Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/768
                                                                                                    23 April 2004

    Water, Sanitation-Related Diseases among Most Significant Global Health Problems, Sustainable Development Commission Told

    Creating Demand for Sanitation, Promoting Hygiene, Housing the Poor among Issues Addressed in Several Interactive Sessions

    NEW YORK, 22 April (UN Headquarters) -- With water- and sanitation-related diseases among the most significant health problems worldwide, and with nearly 1 billion slum-dwellers lacking access to safe water for drinking or cooking, the Commission on Sustainable Development today called on a range of experts to lead its joint discussions on how nations can work together to ensure adequate sanitation, promote hygiene and provide suitable housing for all, particularly in developing countries.

    Having devoted the opening days of its annual session to reinvigorating the global effort to uphold the pledge of halving by 2015 the proportion of people without access to clean, affordable drinking water, the Commission today turned its spotlight on sanitation and human settlements.

    Within the framework of measuring progress towards achieving the goal of sustainable development formulated at Rio in 1992, and the targets set down in the Millennium Declaration and reaffirmed at the Johannesburg World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002, the Commission had identified providing sound sanitation and waste management options, and easing sub-standard living conditions in the developing world as critical.

    As emphasized by the experts today, the sheer numbers of people affected are staggering.  Some 2.4 billion people -- nearly two thirds of the developing world -- lacked access to basic sanitation. According to one expert, in India alone, nearly 700 million people defecated in the open. Most rural schools had no toilets, and nearly 700,000 Indian children died every year from diarrhoea and dehydration. Along with this, nearly 1 billion people, 32 per cent of the world’s population, lived in slums. Without immediate action by governments, by 2030, that number could swell to 2 billion.

    The experts agreed that finding a solution to sanitation problems would not be easy.  Sanitation, a “household decision” for most, was about more than hardware, and touched on matters related to health, human dignity, gender equality and education. One specialist said the issue was about behaviour and hygiene, “not just building toilets”. An Indian colleague concurred in part, saying that because of the stigma associated with open defecation and poor sanitation in slums and rural areas, many Indian women had to defecate at sunrise or sunset -- they had to control their bodily functions between those times. So, coming up with strategies that addressed cultural specificities was crucial.

    But, on the other hand, his company, Sulabh International, had had success developing appropriate, affordable, and culturally acceptable sanitation technologies. Its Biogas fixed dome digester linked to community toilets to recycle waste. He had also built some 6,000 public pay toilets that were used by nearly 10 million people a day. Although Indians were not accustomed to paying to use toilets, Sulabh projects had been successful because they provided privacy, security and dignity to women. Still, considering the funding restraints of governments, world financial institutions should be encouraged to help governments put toilets in the homes of people and families who wanted them.

    Poor sewage systems and solid waste management also added to the risk of disease in slum communities, said the experts when discussions turned to human settlements. The head of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) emphasized the need for active, grass-roots strategies to meet the “slum challenge”. She urged the Commission to “focus on the excluded and significantly improve their lives”. It was necessary to empower the poor so that they could emerge from the vicious cycle they lived in and break out of the slums.

    A HABITAT official participating in a panel discussion stressed the need for intervention strategies to cope with rapidly increasing urbanization. He noted that poverty was becoming urbanized, with about 1 billion slum-dwellers now living under extremely poor conditions.  The old distinction between rural and urban was outdated, as the urban became more rural, and cities became more agricultural. He stressed three key issues in building up viable human settlements -- property tenure and rights, good governance of cities and towns, and the need for investment.

    Participating in the discussions today were the representatives of China, Norway, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ireland (speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries), United States, Russian Federation, France, United Kingdom, Republic of Korea, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Uganda, Australia, Cuba, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Netherlands, Lesotho, Mexico, Brazil, Fiji, Kenya, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Sweden, Swaziland, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Peru.

    Leading the discussions on issues related to sanitation were: Peter Kolsky, Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist at the World Bank; Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder of Sulabh International, New Delhi, India; Paul Reiter, Executive Director, International Water Association, United Kingdom; Dato’ Ir Lee Yee Cheong, President, World Federation of Engineering Organizations and Co-chair of the Millennium Development Goal Task Force on Science and Technology; Veerle Vandeweerd, Global Programme of Action, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

    The parallel panel on sanitation included: Ravi Narayan, Director, Water Aid, United Kingdom; Piers Cross, Team Leader, Water and Sanitation Programme; Passy Washebe, Assistant Commissioner, Social Services, Ministry of Finance, Uganda; Dennis Mwanza, Managing Director, Water Utility Partnership, Côte d’Ivoire; and Diana Iskreva, Earth Forever, Bulgaria.

    Speaking on matters related to human settlements, were: Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), Elliott Sclar, Professor Urban Planning, Columbia University, and Co-Chair of the Millennium declaration Task Force on Slum Dwellers; Milloon Kothary, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights; Jane Weru, Director, Pamoja Trust, Kenya; and Glyn Khonje, Director, Department of Physical Planning and Housing in the Ministry of Local Government and Housing, Zambia.

    The parallel panel on human settlements included: Lars Reutersward, Director, Global Division, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT); David Satterthwaite, Senior Fellow, Human Settlements Programme, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), United Kingdom; Timothy Mahoney, Director, Poverty Reduction Office, Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade, USAID, United States; Sheila Patel, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centre (SPARC), India; and Grace Wanyonyi, Director, Department for Housing, Ministry of Roads and public Works, Kenya.

