27 April 2004
Rapid Urban Growth, Lack of Political Will Hinder Improved Water, Sanitation in Latin America, Western Asia, Sustainable Development Commission Told
NEW YORK, 26 April (UN Headquarters) -- Rapidly growing cities, lack of political will, poor technology and scanty financing were major obstacles to acceptable water and sanitation services in Latin America and Western Asia, the Commission on Sustainable Development was told by regional experts today, as it discussed water, sanitation and human settlements.
Continuing its twelfth session, which began last week, the Commission was assessing regional progress to reach sustainable development goals laid down in those sectors at the Millennium Summit and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.
José Luis Samaniego, Director of Sustainable Development and Human Settlements, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said poor public will was largely responsible for his regions inability to treat solid, organic and other waste products, leaving 25 per cent of the population without adequate water and sanitation. Other prime hindrances were weak institutions, insufficient public resources, and the lack of a region-wide sustainable policy to resolve water and sanitation problems, he said.
Rapid urbanization had exacerbated water and sewage problems in her country, said Erminia Maricato, Executive Secretary of Brazils Ministry of Cities, where 81.2 per cent of the population - 138 million people -- were living in cities by 2000. Some 31 per cent of Brazilian dwellings were now without waste-water systems, 13 per cent without potable water, and 15 per cent without garbage collection. Without adequate water treatment systems, 75 per cent of collected waste water ended up in rivers, lakes and beaches.
Addressing similar problems in the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) region, Khgaled Fakhro, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bahrain, said considerable water and sanitation progress had been made in Arab cities since 1990, but rural areas had lagged behind. Some 15 million people still lacked access to acceptable water, and more than 90 million lived in unhygienic conditions. The main hindrances to improved services were inadequate institutions and managers, weak political commitment, inadequate technology, and ineffective monitoring schemes.
Internationally agreed goals and targets for water and sanitation would not be reached in the region by 2015, he warned, particularly considering the expected population increase from its current 300 million to 371 million by 2010. An increased private sector role would boost progress, he added, although governments should retain a regulatory and supervisory role.
During the ensuing discussions, speakers lamented the lack of water and sanitation progress over the past few years in the developing world. One representative described conferences addressing problems in the sectors as pointless talking shops, where no real action was taken. The international community must be more sincere in providing aid to eradicate disease and promote sustainable development, he stressed.
Some participants disagreed that privatization was the way forward, saying that it fostered corruption or further marginalized the poorest communities. Where could it be said that the privatization of water or sanitation facilities had ever worked? one representative asked. Multinational corporations liked to cherry pick projects in cities, he said, rarely providing water to rural areas, where it was more costly to deliver.
During an afternoon dialogue on links between water, sanitation and human settlements, Mark Hildebrand, Executive Director of the Cities Alliance, noted that many mayors and civic leaders had adopted so-called inclusion strategies, which drew secure tenure, storm water drainage, waste water recycling or other related areas as part of an inclusive community development strategy. He added that many slum dwellers were now organized and working with local authorities, and that they should be seen as partners in the sustainable urban development process, rather than liabilities.
Jamie Bartram, Coordinator of the Water, Sanitation and Health Programme, World Health Organization (WHO), stressed that water, sanitation and human settlements problems were more effectively addressed together than in isolation. Hand-washing was important in preventing disease, for example, but without a reliable water supply or access to improved water sources. Actions, financing, planning, monitoring and regulatory frameworks in the three areas could be significantly integrated, he said.
Addressing those issues, participants pointed to the inextricable links between water, sanitation and human settlements in improving living standards. Noting that domestic sources were insufficient and local credit difficult to obtain, they emphasized the need to empower local investors and mobilize private capital in improving the three sectors. They also urged international partners to supply the needed technology and to fulfil official development assistance (ODA) commitments for water, sanitation and human settlements.
Participating in the discussions today were the representatives of Mexico, Syria, United States, Argentina, Qatar, Ireland (speaking on behalf of the European Union), Burkina Faso, Japan, Senegal, France, South Africa, Pakistan, Iran, Finland, Sweden, Australia, Republic of Korea, Jordan, Norway, and Colombia.
