EXPERTS WARN OF IMPENDING GLOBAL CRISIS AS COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT CONTINUES REVIEW OF DECISIONS RELATING TO WATER, SANITATION

13 May 2008
ENV/DEV/982

EXPERTS WARN OF IMPENDING GLOBAL CRISIS AS COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT CONTINUES REVIEW OF DECISIONS RELATING TO WATER, SANITATION

13 May 2008
Economic and Social Council
ENV/DEV/982
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Sustainable Development

Sixteenth Session

14th & 15th Meetings (AM & PM)


EXPERTS WARN OF IMPENDING GLOBAL CRISIS AS COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT


CONTINUES REVIEW OF DECISIONS RELATING TO WATER, SANITATION


Warning that a global water and sanitation crisis was looming, development experts and Government and civil society representatives called for accelerated action on water-management issues in general, and sanitation in particular, as the Commission on Sustainable Development devoted a second full day to reviewing water and sanitation decisions taken at its thirteenth session.


Also today, Commission Chairperson Francis Nhema of Zimbabwe introduced part I of his summary of the Commission’s work during the sixteenth session, which runs through Friday.  The summary outlines the 53-member body’s discussion thus far on its thematic issues -- agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification, and Africa –- and highlights what delegations cited as obstacles and constraints to sustainable development, as well as lessons learned and best practices to overcome those challenges.  He stressed that the summary was not a consensus document, but merely a reflection of the discussions under way.


During two half-day interactive panels, many speakers underscored the need for more integrated and better funded water-management policies to extend basic water services and meet the Millennium Development Goals on safe drinking water, which seemed within reach, and sanitation, which did not.  In their estimation, current efforts to improve sanitation were in the toilet.  One expert said there seemed to be a “blind spot” about the integral role of sanitation in reducing poverty and achieving all the other Millennium Goals.  While major immunization programmes had led to significant success in meeting the Millennium targets on child mortality, an immunized child could still die from diarrhoea due to poor sanitation conditions and unsafe hygiene practices.


Indeed, the costs of failing to deliver basic water services were high, with more than 5,000 children dying each day from diarrhoea around the world, she said, adding that 50 per cent of the hospital beds in Africa were filled with patients suffering from diarrhoeal illness.  But, despite such a bleak backdrop, the target for sanitation was still attainable, an issue that should be flagged for the Commission’s high-level segment, opening tomorrow morning.


Picking up that thread, a World Bank expert said that, in terms of water policy, sanitation could no longer be forgotten.  In funding basic water availability and sanitation, the challenge was not only to find more sources of money, but also to identify funding mechanisms that would foster sustainable water policies.  For example, simply building more toilets was not effective, because they often went unused.  Funding had to be extended, therefore, to sanitation awareness programmes, of which improving household awareness was a critical part.


Other speakers said that, while water was on the frontline of both the food crisis and climate change, its significance in local and national development strategies was underemphasized and most climate change discussions did not stress water concerns with the urgency they deserved.  One speaker, who described his work with local communities in Lesotho, Egypt, Botswana and Nepal, among other places, said that, given the pressures of the current food crisis, it was time to start investing heavily in food-production sectors, including irrigation.  As populations exploded in many parts of the world, the need to increase food production would put similar pressures on freshwater supplies.  On top of all that, the true impact of global warming on food and water supplies was only just becoming clear.  Without a focus on water and agriculture, there was no hope of meeting many of the Millennium Development Goals, including those on poverty alleviation and gender equality.


One expert, noting that the initial target date set at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development had not been met, stressed that water management should not be seen as a simple target, but as a complex process of changing habits and meeting a series of goals.  To meet those goals, water-management planning had to include real priorities.  For example, water management was not inherently helpful to women and the poor, unless very real steps were taken to protect their interests through policies designed for that purpose.  Likewise, capacity-building was difficult to do outside real-world situations, and efforts to create water-management plans had to incorporate realities on the ground.


Another expert stressed the need for “truth” about water to be recognized and incorporated into policy, particularly the truth about how much water was available and who needed it.  Given that information on water use was sometimes decades old, there were huge gaps in information, and the quality of such data affected planning for the future.  Resources should be shifted from report-writing to data-gathering, so as to harmonize plans with current needs and deliver better policy frameworks.


Making comments on the Chairperson’s summary were the representatives of Mali, Benin, Norway, Venezuela, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Russian Federation, Togo, Malaysia, United States, Antigua and Barbuda (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), and Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union).


Representatives of the business and industry, and the children and youth major groups also made comments on the text.


The Commission for Sustainable Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 May, to begin the high-level segment of its sixteenth session.


