Live Coverage World Summit on Sustainable Development

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
UN Page
Johannesburg, South Africa
26 August-4 September 2002
ENV/DEV/J/6
28 August 2002

Plenary
6th Meeting (AM)


PROVIDING SAFE DRINKING WATER, SANITATION TO 1 BILLION IN NEXT DECADE
CRITICAL CHALLENGE FOR HUMANITY, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT SUMMIT TOLD

Fifth 'Partnership Plenary' Questions Why Crucial
Resource Receives Little Priority in Planning, Management

 

Providing safe drinking water, sanitation services and water-management resources for more than 1 billion people over the next decade, particularly for those living in the developing world, was identified as one of humanity's most critical challenges this morning, as the World Summit on Sustainable Development examined a framework for action on water and sanitation.

Opening the discussion, Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chairperson of the Global Water Partnership, told delegates that yesterday she had learned that some 500 Chinese lakes had simply disappeared, because of irrigation demands. Elsewhere, development claimed huge amounts of freshwater resources and everyone knew about water pollution, biodiversity concerns and flooding. Yet, water management continued to be given low priority in planning strategies. Why? Perhaps because only the poorest countries suffered the consequences of water's degradation.

Stressing that the phrase "generate the requisite political will" had been overused for nearly 30 years, she said what was really needed in the case of water management and sanitation was concerted local, community and private sector action to drive the larger political movement to effect change. The challenge was to make certain that anyone trying to grow a crop, catch a fish, get water from a tap or locate the source of a local river was moved to action.

This mornings' "partnership plenary" was the fifth in a series focusing on priority areas identified by the Secretary-General as key for progress at the Summit -- water, energy, health, agricultural production and biodiversity. The interactive plenaries are laying the groundwork for the Summit's high-level segment next week, when more than 100 world leaders will gather to build a commitment to better implement Agenda 21, the roadmap for achieving sustainable development adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development -- the Earth Summit -- held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Also presenting on today's theme, Gourisankar Gosh, of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, noted that water was life, but sanitation was a way of life. Other development goals such as health, education, energy and poverty reduction could not be achieved without sanitation. He stressed that women and young girls were most affected by poor sanitation. A new paradigm, which built on local and affordable water solutions, was required. And while governments must take the lead, it was also necessary to strengthen the capacity of local institutions.

The discussion that followed the opening statements included a panel representing United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, community activists, youth and business. The debate was moderated by the Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the Summit, Jan Pronk.

A number of panellists addressed the notion raised by Ms. Cately-Carlson, that while water and sanitation were essential, they were generally a low priority for government action. One suggested that it was because governments until now had generally acted as deliverers of services, not allocators. That role needed to be changed, because of the rise in population.

That sentiment was echoed by other speakers, with one noting that water in growing cities was in such a crisis situation that the poor were paying four to five times more for water than people connected to the water system. Another added that all that was reason for local authorities to design programmes to enable local people to have access to clean water and safe sanitation.

Another panellist stressed that cost should not be an issue -- people needed access to water in order to live. Moreover, it would be a lot cheaper to correct problems today than to throw money at them later, after water supplies had been totally degraded.

Following the panel, several Member States and representatives of major groups also participated in the discussion. Mauritania's Minister stressed that the need for the international community to focus, over the next few years, on specific action in the water sector, the transfer of appropriate technology to developing countries and safeguarding safe water and sanitation.

The representative of the World Conservation Union expressed concern that, while the presenters expressed wholehearted support for water management schemes, they had ignored protection and biodiversity concerns. He said that the only real way to eliminate poverty and hunger was to reach agreement on ways to harmonize water management strategies with protection of ecosystems and biodiversity.

The representative of Demark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the idea of mainstreaming water management in order to reduce poverty and improve health and enhance the livelihood of all, particularly women. It was also critical to set out strategies for the monitoring and management of transboundary water sources. What mattered was the long-term commitment, followed by action on the ground backed by adequate resources.