Also on the panel for the discussions on the Asia Pacific region were: Humberto Peña, General Director of Water Ministry, Ministry of Public Works, Chile; Miguel Solanes, member of the Technical Committee of the Global Water Partnership and Legal Adviser on Water Policy for UNECLAC; and Mirta Roses, Pan American Health Organization. A representative from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) regional Office also spoke.
The panel on Western Asia included: Mohammad El-Eryani, Yemens Minster for Water and Environment; Fatma el-Mallah, Head of Environment and Sustainable Development Division, League of Arab States; and Adly Hussein, Governor of Kalyoubiah, Egypt.
Other experts leading the discussion on the links between the thematic issues were: Kaarin Taipale, former Chair of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, and Miloon Kothary, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Major Groups participating today were: trade unions, business, scientific and technologies, youth, women, indigenous people and farmers.
Civil society organizations included: Human Habitat and Urban Management, and International Rainwater Harvesting.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 27 April, to continue its consideration of the links between its priority themes for 2004 -- water, sanitation and human settlements.
The Commission on Sustainable Development met today to review implementation of international goals in water, sanitation and human settlements, its themes for the 2004-2005 session, in the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) regions. It was also expected to consider relationships between the three themes. [For background, see Press Release ENV/DEV/762 of 13 April 2004.]
Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC)
JOSE LUIS SAMANIEGO, Director of Sustainable Development and Human Settlements, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said the region had insufficient means of treating solid, organic and other waste products. The biggest problem was limited public will to find technical solutions, or invest in residual water treatments. Decentralization experiments had been carried out, but there was also a need for balanced systems in economies of scale. As for human settlements, the urban land market needed public intervention to eliminate speculation and reverse the level of fragmentation.
It had been found that public policies in the region were ineffective in ensuring adequate water and sanitation coverage, leaving some 25 per cent of the population without those services. It had also been discovered that technical decisions should be apolitical and implemented under strict social monitoring. In addition, institutions in the region were weak, public resources lacking, and the region lacked any overall sustainable policy to resolve its water and sanitation problems.
ERMINIA MARICATO, Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Cities, Brazil, pointed to her countrys historical inequalities for land, income and political and economic power. It had also undergone rapid urbanization, with 81.2 per cent of the population -- 138 million people -- living in cities in 2000. Some 32 per cent of the people, more than 50 million, lived in 11 metropolitan areas. Since 1980, the country had suffered from low economic growth, resulting in increased unemployment, slums, violence, inequality, and informal settlements.
Some 31 per cent of Brazilian dwellings were without waste-water systems, 13 per cent without potable water, and 15 per cent without garbage collection. Without adequate water treatment systems, 75 per cent of collected waste water ended up in rivers, lakes and beaches. The private housing market had provided housing for only for a small proportion of the population, although the country was now working to resolve that problem. In 1988, a statute was added to the countrys constitution to regularize land in low-income settlements on public land, while another created the National Council of Urban Development. In addition, last years National Cities Conference had focused on the aims, principles and guidelines for the countrys urban development policy. Currently, the Ministry of Cities was finalizing a national sanitation policy and a national environmental sanitation system, and drawing up a national housing system.
HUMBERTO PENA, General Director for Water Ministry, Ministry of Public Works, Chile, said his region had been challenged to put its water sources to use as productive resources. Finding ways to do that would help preserve natural resources and enhance national and regional development, and make the countries of the region more competitive in other areas as well. He stressed that water resource management was closely related to each countrys development strategy. That was particularly true for countries like Chile, which had strategic plans for groundwater resources and wished to maintain and protect their resources, while opening their use up to wider markets.
He said that the region also faced tension as it tried to address the expectations of its poorest citizens, while dealing with real economic restrictions. In poor societies, the question of financing was critical, since the beneficiaries of structural enhancements could not contribute to their implementation and State funds were limited. Chile had instituted a series of water and sanitation subsidy programmes to help with its reform in the field.
