Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Opening of the Water and Sanitation Review at the 16th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development
New York, 12 May 2008

Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Delegates,

This is the first time in the history of the Commission on Sustainable Development that it undertakes a review of its own decisions. The focus is on those taken three years ago, to advance implementation of the global water and sanitation agenda. The Commission is thus addressing a long-standing concern that it needs to be more proactive in terms of ensuring the implementation of its decisions.

The CSD-13 decisions identified a range of policy options to accelerate progress in meeting the MDG targets on water and sanitation. They also highlighted that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Accordingly, CSD-13 called upon governments and stakeholders to choose and implement those policy measures suitable to their specific conditions.

It is widely recognized that the achievement of water and sanitation goals, as well as improving management of water resources, will have a great bearing on progress toward sustainable development, particularly the alleviation of poverty.

But will we be able to achieve the water and sanitation goals? The evidence shows that meeting the MDG target on safe drinking water is possible by 2015, but the sanitation target remains elusive.

Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Delegates,

The challenges confronting the water and sanitation agenda are well known. The Commission agreed in 2005 on a wide range of relevant economic, institutional, technical and financial options specifically to address these challenges. While some of the policy options are receiving attention in national development plans, many of the agreed actions still need to be integrated into national programs and policies.

Let me give a few examples. Only a handful of countries have met the 2005 target for developing integrated water management plans. Many of the public water utilities around the developing world are not financially sustainable. Private sector investment in the water sector is not forthcoming; it has, in fact, been declining. The pace of institutional and policy reform is slow. And coordination of donors programs and projects at the country level remains a big challenge. The upshot is that implementation of the decisions reached during CSD-13 is still constrained. We need to muster strong political resolve to move forward.

The Commission, in its deliberations during the last week, has been emphasizing the importance of water management within the context of agriculture and rural development. As we well know, the world is facing a serious food crisis. In the medium- to long-term, addressing it will require increased water productivity in agriculture. While agriculture is the major user of water, irrigation efficiencies in many parts of the world are quite low. Even small efficiency gains in agricultural water-use could free up large volumes of water for other uses.

Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Delegates,

Implementing the global water and sanitation agenda will require concerted and comprehensive effort.

Within the UN System, under the auspices of UN-Water, agencies and programmes are working together to deliver a coordinated response at various levels.

To keep the political momentum in favour of the water and sanitation agenda, the international community declared the year 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater; this year, 2008, as the International Year of Sanitation; and 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”.

The Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation is reaching out energetically to all partners to mobilize and strengthen support for the water and sanitation agenda.

These efforts, while laudable, are not enough. We need to do more in terms of getting the policies right; investing in infrastructure rehabilitation and in new infrastructure; and improving governance at all levels.

Let me point out four specific areas of action that I think can make the difference.

First, I think our efforts for scaling up of good practices have not met their potential. We should examine how to utilize the wealth of knowledge that already exists.

Second, some of the issues discussed during this session – such as climate change, biofuels and the food crisis – were not on the forefront of the international water agenda at the time of CSD-13. There has to be a good understanding of how to mainstream these issues into water management plans.

Third, it is worth considering how to better track the implementation of CSD-13 decisions within the framework of existing monitoring mechanisms.

Fourth, stakeholder coordination at the country level is very important. Mechanisms, such as the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), exist to coordinate the activities of the UN system at the national level, but other major players in water and sanitation are not part of this Framework. Inclusive coordination mechanisms are needed.

Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Delegates:

We all know how crucial meeting the internationally agreed goals and targets on water and sanitation is, in our quest to create a more secure, prosperous, equitable and sustainable world.

Encouragingly, there is great interest in developing concrete solutions for meeting these goals. And development partners are looking to you for guidance.

I wish you a very successful review.

Thank you.