to tie work “in procedural knots” by treating that programme as if it set an overriding mandate for the Conference’s work.  It did not, and pretending otherwise helped keep the stalemate in place.


In the absence of even the prospect of progress, he said, it was unavoidable to ask whether more flexible working methods and rules might not serve better.  “If a way through the current deadlock cannot be found and agreement cannot be reached on more practical working methods, we are also duty-bound to begin serious discussions about alternative avenues for advancing priority disarmament objectives,” he said.  There was frustration and even an element of desperation in his delegation’s attitude towards the situation.  His country retained an open mind on the way forward, but the conversation must begin now, and in earnest.  The next six months could prove decisive.  He pledged to join any and all delegations in charting a way out of the impasse.


JAKKRIT SRIVALI (Thailand), associating himself with the statements made on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Informal Group of Observer States to the Conference on Disarmament, said that this meeting must send a clear and strong message to the Conference that the stagnation must not be allowed to continue.  Members should work towards the commencement of substantive work on the core issues, which he said were still relevant to the international security landscape.  At the same time, the Conference should intensify its efforts to address the concerns of all of its members equally.  His country wished to engage more in that work.  Affirming that disarmament involved the security of all countries, he maintained that all should have the right to participate in the discussions and negotiation process on an equal basis.  He, therefore, reiterated the call to address the issue of expansion, in a way that did not distract from the Conference’s substantive work.


OLIVIER MAES ( Luxembourg) said Luxembourg had consistently supported all efforts aimed at reducing nuclear weapons proliferation.  Despite the success of the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), adoption of Security Council resolution 1887 (2009), and the launch of the new START — Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — in Washington, there had been no progress in the Conference on Disarmament.  It was necessary to regain that impetus and ensure that words were followed by concrete action in order to end the decade-long deadlock.  All of those serious about progress in disarmament could no longer accept the absence of substantive negotiations in the Conference.  From now on, every State must illustrate responsibility in international security.  The first priority was to immediately start negotiations on a fissile material treaty.  As the Secretary-General had pointed out, there already was broad agreement on that point.  He also had called for strengthening civil society’s involvement in the Conference.  Adjusting the rules of procedure would help improve its operations. 


DANIJELA ČUBRILO (Serbia) said productive multilateralism in the areas of arms control and non-proliferation and disarmament was necessary.  The international community could achieve that through cooperation, compromise, flexibility and strategic foresight.  Political will must be translated into concrete action.  The Conference on Disarmament must be made more efficient and effective.  Member States must engage seriously and without delay in substantive discussions on core issues on the Conference’s agenda.  Expanding the Conference’s membership was necessary to revitalizing its work.  That was particularly important for Serbia, which had repeatedly expressed interest in becoming a member. 


ABIODUN RICHARDS ADEJOLA (Nigeria), aligning himself with the statement made by the delegate of Egypt on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and with the delegate of the Netherlands, said that the convening of today’s meeting demonstrated a collective resolve to realize the vision of a world without nuclear weapons.  The “moral watershed” was the need to demonstrate the dangers which the current failure to act today portended for tomorrow.  There was a need, therefore, to seize both the momentum and the opportunity presented by this meeting to reaffirm the commitment to the ethos of multilateralism.  However, he recalled painfully the inability, in 2011, of the three working groups of the Disarmament Commission to produce concrete recommendations or reach a landmark consensus on the issues at hand.  Those failures constituted a “clear reminder of the enormous challenges”.   Nigeria called on nuclear-weapon States to consider, as a top priority, the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, in accordance with relevant legal obligations.  “Our effort to overcome this crisis is losing precious time,” he stressed, adding that Nigeria remained supportive of the Conference on Disarmament as the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament.


MOHAMMED LOULICHKI (Morocco), also joining with the statement of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the creation of a nuclear weapon-free world must be accomplished through the United Nations framework.  He agreed that it was imperative to unblock the current stalemate, adding that it was “frustrating and counter-productive to bring back, each time, the same discussions” in the Conference on Disarmament.  Many ideas had been presented over the years, and those should be considered.  Turning to the consensus rule, he said that such a requirement had been created to ensure that each State could contribute effectively to the Conference’s decision-making; however, it had not been designed to allow for impasses, such as the current one.  States must give proof of flexibility to move forward, he stressed.


