Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the Fourth World Water Forum
Mexico City, 16 March 2006

Let me, first of all, extend to you greetings from the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, and his deep appreciation to the Government of Mexico and the World Water Council for organizing this Fourth World Water Forum. The United Nations hopes that the Forum, the largest multi-stakeholder dialogue on water issues, will propel implementation of the critical global water and sanitation agenda.

This agenda cuts across the several dimensions of sustainable development and is captured in specific global targets. The UN Millennium Summit recognized the provision of safe drinking water as essential for poverty alleviation—and set precise targets to achieve in this area by 2015. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development agreed, in turn, on two additional targets: one on sanitation and another on preparing water management and efficiency plans.

These targets are the core of the broader global water and sanitation agenda that has emerged from the UN Conferences and Summits, the previous World Water Forums and other important events, like Bonn 2001. This broader agenda includes issues of water governance, more efficient water use, a better understanding of water valuation and financing, capacity building, and the prevention and mitigation of the impact of water related disasters—all to ensure water for food security, for health, for ecosystem protection, as well as for peace and development. This comprehensive agenda is captured in the umbrella concept of “Integrated Water Resource Management”.

In 2004-2005, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development focused intensively on water, sanitation and human settlements. Governments and other stakeholders discussed how to accelerate the pace of implementation of the internationally agreed goals. While the sessions showed frustration at slow progress, the passion and commitment expressed by the various stakeholders gave also clear cause for optimism.

Thanks to the central place that the water and sanitation agenda has assumed in the global development agenda, we are today better positioned than a decade ago to translate vision into action. The wealth of knowledge and experience generated around the world helps us to understand what works and under what conditions. We know that no “one-size-fits-all” solution exists. And we know that we will only move forward by working together.

The latest data shows that over the past decade, roughly one billion people—almost one-sixth of the world’s population—have gained access to improved drinking water and sanitation. While progress has been disappointing in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, progress has been rapid in East and South Asia, where the majority of the world’s impoverished people live. And coverage of water and sanitation services is now high in North Africa and in Latin America. Nonetheless, to meet the water and sanitation targets, we will need over the next decade to ensure that safe drinking water reaches an additional 1.5 billion people, and that basic sanitation becomes available to an additional 1.9 billion people.

In the immediate term, we also need to reckon with the disappointing result that only a handful of countries met the 2005 target for incorporating integrated water resource management into national water resource plans. The UN strongly encourages all countries to prepare these plans—and to make them part of their comprehensive national development strategies for meeting the internationally agreed development goals, which all governments committed to adopt at the 2005 World Summit.

The water and sanitation agenda poses a range of technical and institutional challenges, discussed in many venues, which will remain a critical focus of attention during this Fourth World Water Forum. Let me touch now upon a few strategic challenges connecting water and sanitation goals to the wider global development agenda.

First is the need for a multi-layered rural-urban strategy. In rural areas, where the poorest of the poor live, roughly a third of the population remains un-served by improved drinking water sources and an even larger proportion lacks access to modern sanitation. At the same time, over the next quarter century, all population growth will be urban, and the cities of the developing world will have to absorb an additional 1.6 billion people by 2030.

Urban water supply could well attract substantial additional financing, including from private sources, yet we see little willingness to invest in rural areas. Our municipal water utilities must plan to deal with this dual rural-urban challenge. And tackling it would require reprogramming national water sector budgets.

A second set of strategic challenges relates to building multi-stakeholder partnerships, engaging not only state actors, but also civil society and the private sector. In building many of these partnerships, we have advanced. But in others, we have not moved beyond ideological debates.

In particular, we still have some way to go in understanding the specific role of the private sector in providing access for the poor to water and sanitation. In this regard, one promising form of private participation relates to small firms and micro enterprises engaged in home improvements for the poor, notably slum dwellers. How to promote these firms and gain access for the poor to micro credit for incremental home improvements should be at the center of action on private participation in the water and sanitation agenda.

At the same time, we see large and underexploited room for forging public-public partnerships. Some public sector water utilities are inefficient in terms of service delivery and financial sustainability, yet many others have, in a relatively short period of time, achieved an impressive track record of serving their constituencies efficiently. So, there is much possibility for the Water Operators’ Partnership, which the Secretary-General’s Water and Sanitation Advisory Board has proposed.

A third strategic challenge is how to ensure the financial viability of utility providers, whether public or private. We must explore systematically how to do this while reducing the costs of providing water and sanitation for the poor. Transparent cross-subsidy mechanisms could do much to promote the achievement of these objectives in a coherent way.

A fourth strategic challenge involves the agricultural sector. Two-thirds of extracted water is used for agriculture, which means that small efficiency gains here could free up large volumes of water for other uses. Improved water management in this sector could help to overcome water scarcity constraints and reverse environmental damages.

I want to assure you of the United Nations’ determination to help all stakeholders in our shared efforts to realize the global water and sanitation agenda. Water-related activities are part of the work programmes of 24 UN agencies, each involved in different ways in strengthening four intrinsically linked pillars: delivering coordinated response at the country level, promoting partnerships, strengthening advocacy efforts, and improving monitoring and reporting.

To bring coherence among these water-related activities, we have constructed an inter-agency mechanism, UN-Water, which has already started liaising as well with non-UN agencies. At the country level, efforts are underway to establish “Water and Sanitation Country Teams” under the UN Resident Coordinator, consisting of agencies providing direct assistance to countries in water, sanitation and integrated water resource management. This assistance ranges from infrastructure development projects to capacity building of local communities and enhanced monitoring of goals and targets.

In the analytical area, the United Nations has produced its Second World Water Report, which provides a comprehensive assessment of the status of the global water and sanitation agenda. This report will be launched during this Forum, on World Water Day. It is a combined effort of various UN agencies under the auspices of UN-Water, coordinated by UNESCO. The Millennium Project also established a Task Force on Water and Sanitation, which last year produced a comprehensive report outlining strategies and actions to advance implementation.

To provide further political impetus to the water and sanitation agenda, the Secretary-General established his Advisory Board in 2004. This Board is chaired by Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto, Former Prime Minister of Japan, and it includes a number of eminent persons and technical experts. As part of its advocacy and outreach efforts, the Board will present the results of its work to this Forum.

Finally, the United Nations is about to set up an office in Zaragoza for the “Water for Life” Decade, in partnership with the Government of Spain. This new arrangement will undertake advocacy and outreach efforts to sustain the global attention and political momentum in favor of the water and sanitation agenda at all levels during the Decade.

The water and sanitation agenda is an ambitious one. But I am confident that we can achieve it, with strong political resolve, supported by sizeable additional resource flows to poor countries and enhanced capacities at the country level.

More and more far-sighted nations and organizations are stepping forward to help develop solutions to carry this agenda forward. This Forum will, no doubt, provide an invaluable opportunity for an exchange of ideas among its broad range of participants, for forging exciting new partnerships and for catalyzing the necessary action. I wish you every success in your deliberations.