Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/826
    4 March 2005

    Speakers in Sustainable Development Preparatory Meeting Stress Need for Gender Mainstreaming, Resource Mobilization, Technology Transfer, Capacity-Building

    Role of Private Sector in Provision of Water, Sanitation Services Debated

    NEW YORK, 3 March (UN Headquarters) -- As the Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for the thirteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development continued today, delegations encouraged an integrated approach to the provision of clean water, sanitation and adequate housing, and stressed the need for gender mainstreaming, resource mobilization, technology transfer and capacity-building to assist countries to achieve internationally agreed targets in those sectors.

    Even in countries where legislation driven gender equality initiatives existed, social and cultural circumstances often prevented women from having access to land, housing and property, and water and sanitation services, noted Commission Chairman John William Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda). In that regard, delegations were asked to consider what policy options might support a more equal and active participation of women in decision-making related to the priority themes.

    A representative of women, one of several major groups participating in the discussion, added that it was time to put the gender-related aims outlined at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development into practice, chiefly by working with women’s groups and organizations at all levels. She called on the meeting to urge the thirteenth session of the Commission to include the theme “women and water” on its agenda.

    On the issue of financing, Jamaica’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, emphasized the need to seriously address declining official development assistance (ODA), crushing debt overhang, and the lack of investments in developing countries. Creating a fair trade environment was also critical to generate the resources to improve basic services in the developing world. He also called for more focus on short- and long-term programmes to enhance training capacities in poor countries.

    Good governance, capacity-building and technology transfer were also keys to ensuring an integrated approach to water, sanitation and housing, as mentioned by several speakers. Speakers also highlighted the need to mainstream water, sanitation and housing in national sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies, and to integrate water, housing and sanitation into urban planning schemes.

    This morning, the Commission focused on ways to address water and sanitation in an integrated fashion in order to improve management of both water resources and sanitation services. A key issue was public/private partnerships in managing water and sanitation, with some delegations believing that partnerships were one way to ensure that governments and stakeholders worked towards common goals.  The role of the private sector did not mean the privatization of water, it was stated.  Governments could certainly utilize the resources of the private sector in providing water and sanitation-related services. 

    At the same time, some speakers urged a cautionary approach to including private sector involvement in public utilities. An important issue, said the representative of the trade unions, was managing public services for corporate profit versus managing them in the interest of integrating the three pillars of sustainable development -- social, economic and environmental. Private sector management was proving problematic in integrating those three pillars. To get the best of the private sector, “we don’t need to look at them running the whole show”, he said.

    Also this morning, the Commission addressed policy options and possible actions to develop finance institutions and financial products suitable to the needs of the urban poor. Among the options in that regard were various forms of savings and loan programmes, which had become instrumental in financing community-based initiatives, especially for upgrading and refurbishing homes in slum communities. Also mentioned were community savings schemes, which had been successful in many small developing countries; the growing prominence of microfinance institutions; and market-based institutions and instruments, such as municipal development banks.

    Speakers also highlighted the success of revolving loan funds in urban development strategies, and success with networking initiatives among community-based organizations to facilitate information exchange, improve access to credit and greater international resources, and improve negotiating power.

    Delegations are meeting this week to lay the groundwork for the Commission’s first–ever policy segment -- set for 11 to 22 April -- and consider measures to help countries stay on track to meet the commitments and targets agreed at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit for Sustainable Development, as well as the Millennium Development Goals.

    The Preparatory Meeting will meet again at 10 a.m., tomorrow, 4 March, to consolidate policy options and possible actions related to water, sanitation and human settlements.

    Background

    The Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for the thirteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) met today to continue discussions on water, sanitation and human settlements, as well as to consolidate policy options and possible actions related to those themes.  (For background on the week-long session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/823 issued on 28 February.)

    Interactive Discussion – Water and Sanitation (AM)

    This morning’s session, chaired by Commission Vice-Chairperson DAGMARA BERBALK (Germany), focused on ways to address both water and sanitation in an integrated fashion in order to improve management of both water resources and sanitation services. Among the issues discussed was creating incentives for public/private partnerships in managing water and sanitation.