    Representatives of major groups included: trade unions; women; non-governmental organizations; business; local authorities and indigenous people.  The representatives of the Human Settlements Caucus, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), also spoke.

    The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 23 April, to continue its consideration of matters related to sanitation and human settlements.

    Background

    The Commission on Sustainable Development met today to begin its consideration of sanitation questions, which, along with water and human settlements, is among the chosen thematic issues the panel will discuss during its 2004-2005 session. The Commission is also expected to continue its general consideration of issues related to the overall implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. [For background, see Press Release ENV/DEV/762 of 13 April 2004.]

    Creating Demand for Sanitation

    On the morning’s first theme, BINDERWASER PATHAK, Founder of Sulabh International, New Delhi, India, said that in his country nearly 700 million people defecated in the open.  Most schools in rural areas had no toilets and, therefore, girl students did not feel encouraged to attend. He added that nearly 700,000 children died each year from diarrhoea and dehydration and that more than half a million people had the job of cleaning 7.4 million bucket toilets everyday. Because of the stigma associated with open defecation and poor sanitation in slums and rural areas, women in those areas had to defecate either at sunrise or sunset.  They had to control their bodily functions between those times, he added.

    To address those challenges, Mr. Pathak had developed appropriate, affordable, indigenous and culturally acceptable sanitation technologies.  One was the “twin-pit” eco-friendly compost flush toilet, popularly known as the Sulabh Shauchalaya.  About 1.2 million Sulabh had been built. That had paved the way for curbing open defecation and manual waste disposal.  Another technology was the Sulabh Biogas fixed dome digester linked to community toilets to recycle waste.  The biogas produced was used for cooking and lighting. The nutrient-rich effluent discharge was used for agricultural production.

    He went on to say that his organization had built some 6,000 public pay toilets that were used by nearly 10 million people everyday. Although Indians were not generally accustomed to paying to use toilets, the Sulabh project had been successful because those public toilets provided privacy, security and dignity to women. He said that motivation, education, communication and timely maintenance had also been reasons for success.  His organization also worked to bring together governments, local bodies and civic actors so that the strategies and technologies that were put in place had a real and positive affect on communities.

    With his 36 years of experience in the field, Mr. Pathak said it was clear that each country should develop its own appropriate technologies -- sewers and septic tanks were not the only answer. Sanitation should be linked with employment, and the role of non-governmental organizations should be encouraged, he added. Considering the funding restraints of many governments, international financial institutions should be encouraged to help governments put toilets in the homes of people and families who wanted them.

    PETER KOLSKY, Senior Water and Sanitation specialist, World Bank, said it was silly to try to sell, or even give, things to people that they did not want, and that was particularly true of sanitation and hygiene. The focus on “what people want” was an opportunity to promote sanitation in ways that had not yet been widely used. An approach based on demand meant that the role of government was different.

    Governments with scarce resources would not afford to promote sanitation through the large scale supply or purchase of facilities that people did not want, he said. Instead, they should use their funds as a lever to stimulate household demand and create conditions for a local industry to meet that demand.

    Sanitation and hygiene were household decisions, not governmental ones. They were decisions on how mothers managed the faeces of infants, whether a family invested in a pit latrine and how hands were washed. That did not mean that governments did not have a role to play; only that, if the household was not convinced, it won’t happen.

    Taking an example in the state of Maharashtra, India, which had managed a rural sanitation programme based on very high subsidies, he said people used latrines as tool sheds or as storage, but the programme failed to spark a demand for sanitation. That state had learned from that lesson and was now embarked on a new approach.

    Comfort, cleanliness, dignity, privacy and aesthetics were good ways to sell sanitation, he said. The role of government was different if one accepted a marketing approach to sanitation. It would be one of stimulating demand, and supporting local industry in learning how to respond effectively to that demand. A government created an enabling environment for a local sanitation industry through legislation, information campaigns, and capacity-building. In conclusion, he said that, while such an approach did not necessarily guarantee achievement of any specific Millennium Development Goal target, it did strive to build solid industry rooted in the local economy that could sustain the effort to improve sanitation in the years to come.

    When the floor was opened for discussion, the representative of China said that his Government had set the goal of providing sanitation for some 55 per cent of the people in rural areas by 2005, and 65 per cent by 2010. He added that China had a vast agricultural-based society -- some 248 million rural households -- and faced an arduous task to reach those goals. There were 122 million people living in low-income, remote areas who needed improved sanitation right now, he said, adding that those were the very areas that it would be hardest to reach. With that in mind, the Chinese Government would continue to tailor its sanitation initiatives and technological innovations to local conditions.

    Senegal’s representative, one of the number of delegations to highlight programmes under way in their countries to ensure wide access to sanitation, said that sanitation had not often been listed among Africa’s development priorities, but that view was starting to change, as people began to realize that the lack of sanitation and poor hygiene negatively impacted not only human health, but the environment as well.

    The representative of the United States stressed the need for all countries to develop solid indicators so that plans and programmes addressed real needs. France’s representative was among those who touched on some secondary social and health concerns faced by many who were forced to use open toilets. South Africa’s representative agreed that health and sanitation officials needed to coordinate at all levels, particularly since in many countries the outbreak of cholera and other water-borne diseases could often be linked to poor sanitation.