Other participants were government ministers and representatives of: Switzerland, Mauritania, Yemen, India, United States, Uruguay, Ukraine, Eritrea, Belgium, Egypt, Pakistan, Kenya, Israel, Madagascar, Canada, Niger, Venezuela, South Africa, Greece, Burkina Faso and the Palestinian Authority. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing and the Secretary-General of the Convention on Wetlands also spoke.

The Summit will meet again today at 3 p.m. to hold its final partnership plenary, on energy.

Presentation of Theme

Introducing the theme, MARGARET CATLEY-CARLSON, Chairperson of the Global Water Partnership, introduced a pamphlet circulated to delegates "A Framework for Action on Water and Sanitation" produced by the WEHAB Working Group, an initiative proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to provide impetus to action in five key areas -- water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity (WEHAB). Ms. Catley-Carlson said it was useful to begin examining water issues by realizing that water and sanitation were closely related. Sanitation covered nearly 10 per cent of water for human needs. Overall water management was about the water on the planet that was usable and available, but was under increasing threat.

By example she highlighted the sad state of many of the world's rivers, whose escalating deterioration menaced several deltas, fisheries and the economic livelihoods of people living near their banks and tributaries. She said that yesterday she had learned that some 500 Chinese lakes had simply disappeared because of irrigation demands. Development, she added, sadly had claimed a huge number of freshwater sources in Jalalabad, once known as India's "City of Lakes". In light of such events, it was impossible to ignore that water management was not given much priority -- in budget national plans, in community-planning strategies or in overall government initiatives. Even the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) gave low priority to water.

She went on to say that everyone knew about water pollution, about biodiversity concerns and the devastation caused by flooding, yet still, water remained a low priority. Why? Perhaps because certain elements were not in place. What was needed was more participation at local levels, enhanced basin-management schemes, heightened water wisdom in the youth, partnership creation, and integrated water-use management. She added that there must also be agreement on funding and cost recovery, which must be balanced with subsidies for the poor. But perhaps the real reason why water was such a low priority was because only the poorest countries and people suffered from its degradation. Those who continued to do well could afford to ignore water issues.

How could water issues be pushed to the forefront? She asked. She said she would not fall back on the tired phrase "generate the requisite political will". "I'm fatigued by that phrase", she said, "we've been using it for more than 30 years to characterize smaller acts of budgeting or larger acts of legislation". What was really needed was a concerted effort to re-think the local role of cities, communities and the private sector in water and sanitation schemes, and how to use community initiatives to drive a larger political movement to effect change. The challenge was to make certain that anyone trying to grow a crop, fish, get water from a tap or locate the source of a local river was moved to action.

GOURISANKAR GOSH, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, noted that water was life, but sanitation was a way of life. When Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa he said sanitation was more important than political freedom. Other goals such as health, education, energy and poverty reduction could not be achieved without sanitation. The most vulnerable groups in connection with sanitation were women and young girls.

He stressed the need for a separate target on sanitation. Six thousand children died every day from water-borne diseases. A new paradigm, which built on local and affordable water solutions, was required. A multi-sectoral approach, including all stakeholders, which was people-centered, was needed. In that regard, governments had to take the lead. It was also necessary to strengthen the capacity of local institutions to enable people to be in charge. Above all, the United Nations had to demonstrate its capacity to work in innovative ways with new partnerships.

In the interactive discussion that followed, JAN PRONK, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Summit, addressed specific questions to panellists, representing United Nations entities, major groups, experts and advisers.

Participating in the panel were: Boyd Haight, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Adul Sattar Yoosurf, World Health Organization (WHO); Alvaro Umana, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Anna Kajumuto Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat); Vanessa Tobin, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); Veerle Vanderweerd, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); Manuel B. Dengo, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Vasudha Pangare, Gender and Water Alliance, women; Giselle Weybracht, Canada, youth group; Jadder Mendoza, Nicaragua, indigenous people group; Karin Krchnak, Water Caucus, non-governmental organizations group; S. Kabuye, local authorities group; Josephilda Nhlapo-Hope, Congress of South African Trade Unions, trade unions group; Gerard Payer, Suez, business and industry group; Thomas Rosswell, Executive Director, ICSU, science and technology group; R. Baihache, farmers group; Richard Jolly, Chairman, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council; and Milloon Kothari, Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing.

