19 May 2003


Panel Held to Commemorate Year of Freshwater

NEW YORK, 7 May (UN Headquarters) -- To meet the goals set at the 2000 Millennium Summit, halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation services by 2015 and devising integrated water management in all countries by 2005, the international community must double the $15 billion annually it was currently spending for potable water and sanitation services, the Commission on Sustainable Development was told this morning.

Addressing a panel being held to commemorate the International Year of Freshwater, Albert Wright, Co-Chair of the Water and Sanitation Task Force of the Millennium Project, added that, by the close of the meeting an estimated 1,000 children would die from unsafe water and water deprivation was as destructive as any major weapon. Diarrhoea-related deaths resulting from unsafe water claimed the lives of 3 million people in 1990, mainly children.

The panel was chaired by Ronnie Kasrils, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry of South Africa, and the keynote address was given by Crown Prince Willem Alexander of the Netherlands. Other panel members included: Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Koichi Haraguchi, Permanent Representative of Japan; William Cosgrove, Vice-Chairman of the World Water Council; Jennifer Francis, Executive Secretary of the Gender and Water Alliance; and Richard Jolly, Chairman of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaboration Council.

Panelists addressed a wide range of topics, among them sustainable water management policies, monitoring and assessment; links between water resources, education and gender equality; sanitation; and finance strategies. Following the discussion, the Commission was presented with an overview of the first edition of the World Water Development Report.

Echoing Mr. Wright’s concerns, Mr. Desai called for scaling up water conservation and development, noting that meeting the Millennium Development Goals would require bringing freshwater to an additional 200,000 people and sanitation services to 400,000 people daily. Moreover, integrated and sustainable management of all uses of water resources, from drinking and sanitation to irrigation and industrial uses, was required. That called for innovative organizational and technological solutions, better information exchange, capacity-building in developing nations and greater financial resources. The recently released World Water Development Report, he continued, was a good example of integrated water monitoring and assessment at the global level.

Prince Willem Alexander said that there would be little hope of providing sanitation to the world’s poor if the international community merely carried on with business as usual. He stressed the importance of linking water management to other issues, such as education and gender equality. Turning to the fight against hunger, he called for an agricultural revolution, featuring new technologically enhanced crops capable of thriving with less water. He also stated that, despite this year’s emphasis on freshwater, the international community should also focus on protecting its oceans. He praised the United Nations’ involvement in water issues, noting that 23 United Nations agencies were working in that area, collaborating on the World Water Development Report.

Mr. Kasrils stressed the need to link people of the planet with water targets made during the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, which had been held 16-23 March this year.

During the Kyoto ministerial conference, ministers concurred that good governance at the grass-roots level, with greater emphasis on household and community-based water management approaches, was indispensable for health and welfare, said Mr. Haraguchi. That required capacity-building. Ministers also agreed to set up an online water network clearinghouse. Japan, he said, was doing its part to shore up funding for water sustainability, creating its own official development assistance scheme, including grants and low-interest loans for water resource development for developing countries.

Mr. Cosgrove lamented that the major outcome documents of the third World Water Forum failed to elaborate on future commitments. Few pledges had been made by developing countries to move ahead with respect to water. Referring to the World Water Development Report, he said references to water were missing from poverty-reduction strategies throughout the developing world. Water management must be decentralized and locally owned, rather than imposed from the outside, which had been a recipe for failure in the past. Moreover, international donors must step in to help countries that had identified water as a priority.

Rashid Alimov, Tajikistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said his country, home to more than half of Central Asia’s water resources, was partnering with neighbouring Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to improve inter-State regulation of transboundary water resources. In the past, poor management of the Aral Sea, the region’s main water body, had led to widespread pollution and devastating effects on the local economy. The 10-year-old international fund to save the Aral Sea Basin could be a good base for coordination of common efforts for dealing with Aral Sea Basin concerns in the United Nations. In August, Tajikistan would host the International Forum on Freshwater, which would address subregional and regional water problems, such as inter-State cooperation, health, water conservation technologies, and agriculture, with an emphasis on strengthening water partnerships.

Ms. Francis said women’s empowerment and gender equality should be integrated in the Millennium Development Goals concerning water. That required greater involvement of people, especially poor women, in water development projects through equitable contributions to capital costs, operation and maintenance, as well as water infrastructure and system management. A research project in India involving the Alliance’s grass-roots partners and communities had demonstrated that improved water supply coupled with micro-enterprise development could potentially reduce poverty in semi-arid areas. The project found better domestic water supplies not only led to better health, hygiene and sanitation, but also economic gains, such as increased women’s earnings and girl’s school enrolment.

Decisive roles for women in management and planning, and people-centred approaches, using children as agents of change, were also vital, said Mr. Jolly. In Kyoto, ministers had stressed the importance of education and communication, small-scale and low-cost approaches for the poorest of the poor for sustainable development. The United Nations’ goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015 was enormously ambitious, but still not enough. Commitments were needed to help the remaining half, he said, calling for greater social mobilization, media involvement, and a focus on households and communities.

During the ensuing discussion, the representative of Lebanon shared his country’s experiences with the inflow of seawater into underground coastal aquifers and requested advice on how to combat the water crisis in the Middle East. In response, Mr. Desai said the United Nations, in spite of the region’s political turmoil, had set up and would continue to support several capacity-building programs.

Regarding a question from the representative of Bhutan on the need for more aid to build proper water collection, management and distribution infrastructure throughout South Asia, Mr. Desai said the future was bright with respect to overseas development aid pledged in the area of water programmes, with several international donors poised to contribute more.

To the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives’ complaint that governments were deleting references to local and subnational funding in water-related strategy implementation documents, Mr. Cosgrove said at the national level water was often lumped together with other issues. A greater emphasis on local implementation and financing was needed. Mr. Jolly and Mr. Wright agreed, calling for new financing strategies and solutions at the local level. For her part, Ms. Francis noted that local communities were not just beneficiaries, but also equal partners in water resource management.

The World Water Development Report, entitled "Water for People, Water for Life", was presented following the panel. Produced by 23 United Nations agencies and convention secretariats, it offers a global overview of the state of the world’s freshwater resources. Participants were: Pradeep Aggarwal, of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and current chair of the inter-agency coordinating body for water resources; Gordon Young, Coordinator of the World Water Assessment Program; and Andras Szollozy-Nagy, Assistant Director General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They described the Report’s findings and how it could be used to assist countries in moving their sustainable water management strategies forward.

The Commission will continue through 9 May.

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* Reissued for technical reasons.