Press Releases

                                                    ENV/DEV/772
                                                                                        28 April 2004

    Safe Water, Sanitation Fundamental for Poverty Reduction, Commission on Sustainable Development Told

    Experts Address Huge Costs from Water-Related Disease, Need to Empower Women and Children, Urbanization of Poverty

    NEW YORK, 27 April (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations body set up to promote sustainable development in poor countries concluded today its in-depth look at the interrelated role water, sanitation and adequate housing play in human development, with experts focusing on eradicating poverty not through charity, but empowering the poor through their own actions, promoting women’s participation and tapping the tremendous potential of children.

    The Commission on Sustainable Development held its final interactive dialogue today on “cross-cutting” issues affecting the achievement of targets on water, sanitation and human settlements, set for those sectors at the Millennium Summit and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. Along with the critical need to stamp out poverty, participants also cited reducing unsustainable consumption and production, protecting and managing natural resources, African and other regional initiatives, gender equality and education.

    Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chair of the Global Water Partnership, gave three principle reasons why access to water was so critical to poverty eradication. One was “the law of how things work”, since the poor always suffered most when public services, sewage and water-treatment systems failed.  Another reason was the “livelihoods issue”. There was a need to increase the efficiency of rural water harvesting and treatment systems -- to boost water sources for agricultural use and hygiene purposes --- in order to benefit the poor.

    The cost of poor health was the final reason, she said.  India spent perhaps $60 billion annually treating water-related illnesses.  And for Africa, there was a staggering estimate that women and girls spent 40 billion hours of each year seeking water.  Moreover, if mothers could not get water, then girls were pulled out of school to do the job. That perpetuated poverty, as well as poor health, she said. It also eliminated the potential for the poor to save.  Without that, they could never rise out of poverty.

    Sanitation and hygiene were fundamental for health and poverty reduction and, above all, human dignity, said Sir Richard Jolly, Professor in the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. He said some people thought sanitation was a dirty word, and reminded the Commission that international targets for safe water had been set in 2000 at the Millennium 

    Summit, “but it took two years, and the Johannesburg World Summit...before everyone said, ‘Oops, we better do something about sanitation as well’”.

    At any one time, nearly half the world’s poor were sick because of poor sanitation, he said.  It was necessary for action to begin at local rural and urban levels.  Women and children had the knowledge and opportunity to take the lead, but they needed to be given the chance to be agents of change.  “We don’t need to just think of them, we need to listen to them”, he added.  Women and children had the capacity, and they should be involved in designing plans and projects, particularly at schools and informal work centres, so they could take those lessons back to their homes.

    Stressing the vital need to get cities and local authorities more involved in the implementation of the Johannesburg and Millennium goals, Pietro Garau, Co-Chair Millennium Development Goal Task Force on Slum Dwellers, said that the world’s urban population -- estimated at 3 billion in 2003 -- was expected to rise to 5 billion by 2030.  Further, urban areas in less developed regions would absorb almost all the world’s population growth between now and 2030. Faced with those facts, why was the international community still reluctant to take on urban issues, particularly the urbanization of poverty? he asked.

    Efforts were, in fact, being made by several cities and countries to grant secure tenure to slum dwellers, which was directly related to better health and environments, and to an improved capacity to enter the formal employment sector, he continued.  Nothing was so urgent as improving slum dwellers’ lives, and recognizing that the process turned many of them from invisible people into citizens.

    At the Commission’s afternoon meeting, Chairman Børge Brende, of Norway, presented the first part of his summary of the session’s initial review of the thematic issues, which covers the main findings, including constraints and obstacles, highlighted during the plenary and parallel meetings and panel discussions held over the past two weeks.

    It also details the meetings with the regional commissions and provides highlights of the Partnership Fair and Learning Centre, which were among the side events held this week.  Introducing the summary, he said the Commission’s 2004 session had been more interactive and better attended than ever before, and had, he believed, contributed to new ways of working at the United Nations.

    Also speaking in today’s discussions were the representatives of Switzerland, Kenya, Uganda, Kazakhstan, Australia, Norway, Ireland (on behalf of the European Union), Canada, Fiji, Senegal, South Africa, Iran, United States, France, Niger, Tunisia, India, Qatar, Mexico, Egypt, Russian Federation, Japan, and Argentina.

    A representative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) also spoke.

    Major groups taking part in today’s discussions included trade unions, science and technology, business, farmers, indigenous peoples and youth.

    In addition, a representative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) made a statement.

    The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 28 April, for its high-level segment on water, sanitation and human settlements.

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