Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Going Dutch: Small steps forward at UN, huge leap needed

The sanitation and water world feels a little more orange today, as the Dutch Government, supported by the UK, took a lead at the UN in pushing a 'global framework for action' to achieve the MDG targets.

The day began with a presentation of our issues - alongside a powerful video and a petition supported by over 960,000 people - to the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Balkenende, and the Minister for International Cooperation, Bert Koenders.

The reaction was positive. Today's 'partnership event' saw a significant step forward for End Water Poverty's campaign for global action to achieve the sanitation and water MDG targets, albeit one that requires further work and support to be truly effective.

The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Jan Balkenende, and UK Minister for Development, Gareth Thomas, today announced support for a 'global framework for action' that mirrors many of End Water Poverty's key demands. In the joint initiative, the two Governments announced the following, which will also be represented by the Prince of Orange at the UN High-Level Event tomorrow :

- A global high-level meeting to be hosted by UNICEF in 2009, and repeated annually thereafter, that brings together key figures from governments and multilateral bodies.
- €100m over 5 years of new money (we are told...) as an initial investment - with hopefully more to come - to support the development and implementation of national water and sanitation plans in 20 off-track countries.
- Consideration of a catalytic 'fast-track' fund to kick-start programmes and capacity
- €6m to support the administrative and technical costs in setting up the framework of action
- A commitment to try and bring other key governments and bodies on board.

But let us be clear - the above is not the end of the story, and this agreement alone will not be sufficient to turn the tide in the sanitation and water crisis. The new money announced can only be the start - far more is needed to make a deep impact that will transform the fortunes of people living without access to the most basic facilities. But it is a genuine step forward - and truly testament to the work that has been happening across the world - and one we can welcome.

The task beyond the UN summit seems to be to make this the start and not the end - our issues and calls are on the table, being championed by key governments and bodies (and should be supported by some others). This represents progress. Yet the fact that this was the only real and tangible announcement in a meeting otherwise full of commendable sentiments, but devoid of ambitious commitments, suggests we have a lot more work to do.

There is an immediate task for our leaders too. We need governments to support this initiative at tomorrow's discussions at the main High-Level Event in order to build momentum and start to deliver action as well as words, to ensure that this issue is prioritised by governments to the same degree as it is prioritised by the poor.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summed things up very well. Calling on leaders to step up action, and increase investments substantially, he stressed how a situation where thousands of parents watch their children die unnecessarily every day because of preventable diseases "diminishes us all".

And in a message that all heads of state failing to match rhetoric with investment should heed, he added "we often say that water is life, let us act as if we mean it".

No comments: