Deputy Secretary-General’s opening remarks at joint press conference with Ambassador Csaba Körösi, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the UN, Mr. Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and Ms. Kate Norgrove, Head of Campaigns, WaterAid
New York, 21 March 2013
Welcome to this launch of a global call to action on sanitation. This we do on the eve of World Water Day which is tomorrow and which also will be marked by a thematic debate in the General Assembly.
I want to tell you that my engagement with water goes back many, many years when I was Emergency Relief Coordinator and I saw the effects of the lack of water and sanitation in the world. When I was President of the General Assembly, I lifted my glass once and said, at that time, which was 2005 in the fall, that, at that time, almost a billion people in the world did not have fresh, clean, safe water. And the figure today is somewhere around 780 million people, so there has been some progress in terms of water. But the other figure that I knew at that time, which is still almost the same, is 2.5 billion people who do not have sanitation, which is a euphemism for toilets - 37% of humanity indeed. And, if you add the effects of 783 million people not having safe water and 2.5 billion people not having sanitation – well, that adds up to horrors in reality out there – and I have seen it with my own eyes – I’ve seen children dying in front of my own eyes from diarrhea, dysentery, dehydration, cholera. And it’s 3,000 children approximately under the age of five dying every day. So it is a silent disaster which needs to have attention, and the reason that it has to have special attention is this goal of the MDGs - the Goal 7 - is the most lagging of all goals.
And the Secretary-General wants very much now, when we approach 1,000 days left of the period of the MDG achievement, starting, as you know, in September 2000 and ending in 2015. There are 1,000 days left, around the 5th April. And this is the beginning of an acceleration of the work of the Millennium Development Goals. In order to establish credibility for the road ahead of the post-2015 process, we need to show that we want to, and that we can, accelerate achievement of the MDGs. And then we have chosen, today, to pre-launch the MDG drive by launching the one goal that is most lagging.
When I introduced the word toilets in a speech of the United Nations back in 2010, when I was an MDG advocate while serving as Chair of WaterAid Sweden, there was a little bit of murmuring in the hall – I finished the speech on the word “toilets”. It was not very common in the UN. The words that I will now speak more and more often and pronounce very much open now is the problem of open defecation.
Open defecation is a fact of life for 1.1 billion people in the world who go out in the open. And by that, of course, first of all, can you image the lack of dignity around this act, the risks of being raped if you’re a woman or a girl going out at night, but also the health risks, for both personal health and, of course, for the environment? This is, of course, a very clear sign of the extreme poverty that still exists – the huge inequalities in the world. One person out of four of the least developed countries is practicing open defecation.
So we also now have in this campaign which is starting, the goal of ending open defecation by 2025. And there are about 22 countries where this is widely practiced. We are not, by this campaign, doing any organizational changes or creating new institutions. We simply want to energize and increase awareness and, of course, action on the agenda of sanitation. That is why I am mobilizing, on behalf of the Secretary-General, the whole UN system which is working under the banner of UN Water. Now it is chaired by the head of the [World] Meteorological Organization, Mr. [Michel] Jarraud, but it is a circulating membership. And here we have, for instance, UNICEF which has a tremendously important role in this area. I can see you have a prop at your side here which you will demonstrate soon, playing a very important role.
But I am also extremely proud and happy to have a dear friend and colleague at my side, the Ambassador of Hungary, Csaba Körösi who is extremely knowledgeable about water, but also, on behalf of his country, really pushing the water agenda and he is one of the driving forces in the Group of Friends of Water in the membership of the United Nations. So knowing that we have the Member States on our side for the water and sanitation work is a great advantage for us when we now start this campaign.
But we also know that we have the private sector on board. We know the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others are involved. But we also have the NGO community and the important organizations that exist which I know from the inside and I just mentioned WaterAid which does, in my view, an extremely good job. And therefore I am very happy now to hand over the floor to my colleagues.