Adopting a stance that would take national and regional security into account was critical for the Conference, but prudence should be exercised when considering the temptation to launch negotiations outside it, he said.  Such a decision would be fraught, as they might not be recognized by several States.  Nuclear-weapon States had a particular responsibility in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, involving long-term confidence-building efforts; a fissile material cut-off treaty and agreement on negative security assurances would go a long way towards building confidence.  Additionally, technical cooperation must be undertaken for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and its funding should no longer be voluntary.  It was also crucial to ensure the success of a conference in 2012 on the Middle East.


DIEGO MOREJÓN (Ecuador) said the spirit of inclusion and multilateralism must guide Member States in their effort to break the deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament.  He asked why there was political will for some aspects of the Conference’s work programme, but not for others.  He stressed the need to negotiate a fissile material cut-off treaty, which was as important as a convention on nuclear weapons or negative security assurances.  The processes of nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation were interlinked, but it appeared that the Conference was only concerned with making progress on nuclear proliferation, relegating or sidelining any opportunity to advance nuclear disarmament.  Efforts must be redirected to bring the parties closer together in that regard.  It was necessary to have a convention on nuclear weapons, negative security assurances, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and a fissile material ban, addressing both present and future stockpiles.  It was appropriate and necessary to hold a fourth special session on disarmament in the Assembly.   


SIMONA MIRELA MICULESCU (Romania) said that efforts must be summoned to ensure that the Conference on Disarmament met the international community’s expectations.  She strongly supported the Conference as a major framework for nuclear issues, and stressed that its negotiating role must be preserved and reinforced.  The long-term deadlock that had posed serious problems must end; it should not be impossible to at least agree on a programme of work.  It was in nobody’s interest that States, frustrated by the current deadlock, turn to the outside for other ways and means to negotiate international disarmament agreements.  There were not too many options at present; the working methods of the Conference must be examined, including its procedures and operational principles.  Romania was committed to seriously engaging in the Conference’s work to build upon its May 2009 programme.  As for the crucial need to negotiate a fissile ban treaty, the security concerns of all must be addressed in those negotiations.


Statements on Water and Sanitation


JULIO PERALTA ( Paraguay) said that all countries had the responsibility to balance economic development with human rights.  Virtually a third of the world’s population was without access to sanitation, and about a seventh of it could not access safe drinking water — which was a “harsh, unacceptable fact”.  Paraguay continued to employ all necessary resources to ensure that those services would be available to all Paraguayans as soon as possible.  He urged the international community to take steps towards that goal.  The situation was standing “at a crossroads”, and at next year’s Rio+20 conference, steps should be taken to ensure that future generations lived in a world where necessary resources were available to all.


SHALVA TSISKARASHVILI (Georgia) said that, as one of the co-sponsors of General Assembly resolution 64/292, Georgia felt that safe drinking water and sanitation were of vital importance.  It had undertaken much collaboration to that end, including establishing a national Georgian water company, which was made up of many municipal water systems; launching a partnership with the Millennium Development Corporation; and signing agreements with major European and Asian partners to introduce projects now under way in 28 municipalities of Georgia.  New infrastructure was being constructed to more widely distribute water, he added.  Nonetheless, more remained to be done — including at the international level — to support such national efforts.


DIEGO LIMERES (Argentina) said his country supported various international documents that stressed the importance of drinking water and sanitation services to protect human health and the environment.  States were chiefly responsible for ensuring that their own citizens had the right to water as part of the right to life and to an adequate living standard.  Argentina had voted in favour of the Assembly resolution on the right to water and sanitation.  Each State must ensure the right to water for its people under its own jurisdiction, and not those of other States.    


DIEGO MOREJÓN (Ecuador) said the human right to water was a fundamental right.  Article 411 of Ecuador’s Constitution guaranteed the conservation, recovery and holistic management of water resources.  Articles 71 and 74 recognized the rights of nature and aimed to guarantee that everyone benefited from water.  The Ecuadorian Government was promoting policies to ensure the human right to water as an essential means of sustainable development.  Its policies aimed to manage water in a holistic way to ensure universal access, and the Government was working with civil society towards that goal.  Water was special because the well-being of lives, communities and nations revolved around it.  States must ensure the quality of water and sanitation.  Despite historic progress in Ecuador, much remained to be done to ensure that policies were implemented in practice.  He stressed Ecuador’s commitment to implementing the Assembly resolution on water and sanitation.


