New York

27 July 2011

Secretary-General's Remarks at General Assembly Plenary Meeting on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation

Your Excellency, President Evo Morales (of Bolilvia),

Mr. President of the General Assembly,

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

At any one time, close to half of all people in developing countries are suffering from health problems caused by poor water and sanitation.

Together, unclean water and poor sanitation are the world's second biggest killers of children.

While progress is broadly on track to meet the MDG target of reducing by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water, the world will miss the sanitation target.

I therefore welcome this plenary meeting.

Last July, the General Assembly recognized the right to water and sanitation.

Then, in September, the Human Rights Council specified that this right is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living.

These were important advances. They provide a solid legal framework for Governments and the UN system alike.

The task now is to translate this commitment into specific obligations - both at international and national levels.

Only then can people - and especially the poor - realize this right.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Let us be clear: a right to water and sanitation does not mean that water should be free.

Rather, it means that water and sanitation services should be affordable and available for all, and that States must do everything in their power to make this happen.

It is not acceptable that poor slum-dwellers pay five or even ten times as much for their water as wealthy residents of the same cities.

It is not acceptable that more than one billion people in rural communities live without toilets and have to defecate in the open.

And it is not acceptable that wastewater from slums, farms and industry is allowed to pollute the environment.

Last month, the General Assembly launched the sustainable sanitation “Drive to 2015”.

I spoke then of how the lack of access to safe water and adequate sanitation adversely affects children's health and development.

I also told of how good sanitation can boost our efforts to combat HIV-AIDS and malaria, simply because people living in hygienic conditions are better prepared to fight off other diseases.

And I pointed out that good sanitation and hygiene can increase school performance and reduce absenteeism - especially among adolescent girls - thereby contributing to their empowerment and equality.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, improved sanitation can contribute to all our development goals.

Many of your governments have already included the rights to water and sanitation in your constitutions and your domestic legislation.

Those governments that have yet to do so should follow suit without delay.

We must reach all those who are denied the water and sanitation services that are necessary for their dignity and well-being.

Today, my mind is on the emergency in the Horn of Africa.

Millions are struggling to survive, much less enjoy the full range of their rights.

They need immediate assistance - from food and water to adequate sanitation in the camps to which many have been forced to flee.

But short-term relief must be linked to long-term sustainability.

This means an agricultural transformation that improves the resilience of rural people - especially pastoralists - and minimizes the scale of any future crisis.

It means working to realize the right to water and sanitation for all.

And it means creating the conditions of security necessary for people and communities to thrive.

Water, sanitation, stability, prosperity, and peace. These goals are closely, inextricably linked.

Progress can be ours if we work together.

Thank you.