Thematic Discussion on Water and Sanitation


The Commission held an interactive panel discussion in the morning as part of its review of the decisions taken at its thirteenth session on water and sanitation and the interlinkages between them.  Commission Vice-Chairperson Tri Tharyat ( Indonesia) presided over the discussion, which featured panellists Margaret Catley-Carlson, former Chair of the Global Water Partnership; Mike Muller, Consultant, South Africa; David Molden, Deputy Director-General, International Water Management Institute; and Daniel Zimmer, World Water Council.


Ms. CATLEY-CARLSON opened the discussion by saying that water management should be understood as a series of goals and habit changes rather than a single one-time decision.  The initial target date set at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 had been important in getting the consideration of water on the world agenda, but less important than the existence of real, discernible progress in water management, in developing and developed countries alike.  Water was a significant “frontline” aspect of both the current food crisis and climate change, and part of the Commission’s work should be calling on the international community to consult regularly on the progress being made.


Water management was complex, but planning must include real priorities, she said.  Many priorities, such as the need to strengthen regulatory authorities and identify jurisdictions for decision-making on water management, did not require foreign participation and were well within the capacities of countries to make serious progress internally.  However, water management did not automatically help women and the poor, unless very real steps were taken to protect their interests through policies designed for that purpose.  Likewise, capacity-building was difficult to do outside real-world situations, and efforts to create water management plans had to incorporate realities on the ground.


Mr. MULLER said it was important to know the truth about how much water was available and who needed it.  Currently -– and contrary to conventional wisdom -- there was neither a global water shortage nor a global water-quality crisis, yet there were many local water challenges.  Human activity used less than 10 per cent of the world’s rainfall each year and only 2 per cent of that was extracted and used directly by humans.  Local challenges included overuse, pollution, competition between different users of the water pool and uncertainty.  The challenge of uncertainty -- from how much water would be available, who the competition was and the quality level -- was complicated by efforts for widespread cooperation on water policy.


Although the challenges were constantly changing, they could be managed given the ability to live with the uncertainty, he said.  But adding to the challenge of uncertainty was the fact that, even as the need for new intelligence was growing, the world’s knowledge about the resource it was trying to manage was dwindling.  Information on water use was sometimes decades old, not only in the developing world, but also in rich countries.  As a result, there were huge gaps in information and the quality of that information affected planning for the future.  Every year, reports were written on the basis of the same old data.  Resources should be shifted from report-writing to data-gathering, otherwise the possible consequences would be increased drought, famine, flooding and destruction, exacerbated by outmoded plans to deal with those consequences.


Mr. MOLDEN, who told of having worked with local communities in Lesotho, Egypt, Botswana and Nepal, among other places, said that one of humankind’s greatest achievements had been the production of more food than was needed.  But, while there was enough food for everyone, the problem was distribution.  The current skyrocketing food and commodity prices were endemic of that failing, and it was probably time to start investing heavily in food-production sectors, including irrigation.  As populations exploded in many parts of the world, the need to increase food production would put similar pressures on freshwater supplies.  On top of all that, the true impact of global warming on food and water supplies was only just becoming clear.  Without a focus on water and agriculture there was no hope of meeting many of the Millennium Development Goals, including those on poverty alleviation and gender equality.  “It’s time to change our way of thinking,” he said, calling for innovative ideas for human-resource capacity-building and reforms in managing energy and water infrastructure.


Mr. ZIMMER, taking up the question of regional and international cooperation in water management, recalled that participants in the most recent World Water Forum had emphasized that while water was an intrinsically “local” issue, freshwater sources, lakes and river basins crossed boundaries and were shared by many communities.  In many communities, tensions were building over freshwater supplies, as well as lakes and rivers used for fishing, which called for heightened international vigilance in addition to equitable, fully implemented cross-boundary agreements on water management.


The World Water Forum had also highlighted water as not only a scientific and technical issue, but a political one, as well, he continued.  There was a need, therefore, to link local governments and parliamentarians with technicians and scientists working on the ground, especially regarding treaties and agreements for the use of ground water supplies or transboundary river basins.  Cooperation between cities was also important, as local authorities were generally charged with implementing water-management schemes, including sanitation and waste treatment.  In that effort, regional and global agencies should try to bolster cooperation among cities in the South, as well as between those in the South and their counterparts in the North.  With more than half of the world’s people now living in cities and counting on the leadership of local authorities, the World Water Council had launched the Istanbul Urban Water Consensus, which invited mayors and local government leaders to make a united commitment to urban water-resource management in the face of global changes.