JOÃO MARIA CABRAL (Portugal) said that achieving the objective of halving the population lacking access to safe drinking water was a top priority, as it was also a necessary precondition to realize rights such as health, food, and education, among others.  It was crucial, therefore, to move from “simple charity to legal obligation, from simple desirability to accountability” for ensuring that water and sanitation were accessible, safe, affordable and available for all, without discrimination. Portugal had increased the percentage of its population with access to a water supply from 80 per cent in 1993 to 94 per cent in 2011.  This year, the percentage of people with access to sanitation had also risen to 80 per cent.  Those services were now legally classified as essential public services and were protected by a special regime intended to safeguard users against possible abuses by the providers.


TURDAKUN SYDYKOV (Kyrgyzstan) said his country strictly adhered to the targets of the Millennium Development Goals, including the one aiming to halve, by 2015, the number of people without access to safe water.  Kyrgyzstan was also of the view that the right to water and sanitation was part and parcel of the right to lead a dignified life.  The country relied heavily upon glacial water sources; however, under the influence of global climate change, the surface area of its glacier had shrunken significantly, threatening the security of water supplies.  With the active participation of international development partners, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Kyrgyzstan was actively taking up new projects to ensure that its population had access to clean drinking water; 550 villages across the country had recently been provided with water pipes, increasing access and lowering the prevalence of infectious disease.  The Drinking Water Act, along with related legislation, had also been passed recently.


SANJA ŠTIGLIC (Slovenia) said that forecasts showed that by 2025, 1.8 billion people would live in areas affected by severe water stress, owing to climate change, environmental degradation and population growth.  Water governance concerned more than merely technical measures; it was essentially about political decision-making and the participation of all stakeholders in that process.  Social inclusion, respect for minorities and promotion of gender equality were essential to ensure equitable access to water and sanitation.  Slovenia recognized the human right to water and sanitation.  Environmental protection, with a focus on sustainable water management, was a thematic priority of Slovenia’s development cooperation.  Slovenia had consistently supported international initiatives concerning the right to water and sanitation, and it fully supported the work of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.  The envoy, who visited Slovenia in May 2010, would submit her report on that visit to the Human Rights Council in September.


MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ (Colombia) said that each State had the duty to ensure access to drinking water and sanitation and to regulate and manage water and sanitation services.  In Colombia, the right to water was a fundamental right.  The Colombian Government had made great efforts to ensure high-quality water and sanitation services through its national water plan.  It was developing a national holistic water management policy over the short, medium and long term.  It had set a goal of conserving at least 80 per cent of key water ecosystems and maintaining the index of acceptable or good-quality water at 55 per cent.  The 2010-2014 national policy had created 10 priority programmes, among them, a national pollution control programme and a water risk management programme.  The Government had drawn up five strategic national and regional plans for renewable natural resources and land planning, which included water risk management strategies, and it had created national plans to address the impact of El Nino.


BERNADETTE CAVANAGH ( New Zealand) said that few would deny the serious consequences of any inability to access safe water and sanitation.  A recent report on the issue’s impact in the Pacific region had noted that at the household level, the most pressing issue for Pacific families was the access of water and sanitation.  Extreme weather events threatened to damage or destroy water infrastructure, while sea level rise could threaten the availability of safe, clean drinking water.  Atoll communities were particularly vulnerable, while growing urbanization was putting new stress on existing supply systems.  In the Cook Islands, as in other places, New Zealand was supporting improvements in rainwater harvesting and distribution infrastructure; projects focused on the long-term challenges of access and provision.  New Zealand would continue to take practical steps towards achieving those goals.


MANJEEV SINGH PURI (India), quoting national hero Mahatma Gandhi, said “sanitation is even more important than independence”.  Mr. Gandhi’s dream of total sanitation for all, however, had not yet been realized; India was still confronted with widespread lack of sanitation and about 12 per cent of its population lacked safe drinking water.  That posed a major challenge to India’s development goals and, therefore, the country had taken up the issue as a matter of priority.  In the past five years, India had increased investment in rural sanitation by as much as six times.  Under its Total Sanitation Campaign, the Government had also reoriented its approach, with an emphasis on the demand-side as a drive for change through mobilization of local community leadership.  Meanwhile, a special focus had been laid on expanding access to potable drinking water; nearly 300 villages were being added to the drinking water supply each day.