MIGUEL SOLANES, member of the Technical Committee of the Global Water Partnership and Legal Adviser on Water Policy for ECLAC, said that regional authorities tended not to take advantage of best practices and lessons learned at the international level, particularly in the areas of water regulation and the privatization of public services. At the same time, such best practices and technologies that had been put to good use in industrialized countries did not reach poor or less developed regions.
He said his region had signed a number of treaties to promote trade, and investment had a direct impact on water resources and public services. Those treaties aimed to rationalize public, environmental and economic concerns and could be adjusted or amended to address particular situations. He added that agencies were careful not to change water legislation considering indigenous populations or traditional users. That had been a problem in the past, and it had become clear to the regional authorities that no policies could be sustainable or otherwise successful without taking into consideration the needs of all users.
MIRTA ROSES, Pan American Health Organization, said her agency was working with others in the region to spearhead a series of regional evaluations on solid waste and waste disposal analysis. Such analyses would be particularly helpful for small islands where geographical and physical space limitations hampered the number of sanitation and waste disposal facilities that could be operated. Those same islands were also facing problems dealing with residual waters and hospital waste.
What was needed in the region overall, she said, was broad agreement on a conceptual framework for water and sanitation, chiefly from a rights-based perspective. The region also needed to enhance its alliances and partnerships, within and outside the area, to promote investment in water and sanitation. Some 10 years ago, major collaborative initiatives had yielded great results, but once those partnerships had broken down, or had been dissolved, diseases such as cholera had become more prevalent. But it was essential to think about the impact of sustainable regional water and sanitation policies not only on health, but economic growth, she added.
In the ensuing dialogue, representative of the trade unions major group lamented the severe lack of progress on water and sanitation over the past few years in the developing world, with many still lacking access to adequate services. Conferences addressing the problems seemed like pointless talking shops where no real action was taken. He pointed to the continual construction of damns in Africa, which would strangle development in several nations. The international community must be more sincere in providing aid to eradicate disease and promote sustainable development.
Other speakers emphasized the lack of technical and institutional capacity for water and sanitation management in Latin America, also stressing the need for international assistance. The delegate from the United States suggested that ECLAC bring a needs analysis to future Commission sessions, and to link water and sanitation more closely with broader development strategies, so that international response could be better focused. A representative from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) pointed out that UNEP had mobilized more than $50 million for the integrated management of water basins in the region, particularly in small island States.
Other participants focused on specific strategies and problems, such as the need for policies and action in water and sanitation for populations remaining in rural areas, as well as those in cities. A representative of the non-governmental organization International Rainwater Harvesting suggested that areas of Latin American and the Caribbean consider rainwater as a viable drinking water option, stressing that such a strategy could be particularly helpful in high-altitude areas.
Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
MOHAMMAD EL-ERYANI, Yemens Minster for Water and Environment, presenting the outcome of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Regional Meeting on implementing the water, sanitation and human settlement targets of the Johannesburg Summit, held last year in Cairo, said the Sustainable Development Initiative for the Arab Region focused on commitment towards integrated water resources management; protection of water resources from pollution or depletion; and development of alternative water sources through desalination and recycling of greywater.
He said that despite much improvement in various States in the region, there was much that remained to be accomplished. Monitoring and evaluation functions were being enhanced and water utilities in many countries were being decentralized. There had also been improvement in terms of community-based decision-making on water use. At the regional level, the water policy frameworks had been strengthened, namely through the adoption of water laws and regulations that were in harmony with Islamic water law. The region had also been advocating private investment in waste-water treatment facilities and technologies, and partnerships were being actively promoted. Microcredit schemes had been made available to farmers in order to promote the use of technologies that could increase water-use efficiency.
On sanitation, he said the region was lagging behind the Millennium Development Goals, with only 50 per cent of its total populations covered. The investment requirements were huge, but good progress was being made, nevertheless. In most countries, integrated decision-making strategies were under discussion with public service and civic consultants joining government authorities.