Mr. PRONK said the presenters had stated that water and sanitation were too low a priority, but were essential in the habitat of people. There was an agreed approach, but that approach was not implemented. It had been suggested that the well-to-do had access and, therefore, did not give it any priority.

Commenting on that, the representative of UN-Habitat said water and sanitation was the main challenge and could be the defining issue for sustainable development. Starting the dialogue had been an important contribution of the United Nations. Water in growing cities was in such a crisis situation that the poor were paying four to five times more for water than people connected to the water system. Under the agenda of Habitat, water and sanitation was basic. The allocation of resources must make it possible that needs were met.

The representative of the local authorities said very few people had considered water as an important component. The local authorities needed to design programmes to enable local people to have water. Without safe water, there was no life. Local authorities must, therefore, work together as a team.

Ms. CATLEY-CARLSON said there was a lack of cooperation. The problem was basically that of political will, but also because governments had been accustomed to being deliverers of services, and not allocators. That role needed to be changed, because of the rise in population.

The representative of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs pointed out that a reshaping of structures relating to water was necessary. During the opening session of the International Conference on Fresh Water in Bonn, Germany, Mr. Desai had said: "If we bring out the water right, we can bring out development right". The problem must be approached holistically, and not just be seen as one of providing services.

A representative of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council said water had been recognized as a human right, and in the 1990s human rights issues had been taken more seriously. That could bring in a new force in the areas of water and sanitation. It must not, however, be forgotten that negotiators usually did not represent local authorities. The 1980s were not a lost decade for water; it had been declared a water decade. During that time more people had gotten access to water than ever before. Even sanitation had advanced somewhat, which proved that global goals could mobilize action. The challenge was to remobilize the commitment to global action in water and sanitation.

Mr. GOSH said expenditures in water and sanitation were not at $11 billion a year. In order to reach the poor, $9 billion extra was needed, using certain conditions such as local participation, plus an addition $2 billion for sanitation. 1.1 billion people did not have access to water. Addressing the problem was possible, if water management was accepted. That depended on political will to accept the targets and raise the resources. A target was needed for proper management at all levels.

When asked by Mr. PRONK, nobody on the panel disagreed with the statement that water was a human right, nor did they disagree with the Millennium Goals regarding water.

The representative of the business sector said his sector took the water and sanitation issue seriously. Water and sanitation were two sides of the same coin, from a business point of view. Sanitation should be included in the Millennium Goal. Mr. PRONK remarked that if the Summit could agree on that, it would be a major result.

The representative of non-governmental organizations emphasized that access to water for basic human needs was a fundamental human right and, along with improved sanitation, was a key component of any effective poverty-eradication strategy. In addition, partnership initiatives in the area of water and sanitation must be in response to locally articulated needs through a democratic process; be in keeping with Type I outcomes; include mechanisms for democratic accountability for government partners; and include corporate partners only when enforceable and functional standards for corporate accountability were in place.

Ms. CATLEY-CARLSON said more discussion was necessary on cost recovery, in which either the taxpayer or the client paid. The issue was more one of accountability of deliveries. Was that a role of the public or the private sector? Both the private sector and the public sector had to be held to high standards.

The representative of the trade unions disagreed that it was a matter of choice between private and public. Experience had shown that the private sector was unable to provide basic needs. The private sector would never enter the business of water for charity, only for profit making.

The business representative countered that that was not his experience. Delivering services provided by the private sector were contracted by government, which set prices and targets. That only rich people could pay for water was not his experience. The poor were willing to pay as well, and as a matter of fact paid more. The poorer you were, the more you had to pay for water. When municipalities organized it in a better way, it was possible to provide water to the poor. The poor were willing to pay, but politicians were not willing to charge them.