Despite its size, India was steadily making progress towards achieving the target set out in Millennium Development Goal seven on water and sanitation, he said. More remained to be done, however; sanitation must be given priority in India’s development policies, and must be included in an integrated framework of public policy to ensure that it was adequately funded.  Affordable sanitation technologies were also needed for diverse ecosystems.  It was now be necessary to strengthen the ongoing discussions on the issue in the Human Rights Council.


OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile) said drinking water and sanitation were human rights.  Chile had shown its willingness to work as a partner on that issue so that instead of 884 million people without access to drinking water, there would be none.  The challenge of supplying drinking water for a growing population was further hampered by climate change and the demands of economic development.  Chile recognized the importance of drinking water and sanitation for human dignity, and the importance of the Assembly resolution on the right to water and sanitation.  His country had voted in favour of that resolution and it had co-sponsored a similar text in the Human Rights Council, which emphasized the need for South-South cooperation while recognizing the importance of water as a natural resource of a State.  Resolution 16/2 of the Human Rights Council and the extension of the mandate of the independent expert addressing the human right to drinking water and sanitation required that expert to make recommendations on how to achieve sustainable development.  Cooperation and dialogue among States was fundamental for ensuring the right to drinking water and sanitation.  


SIRODJIDIN ASLOV (Tajikistan) said water was an irreplaceable resource, yet it often caused political tension among States, and the international community must work to prevent conflicts over the use of water.  It was timely to proclaim 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation.  He stressed the need to enhance awareness and understanding of the fact that access to freshwater was needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Indeed, the question of water deserved greater attention at the United Nations.  Central Asia’s water reserves had been shrinking.  That problem, in Central Asia and elsewhere, must be addressed within the context of climate change and food security.  The drying of the Aral Sea was a major concern, he said, noting that due to extensive irrigation, it had lost more than 90 per cent of its water volume.  More effective methods were needed to conserve water resources, and next year’s Rio conference must focus on the issue of access to drinking water and sanitation.


HELEN BECK (Solomon Islands) said that for many least developed countries, access to clean drinking water and better sanitation was a real challenge, especially among women and children.  In the small island developing States, water sources had become brackish due to salt-water intrusion into the groundwater as a result of sea-level rise.  Durable solutions must be found to such “water poverty”, with tangible programmes and resources; the proactive management and sustainable use of water and water resources must be part of overall development frameworks at all levels.


Many least developed countries were off-track in meeting their Millennium Development Goal targets, she said, especially the one tackling the lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation.  Small island developing States, in that respect, remained threatened by the impact of climate change — which she called a “threat multiplier” — resulting in rising sea levels, coastal erosion, droughts, floods and king tides.  To address the root causes of climate change, an ambitious reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions was needed.  However, current pledges to that end fell short, and the number of countries that had announced their opting out of a second commitment under the Kyoto Protocol did not “speak well” of global efforts to preserve vital resources.  Consumption patterns must be changed, as well as the way business was conducted, to include the protection of watersheds.


RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, reaffirmed that access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation was a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights.  As with all other rights, the Palestinian people’s right to water and sanitation continued to be violated by Israel, which currently exploited 90 per cent of the shared water sources, while exerting control over the 10 per cent of that allowed for Palestinian use.  The result was a further reduction in the already-meagre water supply available to Palestinians.  The continued illegal settlement of the Jordan Valley by Israelis further exacerbated the problem.  Palestinians were forced to survive on just 10 to 30 litres per day per capita, far below the minimum guideline of 100 litres set by the World Health Organization (WHO).


He said that Israel, “tellingly”, had not supported General Assembly resolution 64/292, adding that since that resolution had been passed, Israel had destroyed a number of cisterns, wells and other water infrastructure.  Those actions had been condemned by the United Nations Resident Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Maxwell Gaylard, as violations of international law.  He urged the international community to hold Israel accountable to respecting the human right to clean water and sanitation; the equitable and reasonable reallocation of shared water resources; and the immediate cessation of destruction of Palestinian water and sanitation infrastructure.


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