UN honors outstanding contributions to global water and sanitation efforts



United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed for increased investment from all sectors of society to improve water supplies and sanitation for the urban poor worldwide in a statement marking World Habitat Day today (Oct. 6, 2003).

With half of the world's population living in towns and cities, "at least 1 billion people suffer from the dangers and indignities associated with the lack of clean water and adequate sanitation," he said < > . "Increased investment is critical, whether small-scale projects at the local level or national efforts to build up essential infrastructure."

In Africa, 150 million people lack a good water supply and 180 million lack decent sanitation. In Asia, those figures were 700 million and 800 million and in Latin America, 120 million and 150 million, respectively, he said.

This year's World Habitat Day < > theme is "Water and Sanitation in Cities."

As much as half of the urban water supply could be wasted through leakage or poor administration, Mr. Annan said, so greater emphasis had to be placed on management strategies to increase efficiency, improve maintenance and raise the income of local water authorities. New local and national policies should include all water users, including those in agriculture, a sector that accounts for more than three-quarters of all fresh water consumption, he said.

"Cities and towns have always been centres of opportunity, but without adequate shelter and basic services, urban environments can be among the most life-threatening on earth," the Secretary-General said. "In agreeing on the Millennium Development Goals (in 2000), governments pledged to halve the number of people living without clean water and decent sanitation by 2015 and to improve the living conditions of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020."

Meanwhile, the President of the General Assembly, Julian R. Hunte of St. Lucia said it was fitting that the theme for World Habitat Day reinforced the Millennium Development Goals.

"I have placed development at the top of my list of priorities for the fifty-eighth session" of the General Assembly, he said. "I have done so not only to emphasize the imperative of sustainable development but also because global problems such as poverty hunger and shelter belong to all of us. Therefore, we must all work together - governments, international organizations, civil society and individuals - to ensure that people are given the means to lift themselves out of the morass of poverty."

The day was observed in several countries, with the main ceremony taking place in Brazil, hosted by Rio de Janeiro Mayor Cesar Maia. The Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), Ann Tibaijuka, and the chairman of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, Norwegian Environment Minister Borge Brende attended.

Like the Secretary-General, Ms. Tibaijuka called < > for increased mobilization of resources to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

At the ceremony, awards went to individuals and groups making outstanding contributions to solving national and global water and sanitation problems.

They were the National Association of Municipal Sanitation (ASSEMAE) of Brazil; Global Water Forum chairman Margaret Catley-Carlson of Canada; the Weihai Municipal Government of China; Colombian Ambassador German Garcia Duran; Zena Daysh of the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council (CHEC) and ComHabitat; and sanitation expert Bindeshwar Pathak of India.

Also honoured were Iraqi housing activist Nasreen Mustafa Sideek; the housing upgrading group Pamoja Trust of Kenya; South African housing expert Senkie Mthembi-Mahanyele; the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC/WASH) of Switzerland; and urban land tenure expert Teolinda Bolivar of Venezuela.

Panel discussions on the theme were held in cities and towns in India, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom, as well as at UN Headquarters in New York.
Listen to UN Radio report < http://www/av/radio/news/2003/oct/03100603.ram >
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