    The representative of the United Kingdom mentioned the role of subsidies and their potential to increase or suppress the demand for sanitation and sanitation facilities.  The representative of the Republic of Korea picked up that thread, saying that his Government had been providing subsidies for waste treatment facilities. But, those funds were not enough to meet its prescribed targets, so those funds had been augmented by revenue from taxes on alcoholic beverages. All efforts to provide adequate sanitation should ensure access, while providing a level of dignity.

    A representative of the scientific and technology community said in applying technology, social issues often had not played a significant role. Stakeholders should be included at an early stage in the process of designing facilities. A new generation of engineers were necessary, including more women, who were also trained in the social aspects.

    Uganda’s representative drew attention to a common situation in Africa, where the provision of sanitation on an emergency basis to internally displaced people often interrupted regular programmes. The representative of Australia said facilities had to meet the criteria of affordability, community acceptance and environmental sustainability. Regarding environmental sustainability, he stressed that new and different technologies must be explored, and drew attention to the fact that in remote areas of his country, lagoons and compost toilets had been used to good effect for many years.

    Cuba’s representative said in sanitation, human dignity was at stake. Because of the possible pollution of aquifers and rivers, the problem of sanitation went beyond households.

    A representative of trade unions and public services mentioned the role of public libraries. Public libraries were in many places not only a source of information, but also a place for many people for access to safe water and sanitation. Libraries and other public services, therefore, needed to be supported, and workers and trade unions in such facilities were in a good position to work with stakeholders to promote better water and sanitation facilities.

    The representative of Côte d’Ivoire said that cholera outbreaks had taught her country that hygiene, sanitation and waste-water management were all importantly linked.

    Summing up the discussion, Dr. KOLSKY said several themes had emerged during the rich dialogue, including subsidies and the need for measuring progress towards achieving hygiene and sanitation goals. He said that it was clear that there was a need to subsidize promotion, rather than production. Mr. PATHAK reminded delegations that some sanitation technologies were rather inexpensive and that it was necessary to go to communities and inform people and families about the options they had. Both experts stressed the need to promote government and civic cooperation to not only gauge and access needs, but to promote behaviour change.  They agreed that the issue was just as much about people and human dignity, as it was about public health and waste management.

    Waste Water to Sustainable Sanitation

    Turning to the next topic of the morning -- “from waste water to sustainable sanitation” -- Mr. KOSLKY said the theme had presented him with some problems, such as a definition of “sustainable” and the focus on waste water. The term sustainable sanitation had, in practice, two different meanings to different people. One sense was an environmental/economic one, meaning that sanitation should not disrupt nature.

    A second sense was more pragmatic and managerial, he said. Development practitioners had had much experience with projects that started off well, but fizzled out a few years later. To some, “sustainable sanitation” meant, therefore, a programme that continued after the initial push, and did not depend upon external resources to survive.  He would focus on “continuing after the initial push”.

    He said it was difficult for him to see how waste water could be considered at the heart of the current challenge to reach the sanitation Millennium Development Goal. The problem could not be ignored, but the reality was that 80 per cent of the 2.4 billion people without access to sanitation lived in rural areas, where sewage was not an option. Growth in urban areas would be in peri-urban slums where water and wealth were in short supply. The costs were too high to make sewage the likely solution for many. Other options were latrines and “soak-aways”.

    He said those on-site options would not be built by large multinational corporations, but by local, small-scale providers. Government had to support them through clear guidelines and training, appropriate land-use regulations, stimulation of demand, and the creation of an enterprise-friendly environment. A truly sustainable sanitation industry was rooted in the local economy. Such an industry might not meet the numerical target of the Millennium Development Goals, but at the same time it would be more robust and sustainable than the “stop-start, boom and bust” initiatives.

    He said there was a simple test for sustainable sanitation -- could somebody earn all or part of their livelihood out of it. If they could, then sanitation would happen, and would be sustained. If they could not, no efforts in sanitation could be sustainable by any sense of the word.

    DAT’IR LEE YEE CHEONG, World Federation of Engineering Organizations, Co-Chair Millennium Development Goals Task Force on Science and Technology, Malaysia, said Goal 10 addressed science, technology and information. After 18 months of work, the Task Force project had completed a report, which had been posted on the Web site for public comment.

    Recommendations in that report included: improving the science, technology and information advice mechanism and promoting entrepreneurial activities, including for small and medium enterprises; and improving basic infrastructure services such as energy, water and sanitation.  Since science, technology and information were cross-cutting, problems had to be approached in an interconnected way, with a priority for agricultural and natural resource development. That required, among other things, investments in institutional and human capacity building.

    He recommended that developing countries look to the Asian Pacific region for best practices. In his own country, Malaysia, remarkable progress in social and economic development had been made, not just in terms of better living conditions, but also contributing to peace and harmony. Developing countries would do well to look to Malaysia as a foundation for social stability.

