Delegates at UN meeting stress key role of water, sanitation for sustainable development

Delegates at UN meeting stress key role of water, sanitation for sustainable development

Sir Richard Jolly
As a United Nations committee continued to lay the groundwork for an upcoming United Nations summit on sustainable development, participants of the preparatory session in New York warned today that without ensuring safe water and sufficient sanitation, there was little chance of meeting crucial long-term development goals.

Sir Richard Jolly, Chairman of the Geneva-based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), told a news conference at UN Headquarters today that it was vitally important that the world's deepening water management and sanitation crisis be given top billing at the World Summit for Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September. The press conference was held on the margins of a two-week session of the Preparatory Committee for the Summit, which began its work on Monday.

Mr. Jolly emphasized that his Council regarded water management as the "entry point" to sustainable development and poverty reduction. While the 2000 Millennium Declaration had set goals for poverty eradication and ensuring an adequate water supply, he noted, no international obligations to ensure sufficient sanitation had been included.

In response, the International Freshwater Conference held last December in Bonn, Germany, called for the Johannesburg Summit to formally endorse the target of reducing by half by 2015 the number people without access to adequate sanitation (2.5 billion), with the goal of ensuring universal access by 2025.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) said that, in fact, the availability of water and sanitation dictated settlement patterns and defined health.

"Water is our defining challenge," UN-Habitat Executive Director Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, said of the agency's efforts to provide adequate shelter and sustainable human settlements.

A fundamental change of approach was needed, Ms. Kajumulo Tibaijuka said, to shift gears from a "needs-based" approach to a "rights-based" concept that ensured access to safe water and sanitation and guaranteed that those rights were protected by governments and civil society.