21 February 2013 – The United Nations and its partners today called on the international community to prioritize ensuring access to water and sanitation to vulnerable populations in the ‘post-2015’ development agenda, stressing this would help combat inequality and promote human rights and sustainability.
“The future development agenda must aim at tackling the most persistent of all challenges: inequalities in access to essential services to realize people’s rights,” the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, the Government of Finland and Water Aid, said in a joint press release.
“Crucially, among these essential services, it must aim for every person to have equal access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Special attention should be given to women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by the lack of these services.”
The group stated that countries must build on the lessons learned working towards the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are set to expire in 2015. The eight MDGs set specific targets on poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a ‘Global Partnership for Development.’
“On the eve of the consultations on the post-2015 development agenda, we believe that the world must achieve and build on the MDGs, but must also craft even more ambitious goals. The goals must create incentives for change – a change that will reach every single woman, man, boy and girl,” it said.
The group also noted that States have a responsibility to respond to the millions of people who are marginalized on a daily basis and do not have access to basic services.
“We must have a world that recognizes and responds to the millions and millions who for too long have remained hidden within aggregate statistics that mask the reality of life without safe drinking-water and sanitation: children, women, people with disabilities and those living in remote areas and urban slums.
“The post-2015 agenda must not move forward without clear objectives towards the elimination of discrimination and inequalities in access to water, sanitation and hygiene.”
As the General Assembly concluded its debate today on challenges to achieving the human right to water and sanitation in the context of the Millennium Development Goals, delegates shed light on their nations’ struggles to resolve the practical implications of that quest.
The representative of the Solomon Islands said that for many least developed countries, access to clean drinking water and better sanitation was a real challenge, especially among women and children. The rising seas had caused salt water to seep into groundwater supplies in small island developing States, leaving local water supplies for human and agricultural consumption brackish. Those nations were also grappling with coastal erosion, drought, floods and king tides. To address such “water poverty”, tangible programmes and resources to ensure sustainable water must be incorporated into overall development frameworks.
New Zealand’s representative pointed to a recent report on the issue’s impact in the Pacific region, which revealed that the most pressing concern for Pacific families was access to water and sanitation. Extreme weather events threatened to damage or destroy water infrastructure, while sea-level rise could threaten the availability of safe, clean drinking water. Atoll communities were particularly vulnerable, while growing urbanization was straining existing supply systems. To address those concerns, New Zealand was supporting improvements in rainwater harvesting and distribution infrastructure in the Cook Islands and other areas.
The Permanent Observer of Palestine said Israel continued to violate the Palestinian people’s right to water and sanitation by exploiting 90 per cent of the shared water sources for its own use, forcing Palestinians to survive on just 10 to 30 litres per day per capita, far below 100 litre daily minimum set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Israel had not supported General Assembly resolution 64/292, which stated that clean drinking water and sanitation were integral to the realization of all human rights. On the contrary, Israel had destroyed several cisterns, wells and other water infrastructure, he said, urging the international community to ensure Israel respected the human right to clean water and sanitation; allocated shared water resources equitably and immediately stopped destroying Palestinian water and sanitation infrastructure.
Some delegates shed light on their nations’ strategies to implement the goals set forth in the Assembly resolution. For example, Kyrgyzstan’s representative said that with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), his Government was carrying out new projects to ensure its population had access to clean drinking water. It recently had installed water pipes in 550 villages across the country — a move that had increased access to water and lowered the prevalence of infectious diseases. The Government recently passed the Drinking Water Act, along with related legislation, to that end.
India’s representative, quoting national hero Mahatma Gandhi, said “sanitation is even more important than independence”. But Mr. Gandhi’s dream of total sanitation for all was elusive; India was still confronted with widespread lack of sanitation and about 12 per cent of its population lacked safe drinking water, posing a major challenge to India’s development goals. Addressing that issue as a matter of priority, in the past five years, India had increased investment in rural sanitation by as much as six times. Its Total Sanitation Campaign focused on the demand-side to effect change through local community leadership, while nearly 300 villages were being added to the drinking water supply network each day.
Acc – The United Nations today launched the International Year of Water Cooperation, which seeks to provide a platform for countries to collaborate in the management of this precious resource in the interest of peace and development.
“Water is central to the well-being of people and the planet,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his video message for the International Year of Water Cooperation 2013. “We must work together to protect and carefully manage this fragile, finite resource.”
More than half of the world’s people depend daily on water resources shared by more than one country and 90 per cent of the global population live in countries that share river or lake basins. However, 60 per cent of the world’s 276 international river basins lack any type of cooperative management framework.
Mr. Ban stressed that with rising demands and changing climate conditions, it will be crucial for countries to work together to ensure every person has access to quality water.
“Each year brings new pressures on water,” Mr. Ban said. “One-third of the world’s people already live in countries with moderate to high water stress. Competition is growing between farmers and herders; industry and agriculture; town and country. Upstream and downstream, and across borders, we need to cooperate for the benefit of all – now and in the future.”
The General Assembly proclaimed 2013 International Year for Water Cooperation in 2010, following a proposal from Tajikistan. The Year will serve to raise awareness and prompt action on the multiple dimensions of water cooperation, such as sustainable and economic development, climate change and food security.
“Overexploitation, management, financing of water resources, all of these aspects are incredibly important and cooperation at different levels is therefore critical,” UNESCO Science Specialist Ana Persic said during a press conference to mark the start of the Year at UN Headquarters in New York.
Ms. Persic added that the benefits of intensifying cooperation include poverty reduction, equity, economic growth, and the protection of the environment. “We know water is critical for human life, but it is also critical for life on Earth if we want to protect and sustainably manage the planet we have.”
The UN representative of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Paul Egerton, underlined the link between climate change and water, stressing that extreme weather events result in desertification or extreme flooding in different areas and hinder development and access to safe water.
“Water scarcity triggers migration, refugees, situations where basic human rights are weakened or threatened,” Mr. Egerton said, adding that fewer resources can also trigger conflict and governments need to address these risks immediately.
The official launch of the Year took place today at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Headquarters in Paris, France. Opened by the agency’s Director-General Irina Bokova, the event gathered representatives from inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organization (NGOs), scientists and policymakers from around the world to discuss themes such as existing mechanisms for water cooperation and regional, national and local cooperation around river basins.
As part of the launch, an exhibition entitled “Water at the heart of science” was inaugurated at UNESCO, and students from Japan travelled to meet their French counterparts to share their experiences related to water and prepare a youth declaration on water cooperation to be presented to the other participants.
Cooperation on water issues will also be the theme for World Water Day, observed on 22 March.
For more information about the UN and the International Year for Water Cooperation, click here.
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