    PAUL REITER, Executive Director of the International Water Association, United Kingdom, said sanitation was a relatively complex subject.  Many approaches were not well understood.  Indeed, there was no common language about how to deal with sanitation, waste management and related environmental protection issues.  “We must reach a point where we can reach consensus and adequately describe all the options”, he said, since it was clear that basic research was not what was lacking.  He suggested that full-scale demonstrations might be necessary in order to educate local decision makers and policy makers.  Low-cost alternatives and options must be stressed.  In any centralized system, basic investment in sanitation would need to be subsidized to some degree, he added.

    VEERLE VANDERWEERD, Global Action Programme, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said sanitation would be sustainable only if, as a local industry, it was financially sustainable.  Sanitation must also be comprehensive, covering not only health and hygiene, but also protection of the resources that provided the water for it and other ecological concerns.  Waste-water collection, its reuse and re-introduction into the natural environment did not receive enough attention.  She added that the costs of unsustainable re-introduction of waste water into freshwater supplies had a severely negative impact on poor, rural communities, particularly those living downstream of cities in developing countries.

    Opening the dialogue, the representative of Ireland, speaking on behalf of European Union and associated States, noted that waste water should not be regarded as waste, but as a resource to be reused.  There was also a need to complement current and expensive technologies with cheaper and environmentally safer approaches.  Water-borne sanitation was extremely expensive and dependent on adequate water supply.  More cost-effective approaches were needed in urban areas if Millennium Development Goals targets were to be met.  In rural areas, the potential existed for low-tech, low-cost sanitation solutions.  Options included basic and improved pit latrines, coupled with the use of urine-diverting toilets.

    The representative of Mexico drew attention to the fact that indigenous people often were left out of the picture.  Mexico had developed methods for disinfection and sterilization of water using soda powder.

    Brazil’s representative said his country had had success with low-cost sanitation technologies and urged other countries to explore such options.  That view was supported by several of the experts, who also stressed that technological advances, particularly in the bacteriological fields, were making it easier and cheaper to dispose of human waste and wastewater. Mr. PATHAK drew attention to technology being used in India, which harnessed biogases and nutrient-rich wastewater for industrial, agricultural and household uses.

    The representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) said safe water supplies depended on maintaining the health of the ecosystems.  The entire chain, from source to sea, from river basins to the various users, must be protected.  Public and private financing would be needed to reach international development targets.  Appropriate technologies must be geared to the level of capacities of communities.  More emphasis must be placed on wastewater as a valuable resource, he added.

    The indigenous peoples’ representative said the communities he represented were often the most neglected when nations -- both developed and developing -- considered sustainable sanitation strategies.  He said that realistic local targets for improved sanitation and hygiene services, bearing in mind that access to those services was a human right, must be considered.  Water and sanitation services must remain in the public sector, and all governments must commit to ensuring that those services remained public.  Options must be provided for indigenous people to control and manage their own water supplies, he added.

    Fiji’s representative said appropriate low-cost technology was crucial to sanitation.  But, for small islands, adequate financing and technical support for new innovations was sorely lacking.  Small island developing States continued to call on donor partners to provide technological assistance towards installing and maintaining ecologically-friendly technologies.

    Parallel Morning Dialogue

    A parallel interactive dialogue this morning on human settlements focused on the following themes in two segments:  Slums and urban poverty -- changing patterns of human settlements; and Women in human settlements development:  Challenges and opportunities.

    Slums and Urban Poverty

    LARS REUTERSWARD, Director of Global Division, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), stressed the need for intervention strategies to cope with rapidly increasing urbanization.  He noted that poverty was becoming urbanized, with about 1 billion slum-dwellers now living under extremely poor conditions.  The old distinction between rural and urban was outdated, as the urban became more rural, and cities became more agricultural.  Up to 40 per cent of foodstuffs were now produced within cities.

    He stressed three key issues in building up viable human settlements -- property tenure and rights, good governance of cities and towns, and the need for investment.  Each of those vital elements influenced the other in efforts to improve urban areas.  There was also a need to design time-frames for strategies of intervention.  Long-term strategies, for example, must incorporate refocused urban planning.

    DAVID SATTERTHWAITE, Senior Fellow, Human Settlements Programme, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), United Kingdom, said preventing new slums meant closing the gap between what low-income groups could afford and housing costs.  He cited several examples of municipalities committed to reducing slum populations, including a slum upgrade programme in Sao Paolo.  The most powerful examples of slum upgrading were at the community level, where organizations of urban poor were showing increased capacity to build their own homes.  Such organizations included the Homeless People’s Federation in South Africa and the Kenyan Homeless People’s Federation.  Community organizations had expanded in scale to serve larger populations of people.  Through those and other slum-reduction processes, the notion of cities without slums could become a reality.

    TIMOTHY MAHONEY, Director, Poverty Reduction Office, Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade, USAID, United States, spoke about the mobilization of assets to reduce urban poverty.  He noted that livelihoods research -- which had traditionally been focused on rural areas and had recently turned to urban issues -- had assisted in better understanding poverty.  Poverty was multidimensional, with economic, social, environmental, and institutional aspects.  Livelihoods research had focused on people, households and livelihoods, emphasizing the assets that households managed for sustainable livelihoods.  The asset framework was often placed within a vulnerability context, emphasizing the constant stress that poor households suffered.  A complex assets base was used to respond to those stresses, with the resilience of that response depending on the strength of the asset base.

    With recent migration to urban areas, cities possessed a social fragmentation that was uncommon in rural areas.  One must pay for everything in the urban economy, while the rural exchange and sharing of commodities added to the resilience of rural households.  Improving a household’s asset position required the establishment of market-creating institutions, which could create new markets for poor households.  There also must be an understanding of the need to protect the assets of poor households.

    During the ensuing discussion, speakers stressed that human settlement interventions must focus on pro-poor policies, and that participation in urban development programmes must include players at all levels of society.  They also emphasized the importance of stimulating local economic activity in slums, and that of recognizing the informal service sector as an asset, not a liability.

    Several participants pointed to the need to adjust current definitions of urban and rural, since the meanings of urban, rural and poor differed between countries, and to understand the current pace and nature of urbanization.  They also highlighted the need for a standard definition for slums, since not all of the poor lived in recognized slums.  Others noted that information about the unit cost of service provision in poor urban areas was lacking, and that methods to measure and understand the floating population, as well as the remittances flow, were their infancy.

    Speakers also emphasized the urgent challenge in meeting the housing demands of the poor, upgrade existing slums and address the vital need for land security tenure and basic services, such as health and commerce.  Since governments were often unable to fill the finance gap in improving urban areas, they argued, some measure must be found to empower people in becoming more self-reliant in directing their own futures.  Credit, especially micro-enterprise credit, should be made available, providing poor families with a foundation to integrate in the broader urban economy.

    Women in Human Settlements Development

    The Commission then turned to its theme on:  women in human settlements development: Challenges and opportunities.

    SHEILA PATEL, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centre (SPARC), India, said her organization, in exploring the migration of women to cities, sought to create nuclei of strong women, who could then network with women in smaller towns and cities to exchange learning experiences. Such exchanges would help women develop the ability to negotiate with their governments, municipalities, and other service providers.  Community practice and cultures decided whether women had access to resources, regardless of legislation, and education was needed to change that discrepancy.  Women who were at the forefront of municipalities should become role models for the next generation of migrating women.  Women should be encouraged to create large associations, recognizing that such groups could network across borders and bring about change.

    GRACE WANYONYI, Director, Department for Housing, Ministry of Roads and public Works, Kenya, said some 60 per cent of households in Kenya lived in one-room units, indicating the level of affordability in the country.  Her ministry was currently studying strategies to give people more space at a slightly higher cost than they were now paying.

    Women often lived in slums, she said, and it was vital to address their needs.  Women were main actors in housing needs and they played a key role in slum upgrading.  However, they faced various constraints in becoming effectively involved.  Those included a lack of access to land, due to socio-cultural dictates of society, and a lack of access to long-term credit, due to lack of collateral.  Another limitation was women’s lack of access to skills training, technology and information.

    In the ensuing discussion participants emphasized that women must be recognized as agents of change among the urban poor.  Difficulties in poor urban areas and slums impacted disproportionately on women, who were responsible for child-rearing and household management.  Women were much more likely to suffer from health risks caused by poor air and contaminated water, or suffer from violence and abuse.  Moreover, they generally lacked access to entrepreneurial opportunities, credit and finance, as well as legal rights and representation.

    One speaker highlighted the importance of women’s access to credit, including micro-credit.  Such credit was often invested in home improvements, since many of the urban poor opened up businesses in their homes.  Micro-credit was particularly important for women because they lacked equal access to credit in some societies, and because small businesses helped them in care for their families.

    A representative of the women’s major group noted that women at the grass-roots level encountered difficulties when attempting to access resources for HIV/AIDS, because work on the pandemic was being carried out globally, nationally or by non-governmental organizations.  She also addressed the plight of women in natural disasters, stressing that they could play a major role in transforming relief efforts into development.

    Human Settlements

    In the afternoon session, ANNA TIBAIJUKA, Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), emphasized the need for active, grass-roots strategies to meet the slum challenge, focus on the excluded, and significantly improve slum dwellers’ lives.  Upgrading slums was essentially a political activity, since various members of society benefited from them.  Some 60 per cent of the population of Nairobi lived in slums, she noted, where they paid higher prices for such vital services as water than those connected to municipal supplies.  It was necessary to empower the poor, so that they could emerge from the vicious cycle they lived in and break out of the slums.

    Partnerships should be created with the poor to combat squatting and slum settlements in a systematic manner.  Savings at the local level should be encouraged, as should investment in slum infrastructure and basic services.  Partnerships were also needed with governments, local authorities, and especially with civil society groups.

    ELLIOTT SCLAR, Professor of Urban Planning, Columbia University, Co-chair, Millennium Development Goal Task Force on Slum Dwellers, said that urbanization was the challenge of twenty-first century.  Any attempt to change slums must encompass two vital elements -- slum upgrading and earmarking land for the poor.  The principles of slum change were universal, but applications must reflect local concerns, since slums changed according to where they were.  It was vital to end the divided city of the rich and the poor, which extracted a high price in pollution and health care.

    Above all, changing slums meant focusing on security of property tenure through titles, leases and other guarantees, giving people the ability to plan their lives.  Other crucial aspects of slum change were improvements in infrastructure and transportation, which must be environmentally sustainable and developed in partnership with governments and local organizations representing the poor.

