Press Releases

    14 April 2005

    Sustainable Development Commission Continues Interactive Panel Discussions, with Focus on Connections among Water, Sanitation, Human Settlements

    Strengthened Monitoring of Water, Sanitation; Cooperation on Transboundary Water Systems among Issues Addressed

    NEW YORK, 13 April (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission on Sustainable Development continued its series of interactive discussions on water and sanitation this morning, and opened a discussion this afternoon on the key overlaps among the session’s three themes -- water, sanitation and human settlements.

    Chaired by John William Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) this morning and by Dagmara Berbalk (Germany) this afternoon, the discussions today were aimed at furthering consideration of possible decisions for inclusion in the outcome text to be adopted at the session’s end next Friday -- which will contain policies and practical measures to accelerate progress in reaching global goals in water and sanitation, and human settlements.  The Commission’s current session has been billed as the first policy-setting session since the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002, designed to turn political commitments into action. 

    Panellists on the first topic, “strengthening the monitoring and evaluation of water and sanitation services”, were Jamie Bertram, UN-Water, World Health Organization (WHO), and Richard Roberts, Global Environmental Monitoring Systems/Water Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 

    Drawing on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 40 years of experience in water monitoring, Mr. Bertram said that the latest survey had looked at the water that people actually used, as well as other data useful for policy development.  Such surveys must increasingly respond to policy needs.  As a practical matter, the Joint Monitoring Programme of WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) should be strengthened, and the creation of competing systems should be avoided.  Regional mechanisms, however, would support regional monitoring. 

    Global water quality was declining rapidly, as was the ability of the world ecosystem to absorb waste, Mr. Roberts of the UNEP warned.  Monitoring systems should be improved to identify “hot spots” before they became major concerns.  The global water crisis concerned both the quantity and quality of water.  Too many people have access only to unsafe water, but access to safe water was clearly crucial for development.  Stressing the need for timely data collection, he agreed that it was also important to build national monitoring capacities. 

    On “water and sanitation follow-up”, the second topic, Al Duda of the Global Environment Facility explained that the Global Facility Fund had begun to add water support protection and sewage treatment as part of balancing the competition for water resources.  It had identified several practical approaches, which were being tested now by several countries, under a multibillion dollar fund. 

    He said that some 138 countries had received assistance to work with their neighbours on shared transboundary water systems.  Several had been experimenting with integrated water resource management in, for example, the Nile River basin, the Danube, and some big lake basins, such as Lake Victoria and Lake Chad.  Projects, however, were not enough for instituting Integrated Water and Resources Management (IWRM), securing water supplies, and stopping sewage pollution.  Assistance should be steady, predictable and coupled with country-based reforms. 

    The other panellists this morning were Maria Mutagamba, Chairperson, African Ministers Council on Water, and Patrick Murphy, European Union Water Initiative. 

    Among the panellists in the afternoon on the interlinkages among the three themes -- water, sanitation and human settlements -- was Carlos Linares, Senior Water Policy Adviser, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  He drew attention to one case in his own country of El Salvador, which highlighted the interlinkages between water resource management, water supply, sanitation and human settlements, and shed light on the potential contribution of local private sector in meeting the water and sanitation goals. 

    The small town of San Julian, of about 6,000 people, created an autonomous municipal water company in 1997 to manage its urban water system, he said.  The public utility had only provided water two to four hours a day, and San Julian had one of the highest rates of gastrointestinal disease in the country.  Dramatically increasing connections and providing service around the clock resulted in San Julian having one of the lowest incidences of gastrointestinal disease.  Despite its success, certain challenges remained.  Among them, the fact that sanitation in San Julian was lagging behind and expanding the system required a wastewater treatment facility that San Julian could not afford. 

    Mr. Linares was joined by Katherine Sierra of the World Bank.  The following panellists also participated in the discussion this afternoon on interlinkages, as well as cross-cutting issues among the three themes:  Yasmin Von Shirnding, World Health Organization; and Ethne Davey, Chairperson, Gender and Water Alliance. 

    The Commission on Sustainable Development will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 15 April.

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