    Delegations agreed that an integrated approach to water and sanitation was crucial to good health and reaching related targets. While drinking water was being addressed in many slums and shanty towns, said a representative of business and industry, it was important to address water and sanitation together, as well as to take into account the collection and treatment of waste water. A single operation providing drinking water and collecting and treating waste water was needed. No one was proposing the privatization of water itself. Water was a public good, and it was desirable for both water and sanitation to remain public goods. Whether they could be managed better with the help of the private sector was an issue to be addressed.

    The constraints faced in implementing such an integrated approach, as mentioned by the representative of the Marshall Islands, included financing, appropriate technology transfer and training.  The representative of Trinidad and Tobago reported that the provision of water in his country was always given priority over sanitation. As a result of the focus on water, the development of the sanitation sector had lagged behind. The integrated approach, highlighted by many today, was a good one. Otherwise, the Millennium Goals for water would be achieved, leaving the targets for sanitation unachieved.

    Also on the issue of an integrated approach, the representative of UN-Habitat stressed the need to look at water, sanitation, drainage and solid waste in an integrated manner. Drainage was critically linked to sanitation. Most water and sanitation projects were designed in a freestanding manner without taking into account the drainage and solid waste elements.

    Noting that water and sanitation were linked, a representative of women noted that if sanitation facilities were not in place, water quality was often adversely affected. She also highlighted the strong relationship between public health, gender and environment. Studies had shown that environmental degradation had pushed girls out of schools. Also, if sanitation facilities were not available, girls were not able to stay in schools.

    Finding the right balance between the role of governments and the private sector in water and sanitation services was an issue taken up by several speakers. The fundamental question, stated Switzerland’s representative, was not about public and private, but about effective and defective systems.  The private sector could not be excluded in bringing about much needed improvements in service delivery. Among the key aspects to consider when including the private sector were transparency, sound financing mechanisms and shared incentives -- the latter playing a fundamental role.

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Luxembourg’s representative said that partnerships were one way to ensure that governments and stakeholders worked towards common goals. The Commission could act as a model, by promoting partnerships as a key element in the implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. The Second International Forum on Partnerships for Sustainable Development, to be held in later this month in Morocco, would be a key event in that regard.

    He suggested developing partnerships by combining public and private funding, and using official development assistance as leverage for private investments. On incentives, he highlighted the importance of developing a more enabling environment for investment at the national and local levels, as well as promoting microfinance.

    The representative of trade unions noted that even in the best public utilities, the private sector was involved.  The key issue was managing public services for corporate profit versus managing them in the interest of integrating the three pillars of sustainable development -- social, economic and environmental.  Private sector management was proving problematic in integrating those three pillars. To get the best of the private sector, “we don’t need to look at them running the whole show”. Appropriate management policies from the private sector could be adopted without adopting its weaknesses.

    It was also necessary, he added, to capture the best of the public sector, which was often doing a good job under difficult circumstances. In addition, he cautioned against the promises of private finance, which was often fickle and searched for the highest return, among other things, and did not integrate the three pillars of sustainable development.

    While the representative of farmers agreed with others that it was government, at the national and local levels, that bore the responsibility for water and sanitation, he believed that governments could certainly utilize the resources of the private sector in providing water and sanitation-related services. The role of the private sector did not mean the privatization of water. He provided the example of the thousands of water supply cooperatives which had been established in the rural areas of Finland. Those cooperatives were a very practical way to manage water in rural areas, he said, and provided a model of governance in the area of water supply.

    Several delegations also stressed the importance of participatory decision-making at all levels in the design and implementation of water and sanitation services. Devolving decision-making to the lowest level, noted the representative of the United States, gave communities control over the decisions that affected them. It also promoted inclusiveness, accountability and transparency.

    Among the other issues raised was the need to give special attention to the relationship between water and sanitation in arid and semi-arid areas, where people faced water shortages, and in areas affected by natural disasters; the need to address insufficient knowledge and training in the area of water and sanitation; and the important role of wetlands. Wetlands, said Iran’s representative, played a positive role in the purification of water, in strengthening the fishing and tourism industries and in securing freshwater and food for local communities. Their protection and sustainable use, he added, should be among the policy options recommended.