On human settlements, he said the goals were to protect the natural environment and resources, while providing adequate shelter and a sustainable base for development, employment creation and disaster management and mitigation. Utilities and services were being pressured, however, because of ongoing conflicts in the region and large numbers of refugees. Despite that, the use of modern technologies and innovative financial schemes had yielded some positive results, particularly in poor urban centres. Overall, he said the Western Asia region faced several obstacles, including supply and demand, conflicting national policies on water development and availability, the need to mobilize more investment and peace and security, among others.
FATMA EL-MALLAH, Head of Environment and Sustainable Development Division, League of Arab States, said the diverse geographical differences in the Western Asia region meant developing targeted individual strategies for specific countries. Those located in the Nile River Basin, for instance, had agricultural needs that differed from those in the Horn of Africa. In Arab nations, recovery of rainwater and protection of groundwater were critical issues.
She said that, while regional networks had been established to protect underground waters for arid and desert areas, a long and difficult road remained to be travelled. Finding ways to sustain the regions precious water resources would broaden efforts to secure modern technologies -- through technology transfer and information sharing -- reducing the costs of such technologies, and providing greater resources for scientific study, research and training.
Further, she said that the public and civic organizations must be encouraged to participate in the ongoing national dialogues to address the challenges faced by all Arab countries in the water and sanitation fields. Resources were very limited and each and every country would require its own strategy. But, all must look towards rainwater recovery and enhancing regional capacities in the area of desalination and policy monitoring as a starting point. She said that, while partnerships and regional cooperative efforts had led to some success in countries in and around the Sahara, there was a need to address the racist and oppressive polices that were endangering efforts to ensure that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had access to clean, safe water.
KHALED FAKHRO, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bahrain, referring to a consultants report on the region, said much water and sanitation progress had been achieved in Arab cities since 1990, although only modest results had been observed in rural areas. The privatization of state utilities had resulted in improved services and delivery, and the introduction of low-cost sanitation technologies. However, some 15 million people still lacked access to acceptable water supplies and more than 90 million were exposed to unhygienic sanitation services. Major obstacles to improved services included inadequate institutional and managerial capacities, weak political commitment, inadequate technology, and ineffective monitoring schemes. There was also a lack of standards for micropollutants in water, which had proved to be counterproductive and discouraging. In addition, revenues represented less that 30 per cent of total water and sanitation protection costs for the Arab region.
Considering the progress achieved in the region, he continued, internationally agreed goals and targets for water and sanitation would not be reached by 2015, especially considering the expected population increase from the current 300 million to 371 million by 2010. Most concerned authorities were aware of problems and proposed solutions in the sector, but the challenge was to secure political commitment and develop achievable action plans. The role of the private sector in providing services should be emphasized, with governments playing a regulatory and supervisory role.
ADLY HUSSEIN, Governor of Kalyoubiah, Egypt, said his Government suffered from the same problems as those in other developing countries in providing human settlements with adequate access to drinking water and sanitation. Improvements to those services required rational administrations capable of reaching implementation objectives. The main obstacles to water and sanitation goals included a lack of financing, increasing immigration from villages to cities, environmental problems, and inadequate leadership.
As for human settlements, his Government had spent $40 million to set up additional housing units and provide them with drinking water, sanitation, electricity and roads. A further 2.5 million units would be constructed this year to complete the project. Of the units set up, around 12,550 housing had been built in poor areas with full utilities. Egypt had also continued its new cities programme. Some 17 had been established since 1980, and 44 more were planned by 2017.
In the dialogue that followed, the representative of Syria said his country had established programmes to deal with many of its water, sanitation and human settlement concerns. He stressed that the political situation in the region, chiefly Israels continued occupation of Arab lands, whether it be Palestine, South Lebanon or Syria, continued to hamper efforts to provide clean and safe water. He also asked the experts to suggest the best ways to ensure the provision or availability of finances to support the use of new technologies in the field.
The representative of trade unions said that privatization was not the way forward. In fact, it was the downfall of the countries that had invested in it, either because it fostered corruption or further marginalized the poorest communities, within nations that were already among the poorest in the world. Where could it be said that the privatization of water or sanitation facilities had ever worked? he asked. Multinational corporations liked to cherry pick the projects they took up and, of course, those were mostly in the cities. They almost never wanted to provide water to rural or outlying areas, since it cost more to deliver water in areas lacking existing infrastructure.
