24 September 2008
His Royal Highness, Prince Willem-Alexander, His Excellency, Mr. Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, His Excellency, Mr. Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, His Excellency, Mr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Vice-Chancellor of Germany, His Excellency, Mr. Yoriko Kawaguchi, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan, His Excellency, Professor David Mwakyusa, Minister for Health and Social Welfare of Tanzania, Mr. Khan,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for this opportunity to speak on an issue that affects the lives of every human being in this planet. Safe drinking water and basic sanitation are intrinsic to human survival, well-being and dignity.
Infants and young children are the most vulnerable to unsafe water and poor sanitation. Each day, thousands of parents in the developing world are left to watch their children die from these wholly preventable causes.
Their plight, their daily suffering, diminishes all of us and compels us to act.
The international community can say, with some pride, that since 1990, 1.6 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water, and more than 1.2 billion have gained access to improved sanitation. This is significant progress.
Yet current trends are disturbing.
To meet the sanitation target by the year 2015, about 173 million people will need to gain access to sanitation each year between now and then. That will be an immense undertaking; over the past decade-and-a-half, new sanitation services reached an average of about 76 million people per year.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is alarming. To meet the targets, the region will need to more than double the annual number of additional people served with drinking water, and increase by six-fold the additional number served with basic sanitation.
And now climate change has emerged as a formidable challenge to water resources. The extreme weather associated with global warming threatens to bring more frequent floods and droughts in various parts of the world. By 2025, an estimated 2.8 billion people will live in countries facing water stress or water scarcity.
A world short of water will be an unstable world. Yet the worst need not happen. We know what the problems are, and what to do about them. It is not lack of knowledge or technology that is holding us back. We simply aren't doing enough of what needs to be done. Three areas in particular cry out for action.
First, we need concrete steps to build up infrastructure, transfer technology and scale up good practices, especially in agriculture, so as to produce more food with less water.
Second, we need to improve the management of water resources, from public utilities to rural areas, including to take account of the dynamics of climate change.
Third, we need to increase investment. The estimated cost of closing the gap between current trends and what is needed to meet the target ranges from $10 to $18 billion per year. That is in addition to the $54 billion per year required to maintain existing water and sanitation systems.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Without a serious advance in implementing the water and sanitation agenda, there is little prospect of achieving development for all.
I congratulate the organizers of this event, which has brought together so many top leaders from government, civil society and the private sector. The collective wisdom, capacities and resources of all of you will be critical in getting the world on track.
We say often that water is life. Let us act like we mean it, and work together to achieve sanitation and water for all.
Thank you very much.