    When the floor was opened for discussion, delegations took the opportunity to outline their governments’ respective efforts to address key housing issues.  The representative of Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, urged the Commission to clearly identify the options and constraints if progress towards the Millennium targets was to be made.  He said that financing, good governance, technology transfer and capacity-building should be the focus.

    Speakers noted that migration to cities sprang from differences in living standards and the loss of any possibility of earning a decent living in the country.  Such migration led to overcrowding, mushrooming slums and informal settlements in urban areas.  They also observed that the majority of populations would be living in urban areas by 2002, calling for a vastly enhanced urban infrastructure and service base.  Partnerships at all levels would play a vital role in that transition.

    Other participants noted that slums resulted in exclusion from the urban economy, having a direct impact on poverty.  South Africa’s delegate advocated the inclusion of slum dwellers in upgrading, which would allow them to engage in allocation of public resources -- in essence, allowing them to become citizens of their own city.

    Speakers pointed to the mixed success rate in improving slums worldwide, with some countries showing impressive results, but slum growth expected to continue elsewhere.  The representative of the United States encouraged governments to take the lead in promoting local action to create environments that would support investment.  Improving the lives of slum dwellers depended largely on the ability of local actors to plan, manage and maintain infrastructure and services.  Action was also needed nationally to internalize internationally agreed goals on settlements and make them part of national development plans and strategies.

    The representative of the Human Settlements Caucus said that critical to improving human settlements was overcoming dramatic and tragic poverty that affected vast numbers of urban dwellers, especially slum inhabitants and squatters.  The international community needed time-bound goals to ensure that all people had easy access to land, safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, affordable transport and new and renewable energy sources even for traditional, hand-made houses.  All those necessities required financial support, as well as local government and non-governmental organization initiatives.

    Indonesia’s representative urged the Commission to recognize that attention should be paid to creating an enabling environment for capacity-building towards reaching international development goals related to human settlements.  The representative of the Russian Federation stressed the need to consider ecologically-sound human settlement plans.

    The representative of Iran focused on the effects of natural disasters on slum-dwellers.  He wondered if the Commission could provide any contribution to disaster mitigation efforts under way at various levels in the United Nations, such as suggestions on establishing regional collaboration centres for disaster management, which could focus on human settlements and slum dwellers.

    Mr. SCLAR agreed that because human settlements were in precarious areas, disaster planning would be a critical area to consider going forward. 

    Ms. TIBAIJUKA said the United Nations community was now seized with the challenge of financing human settlements.  A major part of the innovative solutions that were being considered had been a serious effort to address the issues of women and include women in the decision-making process.

    Prerequisites for Housing the Poor

    GLYN KHONJE, Director, Department of Physical Planning and Housing, Ministry of Local Government and Housing, Zambia, said access to land and strategic tenure for all citizens in a given settlement were laid down in the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).  Poverty, which negated those rights, was caused by marginalization from the mainstream of decision-making, and lack of access to opportunities that the rest of the population enjoyed.  Land tenure was the legal right to live in a place, and use land or buildings for a period of time.  Any settlement embodying these rights must also have the rule of law, or anarchy would erupt in the urban environment.

    Another necessity for adequate housing was finance, which the poor had little access to, partly because they had no jobs.  The entry point for the HABITAT agenda was enablement, which meant ensuring availability of land, and eradicating legal and social barriers, especially for vulnerable groups.  Financial resources were also required, especially at the international level, which meant opening up markets and eradicating barriers to international trade.

    JANE WERU, Director, Pamoja Trust, Kenya, related a story about a huge informal settlement in Nairobi called Kibera, describing a railroad that ran perilously close to the settlement.  Women living there said they had to tie their children’s feet to their own to save them from being crushed by trains.  Having learned of a similar problem in India which the Indian Railway had attempted to resolve, her organization decided to travel to Bombay to see what it had done.  They arrived to find a city intent not only on improving its infrastructure, but looking after the people who would use it.  Bombay’s communities of urban poor were well-organized, and the city was willing to listen and seek innovative solutions to their problems.  They saw thousands of tenements that had been built to move people from such hazardous areas as the railway.  She concluded that what Bombay had embedded in its plans to improve the city were the prerequisites of slum upgrading.

    MILOON KOTHARY, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, said the major problem poor people faced was that their human rights were being ignored.  The rights to water, housing, sanitation, and to be free from being dispossessed of their homes and property went unrecognized in many countries.  He said that in the countries that he visited some 15 to 20 per cent of the most destitute people were not having their housing needs met.

    He went on to say that the international community must seriously look at the continued existence of land mafia and land cartels, which provoked land speculation and put housing and land out of the reach of the poor.  He also said that, despite what had been said in other forums today, no progress was being made on the issues of forced evictions and homelessness and, worse, no steps were being taken by world governments or the United Nation to address them.  Another challenge was the serious neglect of women’s rights when it came to housing and property.

    The international community must adopt a human rights response to all those challenges, he continued.  The Commission had a unique opportunity to integrate human rights principles and instruments into multinational environmental agreements as a major tool for achieving sustainable development in the context of the commitments that had been made at Rio in 1992 and in Johannesburg two years ago.

    In the ensuing dialogue, Ireland’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that 3 million homeless were scattered throughout the Union’s 15 countries.  He emphasized that a rights-based approach to housing was unlikely to be meaningful unless it was supported by financial investment in infrastructure and basic services, and regularization of land and housing tenure.  The international community should also assist with modern technology for land titling and management in developing countries.