Responding, Mr. EL-ERYANI said the region was committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and that had been clearly reflected in major reforms that had been taken by various countries in varying degrees, namely in legal frameworks, rules of civil society participation, and tariffs for use and services, among others. The wider international community could help in the areas of technology development, particularly in the areas of desalination, and dry land farming.
The international community should also help the region meet its requirements in terms of establishing peace and security, so that it could direct more of its resources to the areas of water, sanitation and human settlements. Developed and donor countries should also live up to the commitments made at Rio and Johannesburg. Finally, he said the region had shown that it was committed to changing the situation and it was now up to the wider international community to react positively. He added that the role of non-governmental organizations in the region could be strengthened to further support the reform measures that were under way. Efforts to promote wider private sector involvement were being considered, because governments alone simply could not meet the demands of the region.
Ms. EL-MALLAH said that privatization of public services should not harm or further marginalize poor communities. Regional authorities were trying to recover the cost of water supply either through taxes or other means. But, she stressed that access to technology and financing were serious concerns and every avenue should be explored.
Experts on Role of Local Authorities
KAREN TIAPALE, former Chair of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, said that it was vitally important to consider the role of local authorities and local governments, because they were the tools of integration. We were beyond the time when wise technicians and engineers told community leaders that massive dams, highways, waste recycling plans and high rises were the answer to everyones water, sanitation and human settlement problems and then left communities with more problems than they had ever had.
Today, communities had to address social and environmental concerns when they began to enhance infrastructure for public services. She added that local and national authorities must integrate economic realities into their decision-making, without eliminating environmental protection initiatives. Knowing the true cost for delivering water for all was the key, and that meant ensuring transparency at the local level. The framework for public services must remain in the public domain, she stressed. Mayors needed to have sufficient knowledge about finance and funding to make basic decisions. Sustaining the economy was as important as sustaining the environment. Knowing the true prices of sharing the costs of providing global common goods and services was the starting point.
MARK HILDEBRAND, Executive Director of the Citied Alliance, said meeting the Millennium Goals on water, sanitation and housing required addressing the priority needs of the worlds poorest urban residents, chiefly by meeting targets in areas of health, education, environmental protection and improving livelihoods. What more efficient way could there be to meet the Millennium Goals than by targeting the 1 billion people who lived in the slums, he said.
Many mayors and civic leaders had begun to recognize that by adopting so-called inclusion strategies, which were about finding integrated solutions for whole communities, he said. Indeed, he considered it inefficient for local authorities to scale up water and sanitation schemes without looking at secure tenure, storm water drainage, waste-water recycling or other related areas, as part of an inclusive community-development strategy. That approach required development agencies to change the way they did business, to support the long-term process rather than pilot projects.
Also, development agencies should work more closely with national associations and their international partners, because they had the ability to spread good practices from one city to another, he said. One factor that provided hope was that many slum dwellers were now organized and working with local authorities. That was important, because, in many cases, poor people built more homes than governments ever did, and should be seen as partners in the sustainable urban development process, rather than liabilities.
In the ensuing dialogue, Irelands delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stressed the need to fulfil official development assistance (ODA) commitments in meeting international goals for water, sanitation and human settlements. Noting that domestic sources were insufficient and local credit difficult to obtain, especially for women, he emphasized the necessity to empower local investors and mobilize private capital. In addition, capacity-building and technological support, particularly at the regional level, were essential for improved governance.
Several participants pointed to the inextricable links between the sectors of water, sanitation and human settlements in improving living standards. They also stressed the need to focus more attention on rural areas, and the responsibility of governments, rather than the private sector, in providing basic services. The private sector could not provide the necessary infrastructure for those services, they argued, since it would yield no profit.
