Urging development ministers not to back away from the projected high costs of providing clean water, basic sanitation and proper housing for the poor, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today said that by any measure, investments in those areas were sound and came with high social returns.
Addressing a ministerial panel on the economic benefits of policies on water, sanitation and human settlements, Mr. Annan said studies suggest that halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 would require a doubling of the current investment to $30 billion, and improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 might require $5 billion a year.
"We should not recoil from such numbers…[these] are important goals – in their own right, but also for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)," he told the panel, convened by the thirteenth session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, currently meeting in New York. He stressed that polls in many developed countries show that their citizens were generous in spirit and willing to devote a larger share of their taxes to economic and humanitarian assistance.
"We need to tap into that goodwill," he said. "I believe the pieces are in place to reach a global deal to promote development, security and human rights for all people. Finance ministers and experts such as you are crucial players in this process.
"You meet at a time of gathering momentum around the global development agenda," Mr. Annan said, adding: "There is an unprecedented consensus that greater investments in development are an imperative for all of us – our well-being, our security our very freedoms." That reflected the very message he had placed before Member States with the recent release of "In Larger Freedom," his comprehensive reform agenda for action to be taken at the General Assembly's summit-level review this September of the 2000 Millennium Declaration.
Since that time, he was encouraged to see so many promising efforts taking shape: the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have called for a doubling of official development assistance (ODA) in five years; the European Union is contemplating setting ambitious new targets for ODA; Japan has announced a major increase in aid to Africa; and recent reports from the Millennium Project and the Blair Commission brim with sensible, affordable proposals, and stress the need to pay particular attention to Africa.
"With courage and wisdom in the months ahead, we could give the cause of development the push it needs to make a difference for decades to come, Mr. Annan said. "The challenge now is to find the right mix of local action and international assistance. Developed and developing countries alike must live up to their responsibilities."