Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the First Preparatory Meeting for the International Year of Sanitation, 2008
New York, 7 May 2007

Your Highness, Excellencies, distinguished panellists, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to participate in this first preparatory meeting for the International Year of Sanitation 2008, which the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has the honour to co-sponsor with UNICEF and the Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. I would like to take this opportunity to extend our deep thanks to the Board and its Chair, Prince Willem-Alexander, for the leadership and momentum you are providing to the United Nations efforts in water and sanitation.

Mr. Chairman,

In 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the issue of sanitation won global recognition, with the agreement on a specific target to cut the proportion of people without basic sanitation in half by 2015. This complements the Millennium Development Goal to reduce by half the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or to afford safe drinking water. It also highlights the role of sanitation in improving human health and reducing infant and child mortality. Overall, it points up the international commitment to address sanitation as a national development priority in sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies.

The time-bound sanitation goals articulated in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation reflect earlier recommendations contained in Agenda 21 and in decisions on freshwater management and sanitation adopted at the 6th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The Commission later took up sanitation as a major issue in its first thematic implementation cycle during its 12th and 13th sessions. CSD-12 identified constraints and continuing challenges in implementing the commitments, goals, and targets on sanitation agreed at Johannesburg. CSD 13 recommended strategies and policy actions to be considered by member states in addressing these challenges. Among others, these include:

  • Establishing an institutional home at the national level for sanitation;
  • Prioritizing sanitation in national development plans;
  • Incorporating sanitation in integrated water resources management plans; and
  • Promoting gender-sensitive sanitation and hygiene education and awareness.

Next year, CSD-16 will review progress in implementation of these recommendations. Upon the recommendation of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation made in the Hashimoto Action Plan, the General Assembly decided in December last year to take steps to focus attention and action on this important issue by declaring 2008 the International Year of Sanitation. This is indeed a most welcome and timely decision. There is no question that urgent intervention is required. An estimated 42,000 lives are lost each week to diseases associated with poor water and inadequate sanitation. The International Year of Sanitation will provide an opportunity to raise awareness; to educate; to ensure that this issue finds a place on the agenda of policy-makers at the local and national levels; to encourage the fullest engagement of civil society; and to galvanize action at all levels;

Beyond the global water and sanitation agenda, improved sanitation facilities bring broader development benefit. The Commission on the Status of Women, for instance, in considering the question of “elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”, concluded earlier this year that, among other issues, the lack of sanitation facilities is most threatening to the girl child, undermining her ability to enjoy her rights and to reach her full potential.

Appropriate sanitation facilities have been shown to improve school attendance rates particularly for girls. Another challenge is to bring the issue of personal hygiene into the public debate, especially the aspects of privacy, dignity, and security of women. Adequate investment in capacity building, technology transfer, adoption of low-cost technology options, and greater community involvement, particularly on the part of women in sanitation management, can promote simple technology design for easy maintenance, facilitate cost-recovery, and help ensure equitable access. In this context, DESA and UN system partners will organize in 2008, among other events, a workshop to consider the linkages between improved sanitation and girls’ education.

Successful sanitation programmes are generally found where sanitation is recognized as a national development priority, with clear policies, budgets, coordination, and cohesion within government institutions, including at the regional and local levels. In this regard, integration of sanitation into National Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Strategies, and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) plans are critical factors to advance implementation of the sanitation agenda. Integration of sanitation programmes and strategies into national priorities facilitates monitoring of the status and needs for sanitation and wastewater treatment to meet the Johannesburg commitments and targets. It is surprising that, despite all the benefits of improving sanitation, many countries are not giving due attention to sanitation and integrating it into national priorities. And many still lack an institutional home for sanitation at the national level.

At CSD-12, Ministers noted that the public sector remains the principal financier of sanitation infrastructure investments. Today, by one estimate, close to 70 per cent of water and sanitation spending comes from government budgets, another 20 per cent from international development assistance of members of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the remaining 10 per cent from the international private sector and community and household investment.

While developing countries face difficult choices in allocating limited budgetary resources, given the high returns on investment in sanitation, national governments should consider spending a larger share of their resources in the water supply and sanitation sector. Beyond that inter-sectoral reallocation of resources, countries should also consider an intra-sectoral reallocation. Only 20 per cent of overall public sector expenditure in the water and sanitation sector went to sanitation during the 1990s. Investments need to be prioritized to areas of greatest need and greatest impact.

DESA has been providing a forum and has initiated a dialogue to help increase financing for basic utilities, including sanitation facilities. The on-going debate focuses on concrete financing instruments, in order to identify effective ways to increase the coverage of quality services. Notably, the debate has moved away from public versus private sources and concentrates now on mechanisms available to raise long-term finance and to generate internal revenues.

On the recommendation of CSD and the Secretary General’s Advisory Board, DESA, with its UN partners, has launched an initiative to improve the capacity of water and sanitation utilities to expand their services and deliver services more efficiently. As a result of this initiative, water partnerships are being formed in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In consultation with UN-Water we are also in the process of establishing in Zaragoza, Spain, a UN Office for advocacy and awareness raising on water and sanitation issues in the context of the International Decade for Action, ”Water for life” 2005-2015. This Office will organize an interregional conference on sanitation in 2008.

Mr. Chairman, the International Year for Sanitation provides us with the unique opportunity to lift sanitation prominently onto the international agenda and propel the much needed action at all levels. We look forward to collaboration among all partners engaged in this important initiative to ensure a truly productive and successful year in 2008.

Thank you.