A representative of indigenous people said water was a collective entity. The cost must be applied differentially to the rich and the poor. Indigenous peoples had territory where natural resources were their capital. There was a need to review what the ancestral rights were. Paying for sanitation was a different matter, from the point of view of indigenous people.

A representative of local communities reiterated that water was a human right. Normally, water was subsidized, and the manner in which the service was paid for was not for profit, but as contribution to management. It was not proper to make profit on water for communities.

The representative of women's groups said that studies had shown that poor men and women were willing to work or provide resources in order to put water sanitation projects in place, but they needed technical training in order to maintain and monitor those projects.

The youth representative said the cost should not be an issue. People needed water to live, so water issues must be resolved. It would be a lot cheaper to correct problems today than to throw money at them later, after water supplies had been totally degraded.

The farmer's representative said farm groups were perhaps less concerned about sanitation than access and management. He asked Ms. Catley-Carlson why so little priority had been given to water management. He added that if developed countries wished to apply ready-made recipes for water management in the developing world, everyone would suffer -- particularly rural communities.

Ms. CATLEY-CARLSON said it was the primary responsibility of States to sit down and discuss how much water was available, who was using it and what for. She said that irrigation was, indeed, important and it was the job of governments to bring all interests to the table to put in place equitable initiatives.

The representative of the farmers said that farmers were willing to pay a higher price for more efficient water usage mechanisms. They were not prepared to pay for water, however.

The representative of UNDP said that, in addition to setting targets and priorities at the international level, those targets must be brought to the local level, where the major battles for development were always fought. The way to do that was to work on water governance, empowering communities and providing new mechanisms for local communities to monitor and solve their own problems.

The representative of UNEP said his agency took a more holistic view -- water management was not only a question of access, but availability. The agency, therefore, took a fair-share water approach that examined access and allocation issues for the poor, among other issues.

Asked about the conditions for guaranteeing access for all, including the poor, the representative of UNICEF said one particular condition was to determine how to involve youth, who had the greatest stake in safe water supplies and sustainable water management. Perhaps the place to start was in schools, which had been ignored in programmes for water and sanitation, particularly in urban and rural areas.

The representative of UN-Habitat suggested several other conditions, including information sharing and dissemination, capacity-building and partnerships. Partnerships were not happening because local government authorities had not been trained to work with communities.

Regarding the conditions for private-sector involvement in the supply of safe water, the representative of business said it was important for government to define the targets and how the cost would be compensated. Also, decision-making must be transparent and accountable. To attract private investment governments must establish an investment-friendly environment, which included appropriate legal frameworks and long-term policies.

Within the sanitation context, noted the representative of women, there existed different needs for men and women. Since women had been proven to be good managers, they should be involved in all stages of planning and implementation of water supply and management programmes.

Ms. CATLEY-CARLSON pointed out that rivers and lakes did not have rights. Therefore, if the sources of water were not protected, the discussions remained in mid-air. There was a bigger picture that needed to be addressed.

Mr. GOSH noted that $11 billion was spent on ice cream in Europe in one year. On the other hand, some countries, such as South Africa and India, were spending $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year on water efforts.

When delegations took the floor, Mauritania's Minister stressed the need for the international community to focus, over the next few years, on specific action in the water sector, the transfer of appropriate technology to developing countries and safeguarding safe water and sanitation. Also, as the desertification affected one sixth of the world's population, that issue, as well as drought and biodiversity, must be addressed.

Several speakers highlighted the difficulties their countries faced in the area of water and sanitation. Yemen's Minister of Water Resources noted that in his country more than 50 per cent of the rural population, which accounted for 75 per cent of the total population, did not have access to safe drinking water and only 18 per cent of the population had access to safe sanitation. In order to provide 80 per cent of the population with safe drinking water by 2025, almost $120 to $130 million was required every year over the next 23 years. He appealed to donors to provide support.