    Participants also pointed out that low-income houses were often dependent on credit sources that were expensive and short-term.  Micro-credit, as an alternative source of financing, could be used to involve the poorer sectors of society in the economy.  Other speakers emphasized that internationally agreed goals in human settlements would not be achieved unless democratic and economic freedoms were unleashed in concerned nations.

    Parallel Afternoon Dialogue

    A parallel interactive dialogue on sanitation focused on the following themes in two segments:  Financing sanitation -- approaches to mobilizing community and market-based resources; and reaching the poor through small entrepreneurs -- employment generation through basic sanitation.

    Financing Sanitation

    RAVI NARAYAN, Director, Water Aid, United Kingdom, addressed the issue of coordination.  He said that even if it was assumed that governments were as much promoters as providers, it was important governments should “join-up” and that policies be translated down to the state and local level.  That was a vertical stream.  Joining up in the lateral sphere was also necessary, for instance with departments of water and education.  Coordination should also be extended to non-State players, such as non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

    There was a need for vigorous demand creation, he continued, which could be done in many ways, including through school hygiene education and the use of media as a public service broadcasting instrument.  In creation of demand, risks taken by entrepreneurs should be emphasized, as well as the reward in terms of the benefits of sanitation.

    Mobilizing resources at the local level was extremely important, he said, and emphasized the importance of technology, as well.  The availability of proper sanitation models and options and promotion of different options were also very important.  Donor governments needed to ask themselves the following question:  Have they aligned their assistance to the countries that had maximum need for water and sanitation services?

    PIERS CROSS, Team Leader, Water and Sanitation Programme, said sanitation financing had traditionally focused on construction of sanitation facilities.  Such supply approaches had failed to create demand.  Most governments in developing countries did not have resources or skills to deliver the volume of low-cost sanitation services needed.  To meet the challenge, a fresh approach was needed in delivering and financing sanitation services.

    There was a need for more focus on sanitation marketing and promotion.  Most sanitation in Africa and elsewhere was paid for by households.  Financing professional marketing promotion could create behavioural changes to stimulate demand.  There was, therefore, a need to finance the development of small-scale providers for sanitation services, as well as for training in managing small-scale sanitation businesses.  The best use of available public finance was to stimulate a sustainable sanitation industry, regulated by government, that stimulated household demand.

    PASSY WASHEBA, Assistant Commissioner, Social Services, Ministry of Finance, Uganda, highlighted the Ugandan experience in financing of sanitation.  She said Government financial coverage for sanitation, high in the 1960s, had dropped steadily in the mid-1980s. Today, sanitation remained poor.  Surveys showed that, despite increase in incomes, Ugandans had invested minimally in improving their sanitation facilities.

    Sanitation funding in Uganda came both from on-budget and off-budget funding mechanisms, she said.  $20 million for 15 years would be invested in sanitation under “water, sanitation and health”.  A major challenge was to include other society sectors.  More resources should be moved to rural settings, because that was where 85 per cent of the population lived.  There was also a challenge of monitoring and enforcement.  Reforms were taking place that gave autonomy to local governments to prioritize their own problems.  Sanitation was a high priority on the political agenda.

    In the ensuing dialogue, many speakers highlighted national experiences and challenges faced.  Speakers emphasized that adequate resources must be available in order to meet Millennium Development Goals for sanitation.  Some speakers stressed that the private sector had the duty to develop environmentally sound technologies.  The need for the involvement of all society actors was also stressed.  Some emphasized the linkage between water, sanitation and health issues, and urged a holistic approach to all three issues.  Others talked about the competing resource needs of the water and the sanitation sectors.

    The issue of subsidies was also addressed.  Some speakers stressed that in developing countries with an underdeveloped private sector, government still had a major role to play in financing sanitation.  Others called for more private investment and for applying the principle of “the polluter pays”.  “Sanitation is business”, the representative of the Netherlands said, and sanitation had to be approached in that manner.  In order to reach the Millennium Development Goals, all stakeholders had to be brought together.

    Some speakers took issue with the experts’ opinion that the Millennium Development Goals were not attainable because of a lack of resources.  The representative of South Africa noted that the Johannesburg Implementation Plan did not commit governments to see what they could do with available resources, but to achieve certain goals.  If additional funding for sanitation was required, then that need should be recognized.

    Representatives of small island developing States drew attention to specific problems there, as such States were most vulnerable to problems of sanitation and waste, which effected marine and water resources.  Proper means of discharge and treatment of waste water was needed.  That question had to be addressed better, and funding for research in that area was required, they stressed.

    The representative of trade unions drew attention to the fact that because women in sweatshops were working in a polluted environment, they gave life to children with extreme disabilities.  He called for guaranteed sanitation facilities in the workplace, which was a responsibility of the State.  Another representative addressed the problem of agricultural workers who often did not have access to sanitary facilities.  The representative of women stressed the importance of women’s voices, as they could successfully lobby governments.  Other speakers drew attention to the emergence of street vendors and street children, whose sanitation needs also had to be addressed.

