UN official calls for doubling of spending on sanitation and clean drinking water

A UN official recommends doubling current spending levels to achieve its 2015 target of halving the proportion of people in the world without access to sanitation or drinking water.

April 23, 2004 -- The world needs to more than double its spending if it is to achieve its 2015 target of halving the proportion of people without access to sanitation and drinking water, a senior United Nations official recently told a UN commission set up to promote sustainable development in poor countries.

José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that while there has been progress towards meeting targets for access to clean drinking water and improved sanitation, especially in East and South Asia, it has not been fast enough, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a statement to the 12th annual session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) - meeting in New York this month to focus on water, sanitation and human settlements - Ocampo said two billion more people need access to sanitation and another 1.6 billion people require clean drinking water in order to meet targets set at previous international meetings.

To achieve this, he said, even with the lowest-cost solutions, the world has to invest $33 billion - more than twice the current level of global spending, which is $16 billion.

"Stronger political will and more effective institutions, however crucial to progress, must be matched by additional financial resources," Ocampo said.

He warned that rapid urbanization is adding to the pressure by expanding the numbers of people living in slums, where investment in improvements is limited by the absence of formal land titles. By 2020 another 500 million people could swell the existing ranks of 900 million slum-dwellers.

Ocampo identified several of the most acute problems that need tackling, including under-investment in rural sanitation, a lack of hygiene education in many areas and the disposal of untreated wastewater into rivers and streams in developing countries.

Anna Kajumolo Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), told the CSD that policy-makers must focus their water and sanitation initiatives on the world's cities and towns, which are expected to account for 95 per cent of future population growth.

"Provision of basic services and slum upgrading must become core business for local and national governments alike," she said, adding that innovative new financing partnerships are needed to spur investment in poorer nations.

CSD Chairman Børge Brende of Norway stressed that improving the standard of sanitation and drinking water around the world would bring economic benefits, such as by drastically reducing the number of people in hospital because of water-borne diseases.

"Total economic benefits of reaching the sanitation target may be of the order of $63 billion annually. With a cost if about $11 billion, this implies that investments in sanitation yield six-fold benefits," he said.

Crown Prince Willem Alexander of the Netherlands, who has been involved in campaigns to expand access to safe water supplies, said access to water underpins - either directly or indirectly - every one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are a set of time-bound targets, such as halving extreme poverty, agreed to by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000.

Prince Willem Alexander said public-private partnerships must be encouraged because they attract more investment and they will help to share knowledge about technology and practices that can improve sanitation and water standards.

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