Fréchette urges ministers to press harder for gains in water, sanitation and housing

20 April 2005

Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today urged a high-level United Nations meeting on development to push harder for poor countries struggling to meet internationally agreed target dates for clean water, basic sanitation and decent housing.

Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today urged a high-level United Nations meeting on development to push harder for poor countries struggling to meet internationally agreed target dates for clean water, basic sanitation and decent housing.

"It would be tragic and shameful if, come 2015, we find ourselves scrambling to explain our failure," she told the ministerial segment of the thirteenth UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

With millions of lives at stake, the international community has a responsibility to be bold and innovative – "do whatever we can" – to support Governments in their efforts to meet these needs and build safe, health and prosperous communities, she stressed.

The Commission is the key UN forum bringing together countries to consider ways to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic growth, social development and environmental protection. Two years ago, the 53-member panel approved a multi-year work plan featuring different thematic clusters of issues for each cycle. This year's policy session is discussing water, sanitation and human settlements.

"You bear a heavy burden," Ms. Fréchette said, "for it is in this Commission, more than anywhere else in the United Nations system…that the imperatives of global economic growth, poverty reduction and ecosystem protection meet."

With the General Assembly's high-level review of the Millennium Declaration set for mid-September, the Commission should strive to identify where cooperation to provide clean water, adequate sanitation and better housing can be strengthened, and how, she said.

The ministers should be guided in their efforts by Secretary-General Kofi Annan's comprehensive report, "In Larger Freedom," which calls for accelerated efforts to enable poor countries to break out of their poverty traps, as well as the just-released "Millennium Ecosystem Assessment," another warning signal about the perils of continuing the current, unsustainable course of human activities.

Ms. Fréchette added that governments should take advantage of the just launched "Water for Life" Decade to raise awareness, mobilize resources and help community-based organizations build up their expertise. "Every step of the way, we should be working with women's organizations, water user's associations, indigenous peoples and others, to tap the reservoir of knowledge and blend it with the best expertise that scientists, engineers and business people can offer."

With the Commission's policy deliberations drawing to a close at week's end, she urged the participants to keep in mind that millions of lives were at stake. As more and more families laboured to provide drinking water for their children or lived a precarious existence in slums, it would be irresponsible to pretend that any improvements could be made without mobilizing additional resources.

"[But] it is not impossible to reach the goals we have set for ourselves, if only we collectively focus our minds, energies and our resources on what needs to be done," she said.

Speaking later Wednesday at a working luncheon, Ms. Fréchette said the September review of the Millennium Declaration would not be credible or complete if it did not address climate change, loss of biodiversity and other issues that were at the heart of the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Without conservation of water and proper management of water resources, food production could plummet, jeopardizing the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people who suffer from extreme hunger. Without convenient access to water, girls would find little respite from spending hours every day fetching that vital resource, and would have little time for education, the focus of another key development goal. And if the squalor of slum life could not be relieved, already overcrowded cities would become more poverty and disease-ridden.

“The stage is set for Member States to act,” she said, “time is of the essence.” The “Millennium Ecosystem Assessment” released last month made it all too clear that people had not come to grips with the impacts many activities were having on ecosystems and natural resources. “This Commission can help guide us to policies and practices that will help us chart a new, more sustainable course,” she said.

 

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