Deputy Secretary-General's opening remarks at press briefing on World Toilet Day
New York, 19 November 2014
DSG: Thank you very much Steph. And thank you for attending this briefing on the sanitation issue. I am very glad to be in the company of Karen Tan and Michel Jarraud, driving forces behind this. You, Karen, in particular, in Singapore for taking the initiative of making this World Toilet Day, and you, Michel, leading the UN family efforts on water and sanitation and related issues.
There are so many reasons to get involved in this issue. First of all, to realize that the sanitation goal is one of the most lagging of the MDGs, strangely enough, although it is so obvious that we have to do it and that it can be done. And we also know that in the new set of goals being considered by Member States, sanitation is figuring very high, together with water and hygiene issues, but also issues related to water in their wider sense - water management, waste management and something that grows on us more and more. And that is why this has to be taken so seriously, namely, water as a finite resource, scarce resource. Should water be a source of conflict or should it be a source of cooperation? It is a huge task for us to deal with, to make sure that it doesn’t become a source of conflict, which we see already in many areas, but rather a source of cooperation. It’s actually a very important part of preventive diplomacy also.
So this issue of marking the importance of sanitation goes much, much wider. It also has to do with economic development. When I was talking to the Finance Ministers at the Spring meetings of the World Bank, we had a deep discussion on the importance of investments in sanitation. It turns out that many nations now, not least in Africa, are giving higher priority to sanitation. Why? Well, the Ministers of Finance realize also that, by that, the cost of the health sector goes down and the people are being productive, can work, not being home and sickness and diarrhea and dysentery and dehydration. It is simply also good economic sense. There [are] calculations - the most recent ones that show that $1’s investment in sanitation equals $4 in economic growth which is down some from 5.5 to 1 to 4 but it is still realistic – pretty good results of investment in sanitation.
And then, basically, it’s a matter of human rights. It’s the right to development, the right to water, which has been established both by the Human Rights Council and by the General Assembly. And to me, it is also a matter of dignity. The report that we gave – the Secretary-General’s report - last year for the General Assembly was called ‘A Life of Dignity for All’. And for me it’s a matter of dignity also. And that goes very much for women and girls in so many countries, twenty some countries, where the practice of open defecation is the case. We have some horrible examples of what can happen to girls and women who go out there in the field and get raped, abused and I hear this is also the case - get hanged. That was just an illustration of what is a reality for one billion people in the world – open defecation.
So all these reasons – development reasons, economic reasons, dignity reasons – there is enough for us to focus on this. And then there is something else. There is a sense of hopelessness about some aspects of international life. Things are going wrong. We walk over a minefield. Here is an area where we really can make a difference – it is doable. I know that it’s a huge task, because, particularly when it comes to urbanization, where you have poor people moving into poor countries - urban areas - it is hard to have a system that is sustainable for sanitation. But it is doable and I think we really need to do everything we can in the remaining time to make sure that we achieve, that we approach, that we make this the most lagging goal, not so lagging. And that we add extra speed to the efforts before us in the next fifteen years. But that we also see the relationship between water, sanitation and these other aspects.
I think I will stop at this and leave the floor to my esteemed colleagues and then we can take questions on this issue. I just want to say that, for me, this has been a bit of a personal commitment since I was in the area. I saw, I actually saw children die in front of me in Somalia back in 1992 out of dehydration and diarrhea. And I think the least we can do - we who have seen that – is that we stay focussed on this issue. And I have tried to live up to it by raising my glass, wherever I can, saying that this is a luxury for 780 million people. 2.5 billion people don’t have sanitation and 1.1 billion defecate in the open. That is why 2,000 children die before the age of five [from] diarrhea and dysentery. And I think we need to have those images in front of us and that is what the World Toilet Day is doing and I am glad, Karen, that you took this initiative and that you got unanimous agreement, didn’t you in the General Assembly?
Press Conferences on 19 November 2014