    Interactive Discussion – Human Settlements (AM)

    This morning’s panel discussion focused on policy options and possible actions to develop finance institutions and financial products suitable to the needs of the urban poor.

    Opening the discussion, moderator and Vice-Chair SHIN BOO-NAM (Republic of Korea) stressed the importance of developing policies or programmes that provided affordable housing, water and sanitation, and other basic services, for the poor in urban settings. He added that an important objective of public policy in this area would be to encourage “inclusive finance” through the development of a range of country- and situation-specific institutions and mechanisms, always keeping in mind that the financial sectors of developing countries would need special support.

    He highlighted some of the options listed in the Secretary-General’s report on human settlements (E/CN/17.2005/4), including various forms of savings and loan programmes, which had become instrumental in financing community-based initiatives, especially for upgrading and refurbishing homes in slum communities. He also mentioned the growing prominence of microfinance institutions, as well as market-based institutions and instruments such as municipal development banks, or partial loan guarantees.

    The representative of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China focused on community savings schemes, which had been successful in his region and in many small countries in the developing world.  But he acknowledged that developing countries needed to concentrate on upgrading information systems and management training programmes, and that would require outside help.  He also mentioned the success of revolving loan funds in urban development strategies.

    Most funds for such plans had been “seeded”, or put into play by local governments, so it was important for international partners and donors to consider ways that they might help shore them up through investments or other efforts.  He added that the developing world had not had much success with market-based instruments in slum communities, and asked if any other delegations had had more positive experiences in that regard. 

    Noting that financing for human settlements and home improvements for slum communities had been steadily decreasing over the past decade, a representative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) said that it would be critical to reinvigorate multilateral and bilateral donors in that regard if the Millennium Development Goals and Johannesburg commitments were going to be met.  It was also critical that developed countries live up to their official development assistance (ODA) objectives.

    He said that there were two broad categories of financing initiatives that should be prioritized by development agencies:  pre-investment financing for advocacy, capacity-building, policy reform to create conditions that enabled financial institutions to operate effectively; and investment/development interventions, or loans to Member States which financed housing and basic services in slums and urban settings. He added that financial partners should design and field test instruments that targeted slum-dwellers. Finally, he said that the urban poor and saving and lending institutions were working towards the same end but in different ways: slum-dwellers were saving and lending locally through daily savings associations and cooperatives, while commercial banks were trying to modify their own mechanisms to tap into the vast numbers of underserved urban poor.  Local authorities and global development agencies must find a way to bring the two sides together outside the traditional project funding cycle.

    Among other experiences, speakers from the developing world noted success with networking initiatives among community-based organization in order to facilitate information exchange, improve access to credit and greater international resources, and improve negotiating power. Community savings programmes for housing had also been successful, they said, while noting that microfinance schemes for slum upgrading, particularly for infrastructure, needed to be rapidly scaled up in light of the fast pace of the urbanization of poverty.

    China’s representative said the major obstacle to achieving the human settlement goals was the lack of financing tools and capacity in developing countries.  Economic development and poverty eradication should be the key to remedying that problem, and while countries should adopt site-specific policies, efforts should also be made to strengthen international cooperation and exchanges to help mobilize financial resources and enhance capacity-building.

    The representative of Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said it was necessary to provide municipalities with the means to mobilize the needed resources to create and support financial mechanisms. Local governments must have access to national and international financial markets. Co-financing and other ways of financing resources should also be explored.

    South Africa’s representative said that urban development on the continent required international assistance in the areas of debt relief, market access and official development assistance, without which it would not be possible to meet internationally agreed development goals. The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania followed, stressing that enterprise financing and development and initiatives to create decent jobs and capacity-building for the urban poor required massive assistance to the education sectors in developing countries, particularly to support schooling and training for women and girls. He also called for more focus on the impact refugee and migrant populations had on socio-economic dynamics in informal settlements, particularly those bordering major urban areas.

    Echoing he need for a focus on education, a representative of youth groups told the meeting that children and youths made up perhaps 70 per cent of slum populations. The young were often unaware of their rights or opportunities, but with assistance, could fulfil their potential as a resource that could be used to upgrade their living conditions. Children and youth should be given a place in decision-making towards the generation of financial resources, particularly microfinance schemes.