    Reacting to speakers’ comments and questions, Ms. WASHEBA said that, because of low incomes in most developing countries, governments had remained the major financier of sanitation.  A shift from government financing to other financing sources remained a challenge.  It was still difficult to involve the private sector more in financing sanitation, because it was a public good without visible returns.  As far as assessing competing demands between water and sanitation, she said most countries had concentrated on the water side of financing, and less on sanitation.  As far as research was concerned, she said there was a need for integrated planning and budgeting, so that priorities for sanitation were highlighted.

    Mr. NARAYANAN remarked that it was important to look at the costs of not providing sanitation in deciding on budgets.  Research had shown that investment in sanitation was well worth the cost.  Water-borne systems were expensive in use of water and funds.  Alternative sources of sanitation existed and more could be done to develop them.

    He said subsidies were often a contentious issue.  If they were applied at the right time and in the right manner, sanitation coverage could be enhanced.  However, if not properly targeted, subsidies did not help.  Addressing the issue of subsidies, he said for very poor countries the role of external aid should be recognized.  The problem with external aid, however, was not only the quantity, but also the direction in which it was applied.  External aid was often used for political purposes.

    Reaching the Poor through Small Entrepreneurs

    In introducing the subject, Mr. CROSS said small entrepreneurs already played a role in providing sanitation services, especially in small urban areas.  The growth of the industry had generally evolved from the failure of governments.  Small-scale service providers offered three main services:  building toilets, exhausting full toilets and repairing toilets.  Service standards, however, were generally low, which was not helped by a total lack of recognition by public authorities.  Full recognition could improve the quality of services.

    He said much higher service standards and lower cost to consumers could be achieved through, among other things:  transparent licensing systems; price regulation and establishing standards, formulating sludge disposal strategies; training and support to businesses; facilitating access to credit; and creating local associations of sanitation providers.  Too little effort was spent on stimulating the efforts of small-scale entrepreneurs who provided valuable services.

    DENNIS D. MWANZA, Managing Director, Water Utility Partnership, Côte d’Ivoire, said small-scale sanitation providers came in to fill the vacuum created by inefficient utilities.  Sanitation tended not to have a clear home.  Governments needed, therefore, to have a clear policy on sanitation and clearly defined roles and responsibilities.  Governments and utilities should recognize small-scale sanitation enterprises as complementary service providers, rather than as competitors.  Many utilities in Africa had concentrated on water-service delivery at the expense of progress on sanitation.

    DIANA ISKREVA, Director, Earth Forever, Bulgaria, addressed the problems of countries emerging from a communist system.  Sanitation companies employed low-educated workers, many from minority groups, as the indigenous people were often well-educated and did not want to do the work.  Although the opportunity to get employed in sanitation might be a blessing for poor and unemployed people, they were considered to be at a low social status and were among the least trained, while working in a dangerous and unhealthy environment.  Education and training were needed for the employees in sanitation companies.

    Describing the sorry situation regarding sanitation in her country, especially in schools, she said Bulgaria did not include water or sanitation priorities in its national Millennium Development Goals.  Unfortunately, a still centralized-minded population was waiting for the Government to come up with solutions. Small-scale activities and ecological actions could bring improvement. As to the sustainability of small-scale sanitation businesses she said they were not welcomed by banks, as by its very nature, such businesses, could not generate fast profits.  It was an area that needed special support from the Government.

    After introductory remarks, the representative of the trade unions echoed many speakers’ sentiments in saying that training workers in sanitation was not only a problem of developing countries, but a global one.  Workers in the sanitation sector often fell ill and died early.  It was, therefore, important to train them in how to protect themselves.  Toilets in schools were also a worldwide problem.

    Speakers also addressed the difference in large scale sanitation technologies and sanitation for poor populations.  In large-scale waste treatment, the private sector had been well established, one speaker said.  However, in poor areas, small-scale enterprises should be promoted.  Development of the private sector in sanitation was possible with the intervention of municipalities.  There was also intervention needed in creation of dump sites.

    Other speakers stressed the need for clear policies in dealing with sanitation and the need for quality control and standards.  Governments needed to acknowledge the small-scale providers’ usefulness.  The representative of Burkina Faso drew attention to the fact that in many areas in Africa, access roads for sewage trucks were absent.

    Addressing speakers’ comments, Mr. CROSS said the key seemed to be that utilities tended to wish small-scale providers away.  Once the small-scale providers had been taken aboard, however, a number of opportunities would arise.  Once there were recognized businesses supported by government, credit would become available and quality control processes would become possible.  The particular problems of workers in the sanitation industry could then also be addressed.  The engagement with small-scale service providers should be seen as a new kind of partnership.

    Mr. MWANZA emphasized the need for policy and clear responsibilities, as well as for building capacities for small enterprises and training.  Sanitation was a matter of dignity.  In order to promote better sanitation, one did not have to rely only on governments or utilities.  Municipalities and governments must recognize the small-scale providers and develop capacity for them to do business and to work with appropriate and healthy technology.

    Ms. ISKREVA said sanitation businesses could be successful if accompanied by raising awareness about healthy and cost-effective sanitation.  Encouraging research in that area was very important and the responsibility of national governments.  In 2000, 38 million people in Europe did not have access to sanitation.  Those were people mostly in rural areas of the former eastern bloc.  That was a worrying statistic, because in that part of the world the population was decreasing rapidly and services were, therefore, neglected.

    * *** *