With 10,000 deaths worldwide every day caused by the absence of clean water or decent sanitation, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today told the inaugural meeting of a United Nations panel of experts on the issue that they must mobilize funds and raise public awareness to improve the basic living conditions of millions of people.
Currently, one person in six drinks unclean water and one person in three does not have access to proper sanitation. The Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, which opened its two-day session at UN Headquarters in New York, was set up to redress the problem.
According to the global Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set at a 2000 UN summit, countries are to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 and to develop integrated water resources management and efficiency plans by 2005.
Mr. Annan told the experts today that that while these targets are achievable, not nearly enough progress has been made so far.
"The key is to get measurable improvements more quickly to more places. That requires political will, strengthened governance at all levels, and the more effective mobilization and use of resources," he said.
But the Secretary-General also said that many countries are making great strides towards improving their standards of water and sanitation, especially those that involve local communities in projects and decision-making.
He urged the Advisory Board to chart what progress has been made towards achieving the water and sanitation goals, and to raise international public awareness of the importance of clean water and decent sanitation.
"I look to you to help mobilize more human and financial resources to press forward the water and sanitation agenda," Mr. Annan said, adding that "the name of the game is not to come up with new plans, but to help step up efforts to implement existing plans and meet agreed targets."
The first meeting of the Advisory Board - which is chaired by Ryutaro Hashimoto, the former Prime Minister of Japan - started today and runs through tomorrow.
The other members include Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Egypt's Minister of Irrigation and Water; Michel Camdessus, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chair of the Global Water Partnership in Stockholm; Ronnie Kasrils, Minister for Water Affairs and Forestry Department of Water Affairs and Forestry of South Africa; Poul Nielsen, European Union Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid; and Christine Todd Whitman, former Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).