    Interactive Discussion – Policy Links (PM)

    The Meeting devoted its work in the afternoon to a wide-ranging interactive discussion on the relationships and links between polices and measures to provide clean water, sanitation and adequate housing.

    Opening the session, Chairman JOHN WILLIAM ASHE (Antigua and Barbuda) spotlighted several issues that cross-cut the three priority themes, including, among others, the necessity of mainstreaming gender at all levels; mainstreaming water, sanitation and housing in national sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies; creating an enabling environment for communities and local authorities to manage and better deliver basic services; and integrating water, housing and sanitation into urban planning schemes.

    Briefly touching on some of those issues, he noted that even in countries where legislation-driven gender-equality initiatives existed, social and cultural circumstances often prevented women from having access to land, housing and property, and water and sanitation services. He asked the Meeting to consider what policy options might support a more equal and active participation of women in decision-making related to the priority themes.

    In addition, recognition of the urban poor as agents of change had proven invaluable in empowering poor people to emerge from the vicious cycle that trapped them in slums. Governments’ pro-poor policy interventions had proved most effective if implemented in the broader context of national sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies. How could those strategies be more effective as vehicles for resource allocation and implementation of international water, sanitation and housing targets? he asked.  Further, another crucial consideration was how governments could ensure that water and sanitation services were affordable for all households, especially the poor, while ensuring the financial viability of those utilities. 

    The representative of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China led off the discussion, adding to the Chair’s list of critical cross-cuttings issues: abiding poverty; lagging technology transfer; poor research and capacity-building, lack of public awareness raising campaigns, widening urban/rural gap, and the lack of coherence between national, local-level and international polices.  All this pointed to the need for more and better integrated planning, which would, in turn, raise the question of how to put such planning into practice in countries that were struggling to raise the finances to meet national objectives, as well as international development goals.

    Hovering over all this was the need to seriously address declining official development assistance, crushing debt overhang, and the lack of investments in developing country. Creating a fair trade environment was also critical to generate the resources to improve basic services in the developing world.  He also called for more focus on short- and long-term programmes to enhance training capacities in poor countries.

    Saying that it was time to go beyond suggesting policy options by taking practical steps towards implementation, the representative of the United States stressed the need for governments to ensure that stakeholders were full partners in the process. The way forward required identifying precise goals and objectives, consulting repeatedly with governments, international organizations and NGOs, and then ensuring that those groups committed to act together. The United States had been working in that way with a number of delegations on an integrated water management project since the start of the Meeting, and it now appeared that some 18 to 20 countries would receive assistance in the coming year.  He saw such initiatives not as a substitute for traditional bilateral programmes but an accompaniment which allowed governments to address problems that they could not address alone. 

    Luxembourg’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called for a more coherent consideration of water, sanitation and housing issues, along with an integrated approach which ensured that all stakeholders met the commitments and pledges that they had made towards the implementation of policies and strategies. Good governance and capacity-building as well as technology transfer were keys to ensuring such an integrated approach.

    The European Union also called for increased focus on gender equality and gender mainstreaming in the priority areas. Along with that, CSD-13 must strive to set clearer targets for coordinated management use of land, provision of housing and safe water. That upcoming meeting must also do more to provide concrete options to bridge the widening rural/urban gap. The European Union would also stress the importance of national strategies and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), which would speed up the implementation of the agreements made at Johannesburg.

    Speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, the representative of Argentina said that there was no single policy answer for all the questions that had been raised. Each situation would require a unique plan or initiative, reflecting regional or national specificities. Following such a path would mean that governments should be involved -- and cooperating with each other and global organizations and other actors -- at every level.

    On ensuring the broad achievement of international goals on water, sanitation and housing, he called for closer consideration of unsustainable consumption and production, particularly in the water and agriculture spheres in certain countries. He also suggested an ecosystem-based approach, which not only promoted conservation, sustainable use and the protection of natural resources, but which ensured an integrated and more comprehensive approach. He joined other delegations in calling for concrete discussions on official development assistance, the debt burden and other critical financing and resource generation issues.