During the ensuing interactive discussion, many speakers called for coordinated action to meet the challenges posed by climate change, urbanization and the food crisis.  Some called for a road map for action in international water-resource management that would shift from a methodological to an operational approach, while others called for a complete paradigm shift in the international approach to water and sanitation.  It was subsequently suggested that the Commission take up the issue during its seventeenth session.


A representative of the local authorities major group said that, because they were better able to reflect the needs of local populations, local governments had a central role to play in implementing international water-resource management policies, particularly in the area of governance.  However, national Governments could not solve their water-management problems by handing them over to underfunded and underprepared local authorities.  Capital budgets for system reallocation were critical.  Establishing a standard set of water and sanitation indicators would also allow for more effective monitoring and evaluation by giving local authorities uniform tools by which to measure progress and match internationals standards.


Many delegations highlighted the policies they had developed to meet the water-use patterns of their citizens, from agricultural policies encouraging a shift from canals to pumps and urban strategies that provided cleaner drinking water.  Yet, many speakers underlined the challenges their countries still faced in the sustainable management of water resources owing to aging infrastructure, drought conditions and groundwater pollution, among other problems.  Some delegates called on political leaders to drive water policy, particularly in the area of sanitation.  Initiatives should focus not only concrete steps such as infrastructure development, but also on behavioural changes that would impact how people consumed and used water.


A representative of the women’s major group recalled that the outcome document from the Commission’s thirteenth session had contained strong language in favour of including women and youth in water management initiatives and drawing on their experience; yet, that objective was a long way from being achieved.  Women were still not taken seriously as partners in water management and distribution, even though they were the main “water managers” in many communities.  Women’s groups, therefore, called on Governments to step up their efforts to mainstream gender into the global water and sanitation discourse, and to recognize their role in water management and distribution, by working to improve their access to skills training and health care.


Other speakers emphasized the lack of attention given to sanitation in the water management playbook and calls were made for a renewed focus on that overlooked area.  A few speakers stressed the need for sanitation policy coherence between ministries of agriculture with labour and development ministries.  A representative from Sweden suggested that a world commission on irrigation similar to the Commission on Dams might bring a revolution in water-use efficiency in the agricultural sector.


A representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) said industrial development must be managed in such a way that it did not increase pressure on a nation’s water supply.  To that end, UNIDO supported national cleaner production centres in some countries to help enterprise identify cost-effective means to reduce their water use and discharge.  “It is possible to decouple industrial development for environmental degradation to radically reduce natural-resource and energy consumption and, at the same time, to have clean and profitable industries,” he said.


Echoing that notion, a speaker representing the business major group said business should be part of the solution to water-management challenges.


As the discussion continued in the afternoon, Commission Vice-Chairperson Tri Tharyat ( Indonesia) presided over a panel comprising Abel Mejia, Sector Manager, Water Unit, Infrastructure Department, World Bank; Bruno Jean Richard Itoua, Minister for Energy and Water of Congo and President of the African Ministers’ Council on Water; Margaret Batty, Director, Policy and Campaigns, WaterAid; and Omar Giacoman, Evensen Dodge International.


Mr. MEJIA highlighted feasible approaches to attaining the shared dream of water security, saying the World Bank had historically worked on waste-water treatment, but was extending its efforts to basic water availability.  It had found that the challenge was not only to increase the financial envelope, but also to identify funding mechanisms to foster sustainable water policies.  For example, simply building more toilets was not effective, because they often went unused.  Funding had to be extended, therefore, to sanitation awareness programmes.


A critical part of that was improving household awareness, he said, noting that successful programmes to that end had been undertaken in India, Lesotho and Burkina Faso, among other countries.  “Sanitation can no longer be forgotten.”  The world would miss the Millennium Goal on sanitation by half a billion people unless implementation efforts were ramped up.


Pointing out that paying for water was nothing new for poor people, he said that, in cities around the world, they bought water from vendors because they were not serviced by public utilities.  To remedy that, clear lines of authority must be drawn.  While local authorities rightly had responsibility for providing water, the decentralization of water services required higher levels of capacity-building and empowerment at that level.


Improving water supplies, particularly given climate variability, also required better stewardship of water resources, he said.  It was important to remember that so-called development that undermined the environment was not true development, particularly in terms of water.  It was not enough simply to develop an integrated water-management policy.  There was a need to define a pragmatic but principled approach that enshrined equity and sustainability.  While water management was intensely political, increasing financing mechanism for water was a moral imperative.


