Today and tomorrow is W-A in Shanghai as Chair of UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB). He also chaired the meeting.
At the start of the Asian Dialogue at the Eighth Meeting of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, Shanghai
The power of numbers
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome. As chairman of UNSGAB – the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation – it is only fitting that I first say a few words of thanks. To start with, I should like to thank the Chinese government for its hospitality, again underscoring its commitment to the world water agenda. I should also like to thank our co-host, the Asian Development Bank, an indispensable partner in the region. And finally I should like to thank all of you for coming here today. I am pleased that so many governments and stakeholder organisations are represented. For me that is proof that you – like us – endorse the significance of MDG seven, target ten – to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
The 2007 report of the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water supply and Sanitation shows that remarkable progress has been made on water supply since 1990. Nevertheless, most countries are still not on track to meet the 2015 target. That is cause for concern. And it is even greater cause for concern that progress on the sanitation targets is lagging far behind. One of the reasons for this is a significant decline in official development assistance for water and sanitation. As the Human Development Report 2006 clearly states, in 2004 international aid for water and sanitation was less than in 2000, the year the Millennium Development Goals were adopted.
And that is why the UN Secretary-General established UNSGAB in March 2004. Our sole raison d’être is to speed up work on the water and sanitation goals. The Hashimoto Action Plan, named in memory of my predecessor, Mr Ryutaro Hashimoto, guides us in our work. It’s our first report. And our last. It is concise – just twelve pages long, with no new mandates or proclamations. Instead, it concentrates on the targets the international community has already set itself, building on knowledge that is already out there. So our message is a simple one: no more new ideas or policies. Instead, let’s implement the ones we already have. The plan’s main function is to focus on the actions that need to be taken and to challenge the people that will be responsible for turning words into deeds – this means you.
So today’s Regional Dialogue on Asia and the Pacific is a critical step in achieving the goals of the Hashimoto Action Plan. The UNSGAB members strongly believe that a regional approach, uniting governments, the water sector, water users and financial institutions, presents the best prospect of success. I am especially glad that the Asian Development Bank is willing to play an active role. And of course I applaud its ambition to lend substantially more money to the water sector. Between 2000 and 2004 ADB’s water lending gradually declined to less than 15 percent. The goal for 2006-2010 is 25 per cent, which equals a financial injection of around two billion dollars a year. That’s far more than a mere drop in the ocean.
Taking a superficial glance at the situation in Asia as a whole, you might be tempted to conclude that only a little extra effort is needed. Asia is on track with its water supply and coverage rates for sanitation are growing fast. We have plenty of good examples. Vietnam, for instance, is aiming to achieve MDG seven, target ten, by 2010. Thailand will meet the goals by 2009. And in Bangladesh, thanks to the successful ’Total Sanitation Campaign’, millions of people gain access to basic sanitation every year. But not all the news coming out of Asia is good. The differences between countries are enormous. In 2002, there were still 34 countries without 100 per cent coverage for safe drinking water. At the current rate, 24 of these countries will not manage to halve the problem by 2015. Furthermore, large parts of South Asia and Oceania are not on track when it comes to sanitation. If nothing changes, at least ten countries will fail to achieve MDG seven, target ten.
But we shouldn’t only be looking at percentages. In Asia it’s the power of numbers that counts more than anything else. One glance at the figures, and you can see why it is so crucial for this region in particular to up the tempo. Of the 1.1 billion people who had no access to safe drinking water in 2002, 669 million were living in Asia. That is almost two-thirds. And of the 2.6 billion people without access to basic sanitation, as many as 1.9 billion – more than two thirds – are living in this region. So with every extra per cent achieved here, far more individual people receive help.
Looking at things from the financial angle, it will take approximately eight billion dollars a year over the next decade to meet the water and sanitation target in Asia and the Pacific. This figure is cited in Asia Water Watch 2015, a report published by the ADB and a number of UN organisations, including the World Health Organisation. Eight billion a year means it’s not impossible. But it also means that funding efforts – national and global alike – will have to be stepped up. Besides, we have to keep in mind that the ultimate aim is one hundred per cent coverage, and that the basic facilities envisaged in the MDG’s do not even come close to meeting international standards. So money will be an issue for many years to come.
And that is not the only problem. The Human Development Report 2006 and the recent review of ADB's water policy reveal a whole range of other issues that need to be addressed too. First of all, water deserves more priority, from both politicians and policymakers. There is also a clear need for better governance, better institutional frameworks, capacity building, and donor harmonization. And last but not least, we urgently need to develop new financing mechanisms, to strengthen direct funding of water operators at national and local level.
Today we will be talking about these and other subjects. Our dialogue is about identifying specific actions related to water and sanitation in Asia and the Pacific. UNSGAB wants to help you, not only today but also in the future. One of the most important vehicles for bringing MDG seven, target ten, closer to achievement is the International Year of Sanitation in 2008. As I have just pointed out, there is every reason to give sanitation a big push. Earlier this month, we had a successful preparatory meeting in New York. We set objectives, and a road map is on its way. Later today we will be discussing the action you plan to take to mark the International Year of Sanitation. You will understand that I am eager to hear your ideas. Because for UNSGAB one thing is certain – sanitation plays a key role in the Millennium Development Goals.
After all, sanitation is all about giving people health and dignity. It results in lower child mortality rates, better maternal health and fewer people dying of waterborne diseases. Adequate, safe sanitary facilities in a private environment are also crucial in enabling young girls to attend school. And finally, many examples show that a safe, clean toilet facility is a basic prerequisite for women if they are to play an active role in their communities. That is why I shall repeat today what I have been saying for the past few months: every dollar spent on sanitation is a dollar spent on at least five other MDGs. Or, for the finance people here today, I shall make an even more attractive offer: buy one, get five for free. I bet you’ve never had a better deal.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Confucius one said that ‘the superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.’ I shall apply the first part of this adage to myself and bring my speech to a close. But let us all exceed in our actions, together. Thank you again for coming. I sincerely hope that by the end of the day our dialogue will have resulted in a number of clear-cut actions that will make the Asian power of numbers work for as many people as possible.