    A representative of women’s groups said it was time to put the gender-related aims outlined at Johannesburg into practice, chiefly by working with women’s groups and organizations at all levels. There was also a need to promote institutional gender mainstreaming. She also called on the meeting to urge CSD-13 to include the theme “women and water” on its agenda.

    Also touching on the issue of gender mainstreaming, Switzerland’s representative said that gender mainstreaming projects were but one way to achieve gender equality. Gender equality meant, among other things, taking into account the perspectives of women and men in development strategies. Including a gender perspective in water and sanitation services meant being specific about the context in which projects would be based. It also meant understanding how gender roles would change with new ways of using and managing water resources. 

    A representative of the indigenous group said that ecosystems had been destroyed and were in crisis. Safe and adequate water and sanitation were lacking. Commercialization and privatization of land and water contradicted indigenous perspectives that land and water were inseparable from people. Indigenous people had an important role in indigenous water resource management. She recommended that sufficient attention be paid to reviewing practices of sustainable livelihood and resource management to ensure the long-term well-being of ecosystems. Also, developed and developing countries should develop policies to ensure access to safe water and sanitation to indigenous peoples living within their boundaries. All governments, she added, must commit to public sector delivery of water and sanitation services. 

    In terms of planning and strategy, Mauritania’s representative believed a multisectoral approach should be adopted, which aimed to increase access to basic services. Water, sanitation and human settlements infrastructure would not be viable if women were not integrated in their management. Noting that there were several projects that could not be implemented, due to lack of financing, he said the Commission should encourage donors to alleviate the procedures for financing. 

    Noting that the world was becoming urban and cities were growing, the representative of UN-Habitat stressed the need to ensure that urban development became part of national development strategies and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers as a whole. He added that the inclusion of women in decision-making should be included in a broader framework of including the poor in decision-making. He highlighted UN-Habitat’s pro-poor city development strategies, in which all stakeholders, including women, were involved in decision-making, as well as the rights-based approach to water, sanitation and human settlements.

    Many speakers emphasized the role women could play, as the Commission began to consider policy strategies to move from commitments to action on global water, sanitation and housing concerns.  They called for accelerated gender mainstreaming at decision-making levels and expanded educational opportunities for women as key ways to jumpstart the Johannesburg and Millennium processes. Many also pointed out the important role women could play in raising awareness about hygiene and other water-related health issues.

    Several delegations also stressed the enormous water and sanitation challenges facing small island developing States (SIDS). The representative of Mauritius said that most island nations did not have inland lakes, rivers or streams, so rainwater was the main source of fresh water for drinking and for recharging aquifers. With that in mind, small islands needed integrated water management programmes to be incorporated within integrated coastal zone management initiatives.

    The representative of the Russian Federation said his Government was exploring ways to improve livelihoods while simultaneously ensuring decent living conditions for its citizens.  Russia was focused on those with lower incomes and had worked hard to promote investment to stimulate economic growth within that sector. His country was also working on plans to better manage and protect river basins, he added.

    The representative of Canada said that the keys to creating an enabling environment were good governance, knowledge and information, and better management of basic facilities and services. The representative of Finland said that it was necessary to ensure sustainable urban and rural “settlement structures” in which services could be delivered or maintained at reasonable prices. If urban sprawl continued apace, as it had in many cities, the costs for delivering basic services would increase, and informal settlements would be the first to suffer.

    Syria’s representative reminded delegations not to forget the issue of State sovereignty over natural resource, particularly water resources, or to forget that it was difficult to implement projects in areas that were occupied. Also, in the areas of human settlements, the issue of illegal settlements should be addressed. In a situation of occupation, the options available could be summed up in the following:  put an end to foreign occupation.

    African countries, said Madagascar’s representative, had identified, within the context of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), action plans to implement the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Millennium Goals.  Rapid urbanization had posed a number of challenges to African countries, including increasing poverty in African cities. African countries needed assistance to put into place relevant policies to address the challenges of urbanization. Among other things, he also stressed the necessity of policies to promote small- and medium-size enterprises and assistance in developing appropriate financing mechanisms, particularly to help the poor. 

    The debt burden, he noted, would make it impossible for African countries to meet the targets of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. Therefore, he called for the cancellation of African debt.

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