Mr. ITOUA said that in 9 of 54 African countries, the rate of coverage for drinking still fell below 50 per cent, and more than 300 million Africans still had no access to drinking water.  If nothing was done, only 26 African countries might be able to meet the Millennium Goal on drinking water by 2015.  In terms of sanitation, only five African countries would meet the sanitation Millennium Goal if nothing was done.  To attain the Millennium Goal on drinking water, 32 million people would have to gain access to safe drinking water every year.  Likewise for sanitation, the pace of access would have to quadruple to reach the relevant Millennium Goal.


Turning to solutions, he said national action was imperative, noting that while local actions were certainly critical, they did not seem sufficiently coordinated.  The leadership and coordination role of the African Ministers’ Council on Water should be strengthened and conditions should be created to improve governance so as to establish an integrated water-resource plan.  Improved funding mechanisms would also be required and lessons learned over the past 15 years showed that investments were made largely by Governments, but remained insufficient.  Funding must also be leveraged to capitalize on local capacities.


Ms. BATTY said a global water and sanitation crisis was looming, even though WaterAid and many other organizations and programmes had been working tirelessly for decades to provide basic services and access to water.  “How can this be [when] we have all the answers?” she asked.  Indeed, the solution to that “perfect exam question” was simple: it took money; coordination between health and education polices; better governance; solid pro-poor policies; focus on Africa; a determination to tackle tough water-resource management challenges like rapid urbanization; and, of course, political leadership.


She said the cost of failing “this basic test of humanity” was nearly 2 billion people worldwide lacking access to clean water and basic sanitation, 5,000 children’s lives lost every day due to diarrhoea,; and 272 million school days lost due to illness associated with diarrhoea.  At present, 50 per cent of the hospital beds in Africa were filled with patients suffering from diarrhoeal illness.  At the current pace, it would be 2071 before sub-Saharan Africa reached the Millennium Goal on sanitation.


Even against such a bleak backdrop it was important to understand that United Nations targets for sanitation were still attainable, she said, adding that, with senior Government ministers set to take part in the Commission’s high-level segment tomorrow morning, the issue must be flagged for their discussions.  When it came to sanitation, there seemed to be a “blind spot” -– a failure to recognize its integral role in reducing poverty and achieving all the other Millennium Goals.


She noted that the focus while working to attain the Millennium target on poverty was on economic growth, yet the World Bank estimated that investing in water and sanitation could boost Africa’s growth rates by up to 9 per cent.  Regarding the Millennium Goal on child mortality, major immunization programmes had led to significant success, but an immunized child could still die from diarrhoea due to poor sanitation and unsafe hygiene practices.  So, when the ministers gathered tomorrow, one could only hope they “talked shit”.  All minsters present today should take another look at their statements and consider their inputs to the Secretary-General’s Millennium Development Goals-Africa Summit in September, and “delight us with your bold leadership in grappling with the world’s water and sanitation crisis”.  An extraordinary effort was needed to reverse the political neglect of the basic human right to water and sanitation.


Mr. GIACOMAN said his company, the financial advisory firm Evensen Dodge International, worked hand in hand with its clients in preparing financial strategies and plans; in developing financial instruments, structures and models; and in rendering other targeted financial advisory services.  Over the past decade, the company had served as financial adviser in numerous financing projects in economic development and in utilities -- water, sewer system and solid waste.  A number of projects under way included Evensen’s work in Mexico to increase the ability of local governments to access capital markets.  Through that programme, the credit ratings of the participating local governments had improved, resulting in both lower financial transaction costs and interest rates.


In a brief interactive discussion, participants stressed that safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities were preconditions for health and success in other areas identified by world leaders in the Millennium Declaration, including the fight against poverty, hunger, child deaths and gender inequality.  To meet those goals, leaders must generate the requisite political will to deliver, said one speaker, adding that, when Governments delivered, they must do so with an eye to addressing the special needs of both the poorest rural communities, and fast-growing urban areas, where most of the world’s people would be living in the next decade.  Ensuring access to clean water and adequate sanitation was also critical for women and children, several speakers added.


Calling for more creativity and the use of local expertise and innovation, a speaker from Central Africa stressed that, due to the high cost of rural domestic water supply systems and their maintenance, low-cost technologies such as rainwater harvesting, soil and water conservation and inexpensive water extraction methods -– treadle pumps, solar-powered pumps, buckets and drip systems -– could make a real difference for millions of farmers.


Civil society representatives stressed the need to strengthen coordination and cooperation for the mobilization of both internal and external resources and the effective and efficient use of such resources.  There was also a need for greater efforts to allocate more budget funds to water-resource management and sanitation.  The donor community should rely less on standard, “one-size-fits-all” blueprints for water development and pay greater attention to small-scale water-management and service-provision options.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.