7 March 2005

Sustainable Development Preparatory Meeting Concludes Week-Long Session; Will Forward Policy Options on Water, Sanitation, Housing to Commission

Proposed Measures Will Be Focus of Commission Meeting in April

NEW YORK, 4 March (UN Headquarters) -- A week-long intergovernmental meeting at United Nations Headquarters culminated today with a draft compilation of policy options and actions to help boost worldwide access to safe drinking water, sanitation and adequate housing for the poor.

The measures will be forwarded to the upcoming thirteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) -- set for 11 to 22 April -- and serve as a springboard for discussions and concrete policy decisions to help speed up implementation of the commitments contained in “Agenda 21” (adopted at the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development), and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (adopted at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)).

Presented as a “Chairman’s Text”, the output of the Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for CSD-13 also refocuses international attention on the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which contains two development targets that relate directly to water and human settlements -- namely to halve by 2015 the proportion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water, and, by 2020, to have significantly improved the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

Chairman John William Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), said that while the emphasis was on policy options and possible actions applicable to as wide a range of countries as possible, the text recognized that Africa, the least developed countries and the small island developing States faced the greatest challenges in achieving sustainable development and meeting the Johannesburg and Millennium targets, so there was a particular focus on policy options to address those needs.

Paring down a long list of possible approaches and best practices to come up with a shortlist of actions to be taken by governments in water, sanitation and human settlements sectors, the Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting had convened a uniquely structured week-long session, featuring daily round table discussions where policy recommendations offered by top government ministers, representatives of United Nations agencies, Member States experts and civic groups were explored and compiled ahead of the Commission’s first-ever policy session.

In May 2003, the Commission, which is the key United Nations forum bringing countries together to consider ways to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development -- economic growth, social development and environmental protection -- approved a multi-year programme of work featuring different thematic clusters of issues for each cycle. The first, to be addressed this year, was water, sanitation, and human settlements. Following that, the second cycle will focus on energy, industrial development, air pollution, and climate change.

The text is organized into three main sections in line with the priority themes, featuring brief introductions, with cross-cutting issues, and followed by sections on the links among them. Recognizing that different countries and regions have different needs and priorities and face different challenges, the text outlines a range of policy options that can be drawn on in developing strategies, policies and programmes related to water, sanitation and human settlements.

On water, the text states that the effective development and water resources and efficient and equitable provision of safe drinking water are central to poverty eradication, ecosystem protection and sustainable growth. Experience has shown that the water and sanitation goals can be met and that there is a role for all partners. Among the policy options for improving access to safe drinking water in urban and rural areas, the text suggests shifting gears from a needs-based to a rights-based approach, which would generate political will and a resource allocation culture that puts interest in the poor first.

Priority areas of action could, therefore, possibly include documentation of best practices, indicator development and promoting policies and programmes supportive of the principles of the right to water. Participation of small-scale providers in the provision of water services can also be encouraged by improving their access to credit and create a supportive regulatory environment.

Rehabilitation of existing but inefficient or deteriorated water supply systems, together with planning and construction of new systems can also expand access to drinking water, and the text says more capital intensive options could include building reservoirs to ensure reliable water supplies, with appropriate environmental safeguards in place. The text further offers policy recommendations on preparing integrated water resource management plans and creating an institutional policy framework; enhancing water use efficiency and managing competing uses; water quality, ecosystem management and disaster prevention; and, among others, financing water-related investments.

The text also states that the Johannesburg Summit recognized that sanitation is an important priority in its own right. But over the past week, delegations noted that sanitation did not have a “strong champion” within the international institutional architecture. Options that were discussed for the promotion of global cooperation on sanitation include strengthening the mandate for the United Nations Inter-Agency Mechanism for Follow up on Water-Related Targets, according equal status to water and sanitation within that body and creating Internet-based networks for information-sharing on best practices and lessons learned.

On responding to the sanitation needs of the poor, particularly the huge investments required to upgrade or maintain city sewage and sanitation facilities, the text says that a phased approach is an option, constructing sewage networks first, followed by the installation of sewage treatment plants within an agreeable timetable. Targeted subsidies for high priority public sites, such as schools and health centres, are cited as another option, as is drawing on the expertise of poor people themselves, non-governmental organizations and community-based groups. Policy options are offered in other areas, including hygiene education, awareness-raising and community participation; waste water treatment and recycling; monitoring and financing.

The text moves on to human settlements, stressing that an integrated approach to land use, housing development, the delivery of water and sanitation services transportation infrastructure, education and health-care facilities, and employment is essential for their effective planning and development. A sound and coherent macroeconomic framework, supported by effective and transparent laws and regulations, is critical to successful implementation.

Promoting pro-poor policies is important for improving access of the poor to adequate housing and public services like water and sanitation, which require input from the public sector. According to the text, pro-poor policies can also be a means to engage the poor in city development and slum upgrading. It also says that public procurement systems can be practical instrument in the hands of municipalities to tender contracts to local small-service providers, and covers other options on developing finance institutions and financial products suitable to the needs of the urban poor.


The Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for the thirteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) met today to continue consideration of policy options and possible actions in the three priority themes of water, sanitation and human settlements. This afternoon, it was expected to conclude its work with the adoption of its report. (For background on the week-long session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/823 issued on 28 February.)


When the Commission resumed its discussion this morning, nearly all speakers touched on the equal and more active participation of women in decision-making related to water, sanitation and human settlements planning and implementation. Mexico’s representative stressed the importance of adopting legislation to guarantee the full equality of men and women. Her country’s law on ecological balance and environment stated that women had an important role to play in the rational utilization of natural resources, and that women’s full participation was necessary to achieve sustainable development.

To achieve equal opportunities between men and women, she said it was necessary to include the idea of parity between the sexes in environmental and poverty eradication strategies. She recommended the extension of professional training and outreach so that gender equality could be mainstreamed in all policies and programmes. Also necessary were social partnership and cooperative arrangements, exchanges of experience and knowledge, and the consolidation of the participation of women as agents of change for development.

Without the engagement of women, sustainable development would remain an illusion for Australia, its representative said. Australian women were the drivers behind community farms and community-based action. Grass-roots women, added the representative of the women’s group, were at the centre of community development and, therefore, at the heart of sustainable development. At the local level, stronger links were needed between grass-roots women’s groups and local authorities, as well as financing for local women’s groups. At the national level, good cooperation was needed between women’s groups and national authorities, as well as financing for national councils of women.

Enabling the full participation of various stakeholders in the achievement of sustainable development was another issue touched on this morning. The role of local collectives, who were particularly important in the acquisition of water and sanitation services, was highlighted by the representative of Senegal. National plans should incorporate local water and sanitation programmes. The major difficulty was that there was little capacity for those collectives to draw up their own plans.

One way to strengthen the participation of all stakeholders, said France’s representative, was to clearly define the role of various stakeholders in the provision of basic services. That could be done by defining the general principles applicable to all services, such as in the form of an intergovernmental declaration of principles. The upcoming thirteenth session of the Commission could recommend such a declaration. Another way was to draw up sectoral guidelines for use by all involved.

The representative of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) said she could not overemphasize the importance of stakeholder participation in achieving the water and sanitation targets. She highlighted the need to allocate the time and resources for people to get together and to balance the stronger voices with the weaker, as well as to provide for follow-up mechanisms. Stakeholder participation must be incorporated into the planning process, she stressed. All stakeholders must be aware that participation was legal. In addition, all governments needed to build capacity and support stakeholder participation. Through stakeholder participation, it was necessary to build a people’s movement for sustainable development.

Also speaking this morning was the representative of trade unions who, once again, emphasized that the best way out of poverty was through decent jobs. He also stressed the fundamental role of human resources in all sectors. Given the centrality of human resources, he was astounded that the international community had not challenged trade unions to become part of the solutions. Trade unions could assist in the achievement of the Millennium Goals through their knowledge of the workplace, and their experience in South-South cooperation. He challenged the meeting to look at the potential offered by trade unions in the common effort to meet the Millennium Goals. He also called on the international community and national actors to identify financial mechanisms to unlock the potential that obviously existed.

Consideration of Chairman’s Text

Following the presentation of the Chairman’s text, several speakers suggested that the Chairman find a way to present his text at the Commission’s thirteenth session in a more concise, user-friendly and streamlined manner, and perhaps include a chart of specific actions to be taken.

A number of delegations highlighted issues which they felt were either missing or deserved greater attention in the document. They included a reference to the particular challenges faced by landlocked developing countries, as well as arid and semi-arid countries; the need for sectoral reform in water and sanitation; sanitation in schools; harmonization and coordination among donors; the ecosystem approach in integrated water resources management; the link between water, food and agriculture; the links between rural and urban zones in the area of human settlements; the principle of “learning by doing”; and specific proposals on Africa, submitted by the African Group.

It was also felt that more prominence should be given to international water governance; monitoring, evaluation and follow-up; debt; technology transfer; production and consumption; the potential contributions of workers and trade unions; and the role of indigenous peoples.

Chairman’s Closing Remarks

Wrapping up the Meeting, Commission Chairman John William Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) that delegations had gathered to address the constraints and obstacles in meeting global water, sanitation and human settlement goals discussed at twelfth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. The Meeting had benefited from the reports of the Secretary-General, as well as the recommendations and suggestions put forward by a broad range of delegations. It had become clear that there was no “one-size-fits-all” solution, but the rich discussions had proved that the international community was ready to move forward.

He urged the Meeting to study the Chairman’s text, which formed a good basis for the work ahead at CSD-13. He also urged delegations to consult with their colleagues and capitals on the policy options that would require further international cooperation and action for implementation. He called upon all stakeholders to share their specific examples and case studies by sending them to the CSD Secretariat for posting on the Commission’s web site.

He said the Commission was striving to ensure that the world’s nations were able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the objectives agreed at Johannesburg. Whether this first Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting had been successful in pushing that agenda forward, would depend on all the delegations present. “I need your help”, he said, adding: “We are all in this together.”

* *** *