Responding to comments on rural needs, Mr. HILDEBRAND stressed the need for balance between rural and urban development, since the areas were mutually interdependent. Ms. TAIPALE, addressing privatization of basic services, said the main issue was that people must have water access. Public decision-makers must understand all alternatives in their efforts to resolve the problem.
South Africas representative said infrastructure for water and sanitation had to be delivered as part of an overall human sustainable development plan. Setting out in 1994 with considerable water and housing targets to meet, the Government had realized that budget-sustainable plans launched at the local level were the best way to achieve success. He said that vast amounts had been spent on military defence and police forces during apartheid, and when that regime had broken, much of that money had been re-routed to cover social needs.
The representative of Pakistan stressed that inter-governmental cooperation and coordination was critical in this area. He added that all must work towards greater cooperation with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), which was the key forum for addressing such issues as secure tenure and urban governance. And while human settlements provided the concrete context from which to address rapid urbanization, that did not mean that anyone should belittle the problems and challenges faced by the rural poor.
Finlands representative asked if the experts had any clues on how to make smaller cities and townships more attractive to people migrating from rural areas in order to ease the burden big cities.
The representative of the Republic of Korea wondered how an international strategy could be developed to help communities meet targets on intrinsically local issues such as water, sanitation and housing. Perhaps there was a way for the Commission to draw a road map for local communities to follow, in collaboration with relevant United Nations agencies.
By way of example, the representative of the United States said that when his country passed the Clean Water Act, it had realized that the policy put a burden on local authorities. To overcome the lack of funds, the Government had worked with states to create revolving funds that allowed states to rotate debt and access other resources to meet the aims of the Act.
MILOON KOTHARY, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR), stressed that only a human-rights based approach could lead to sustainable development. Human rights principles offered direction, so that the gains of development could be sustained for the benefit of the worlds population, as well as the environment. The Commissions work must reaffirm and build on the right to adequate housing and related rights, as well as other agreed commitments. For example, there was a need to ensure the coherence and consistency of trade and economic agreements with human rights instruments. At the national level, strategies were needed to bring about land reform and increases on spending for public services. The protection of women -- especially their equal access to and right to own land -- children and vulnerable communities must be priorities in achieving sustainable development.
JAMIE BARTRAM, Coordinator of the Water, Sanitation and Health Programme, World Health Organization (WHO), said that water, sanitation and human settlements were more effective themes when they worked together, than in isolation. Hand washing was important in preventing disease, for example, but impossible for people who lacked a reliable water supply or access to an improved water source. Taking the three themes together, water and sanitation services led to improvements in human settlements. Actions and financing, as well as planning and regulatory frameworks in the three areas, could be significantly integrated. Monitoring could also benefit from integrating the three themes at both the national and international levels.
In the following dialogue, Mr. BARTRAM said that at all international meetings at one time or another one heard phrases like moving from vision to action or implementation. He believed that that essentially meant doing the right things in the rights places at the right times -- finding out how to best secure and then accelerate the benefits to those that best stood to gain from them. In the context of basic public services, a rights-based approach was the best way to do this, because such an approach revealed the most vulnerable and most marginalized populations and brought them to the forefront of international discussions.
The youth caucus representative said her delegation was concerned at the lack of young peoples participation in the Commissions work. She stressed that, if youth, as well as women, could not be trained and their participation in the implementation process more strongly supported, the world would find itself in the future facing the same problems with water, sanitation and settlements as it was today.
The representative for indigenous people said rights based approaches were critical for all the major groups to be able to meet major international development goals. The Commission should support and promote such an approach, particularly for indigenous people, who were often forced off traditional lands, or were ignored altogether when waste management or freshwater use policies were designed.
Wrapping up the discussion, Mr. KOTHARY said that at Vienna world governments had pledged to protect the human rights of individuals. The most important lesson was that promoting such rights protected the poor and ensured equal rights for women. So, considering social issues from a rights perspective was not a choice, but an obligation for all.
For delegations looking for tools and guidelines, Ms. TAIPALE drew attention to UN-Habitats Global Campaign for Urban Governance, which stressed the need to ensure sustainability, decentralization, equity, efficiency, transparency and accountability, civic engagement, and security.
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