Friday, 23 April 2010

Top Finance Chief: Water is so precious, it's about life

Just a couple of hours away from the High-Level Meeting, we’ve just come out of a packed press conference at the World Bank where an impressive panel of speakers urged ministers this afternoon to deliver action.

Alongside the Prince of Orange (heir to the Dutch throne), the South African Water and Environment Minister, the head of Phnomh Penh Water Authority, and chiefs from the World Bank and USAID, was Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian Finance Minister (the first female Finance Minister and Foreign Minister in Africa) and current Managing Director of the World Bank.

For Ms. Okwela, “water and sanitation deserves the highest priority from all of us”, and for her “is not something I read about, it’s something that is real for me”.

In particular, she spoke of her experience as a child having to walk for miles every day for water, and the difficulty of being a 12-year old responsible – as the oldest in her family – for getting water during the Biafra War: “water was so precious”. She also reflected on how she collapsed shortly after the birth of her first child, having contracted hook-worms – traced back to a village with poor sanitation she had been living four years earlier.

She called for more money and more leadership to tackle the issue. “Everyone has to work together. It’s about life. Water and sanitation strikes at every single part of the fight against poverty”.

Of course we need more than words. If panel discussions ended poverty, we’d be a very prosperous world. But we are seeing some momentum that feels a little new.

Our campaign also received a boost with agreement of a statement from African and Asian Water Ministers that supports a number of the elements of our international manifesto – more financing to achieve the goal of fully funded national and water sanitation plans, improvements in targeting of resources to reach the poorest people and countries, and a new fund to support countries who lack the capacity to develop their own planning systems.

There’s much these Ministers need to do to implement their own commitments, and there’s much the donors need to do to respond.

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