The Minister of Environment and Forests of India, which faced serious challenges in terms of long-term water supply and water quality, stressed the importance of legislation and policies on freshwater resources. Among the main concerns were significant portions of the population without access to safe water and sanitation and high levels of water pollution. The linkage of sanitation with health was clear. The number of deaths due to water-borne diseases was staggering.

The Minister of Housing and Environment of Uruguay said in his country more than 90 per cent had access to water, but only 35 per cent to sanitation. Problems of indebtedness prevented building sanitation plants. She drew attention to the fact that groundwater and aquifers transcended national borders. There was a need, therefore, to resolve questions of ownership and management.

The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Ukraine said the water problems for countries in transition were very specific. Water problems must be solved in relation to economic reforms. During the transition period, the Government had to deal with a range of issues to ensure water quality. The main issue in ensuring the sustainability of the water sector was a management system to address demand.

The Minister of Environment and Planning of Eritrea said water was a challenging problem for his country, as it had no lakes, one permanent river, and was suffering from a reduction in rainfall. Eighty per cent of the population had no access to water and sanitation. The Government focused on increasing efficiency of water distribution systems, water harvesting and a more affordable system for desalination of water. A bit of the money spent on ice cream could go a long way towards solving problems.

The Minister of Scientific Affairs of Pakistan described the dire condition of his country's water resources, the majority of which were used for agricultural purposes. He said Pakistan had extended every effort to upgrade its water-management systems, replenish its aquifers and reform water rates. It had also ensured the participation of farmers and farm communities in developing strategies to ensure sustainable water use and management.

Madagascar's Minister for Foreign Affairs said only one third of his country's population had access to water. It had been critical, therefore, to set up action programmes for drinking water and irrigation, particularly in rural areas. He hoped that in the future nearly 85 per cent of the people of the country would have access to clean water and sanitation.

The Minister for Environment of Niger said that problem today was not availability of water, but having safe water. Located on the edge of the Sahara, the question of availability did exist for his country. Providing safe drinking water was the second problem. The Summit must call on the international community to take on that matter and to provide financing for drinking water and sanitation.

Venezuela's Minister of Environment said that developing countries had made great efforts to provide safe water to their populations. Under President Chavez, his Government had provided safe water to 70 per cent of the population. The problem lay in the fact that developed countries and international financial institutions needed to make a stronger contribution to assist developing countries.

The Minister of Environment of Burkina Faso presented the situation of his country to illustrate the struggle between water as a right, and water as a commodity. The country was still facing three problems: providing drinking water to the population; the access of the rural population to water for agriculture; and access to water for livestock. The problem of sanitation also had yet to be resolved, but before sanitation, it was necessary to have water in the first place. While the Government regarded water as a right, problems of indebtedness required the privatization of water and, consequently, its sale as a commodity.

The Assistant Secretary of State of the United States said that successful water management would include managing water in an integrated manner. Safe drinking water was more than providing wells and pumps, and included water-basin management and pollution control, among other things. The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme was a good example of how integrated health programmes could work. Water, sanitation and hygiene should be priorities in national policies. The world could not continue to witness 1.5 million children dying annually from diarrhoea.

The Minister of Environment and Regional Land Use of Belgium described an innovative system of water management in the region of Wallonia, in which stakeholders were involved in a partnership with a true social contract. As there was a possible future threat to the water supply, the regional government had set up a programme that focused on: investigation of water resources with strict provisions to prevent pollution; reorganizing distribution systems; developing a consistent system for purification; and raising awareness on water, as well as on participation by the public in decision-making in water.

The Minister of State in Charge of the Water Commission of Israel said his Government had taken a decision to rectify serious deficiencies in the country's water-management legislation. The new strategy considered preservation and protection of all natural resources from a qualitative and quantitative point of view. It ensured that manufactured water in large quantities would be produced, from 2004, largely from desalinated seawater.

The Minister of Environment of the Palestinian Authority said efforts had been made to improve access to water and sanitation, despite the absence of a drinking water network or sanitation grid. Palestinians did not have more than 30 liters per day, per person, since Palestinian drinking water had been stolen for the benefit of Jewish settlements in breach of international law. Also, the quality of water was not constant. He described several plans and projects the Authority had undertaken, including a plan to manage solid waste and medical waste, as that could reach drinking water resources, but said all efforts were suffering from the restrictions imposed by the occupation. Sustainable development could not be achieved under occupation and war.

Egypt's Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation welcomed today's suggestions and insistence that sanitation should be included in the Millennium Development Goals. Most developing countries would rather accept the concepts of cost recovery and paying for services over that of water pricing. That could be accomplished through identifying the cost for water; recognizing the value of water for different communities; and a decision on how to recover the full cost, part of cost, or no cost according to the value for the different groups.

The representative of Demark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union's member States were dedicated to halving by 2015 the number of people without access to clean water. A similar target was needed to address sanitation issues. The Union had decided to launch a water initiative, in collaboration with Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which would be launched during the Summit on 3 September.

The European Union, he said, welcomed the idea of mainstreaming water management in order to reduce poverty and improve health and enhance the livelihood of all, particularly women. It was also critical to set out strategies for the monitoring and management of transboundary water sources. What mattered was the long-term commitment, followed by action on the ground backed by adequate resources, to address the challenges facing all those seeking to address water and sanitation issues.

Attempting to clear up the cost recovery issue, South Africa's Minister for Water Affairs and Forestry said that what was required was appropriate financial systems to ensure that water services were financially sustainable. For the poor, while there was a willingness to pay, there was not always the ability to pay for water. There was a need for subsidies, either from tax revenues or cross-subsidies from other water users.

The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing at the United Nations Commission of Human Rights said he was both glad and surprised at the consensus among panellists on recognizing water as a human right. Privatization had three problems: profit-making and cost recovery were overemphasized; extension of services to vulnerable groups was called into question; and accountability of operators was sometimes questionable. Serious questions had been raised about multinational corporations such as Enron. Moreover, once privatization was implemented, it was difficult to go back.

The Minister of Environment of Canada said his delegation was also impressed with the level of agreement on water issues. The quantifiable impact of water-management issues was clear to everyone. Canada supported treating water and sanitation as closely related issues. That country had demonstrated
that it was prepared to act on water and development issues, as evidenced by its partnership programmes with Africa and others.

The representative of the World Conservation Union expressed concern that, while the presenters expressed wholehearted support for water-management schemes, they had ignored protection and biodiversity concerns. He said that the only real way to eliminate poverty and hunger was to reach agreement on ways to harmonize water-management strategies with protection of ecosystems and biodiversity. He urged governments not to neglect an ecosystem approach to water management.

The Secretary-General of the Convention on Wetlands called for a more holistic approach to problems of water and sanitation. People should be concerned about where water was coming from and care must be taken of the environmental systems that provided the water.

In summary, Ms. CATLEY-CARLSON said the governments' contributions to the discussion, especially from water-stressed countries, showed they were conscious of the need to protect water resources. It was clear that Agenda 21 had done its work in that regard. She welcomed new initiatives such as those from Canada, the United States and the European Union, as well as the references to new laws and regulations. There was now a wealth of information and experiences available.

Everybody, she said, should be struck by the similarities between problems of industrialized and developing countries in the area of water and sanitation. What she did not hear too much about in the discussion was community participation, decentralization of water issues, breaking links between industrialization and pollution in developing countries, and changing the roles of various players.

Mr. GOSH stressed that without integrated natural resources management, which included all resources, a sustainable water supply would be impossible. Although the goals and targets had been endorsed by everyone during the discussion, he warned that it was not a numbers game. The results would be judged by the impact the outcome had on such issues as poverty reduction. He remarked that private or public rights were not an issue. Delivering services remained a commercial production, whether it was done by the public or the private sector.



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