Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Ban Ki-Moon: Without water, there is no life.

Rolien Sasse is CEO of Dutch non-profit Simavi, a member of End Water Poverty. Rolien sits on our steering committee, and attended a side event at the MDG Summit today focusing on water and sanitation.

Attended by Ban Ki-Moon, Africa's first female President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others such as WaterAid Sweden chair Jan Eliasson and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, it was an event that finally shone the spotlight on the sanitation and water crisis, with these dignitaries making passionate pleas for action on the crisis.

Rolien had a few moments to update us on what happened at the meeting:

"It was an early morning start today for the side event on water and sanitation. The impressive high level attendance immediately underpinned the high priority given to the subject. As Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: 'Without water there is no life. [Inadequate water and sanitation] increases the likelihood of disease and death, it perpetuates poverty. Water is not only a necessity, it's a human right.'

The Dutch Prince of Orange, one of the moderators, used the occasion to express his support to the “5 year drive for sanitation” that has just been launched to address the enormous backlog in reaching the sanitation target of MDG7. His co-moderator Ambassador Jan Eliasson commented it should be a ‘5 year drive for toilet’ which in fact is a ‘5 year drive for dignity’. Several speakers supported the initiative.

Much emphasis was put on the importance national governments making true commitments to prioritise water and sanitation in their own budgets. Minister Buyelwa Patience Sonjica, Chair of AMCOW, pointed out that developing countries should invest their own resources, reducing dependence on foreign aid.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia clearly expressed this commitment. She remarked that the water and sanitation sector tends to be ‘under discussed and under prioritized’, calling it ‘the orphan MDG’. She expressed concern about ‘the fact that 80% of countries in Sub-Sahara Africa are off track on sanitation’ adding that this problem ‘keeps children out of school and women out of productive activities’.

President Johnson Sirleaf and several other speakers, including Dutch Prime-Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and the German Secretary of State, expressed their support to the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) initiative that aims at increasing coordination, financial resources and accountability in the sector. Balkenende called on other state and non-state actors to join the initiative.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah commented on the issue of sustainability of basic infrastructure and gave a personal backing for sanitation as he recounted making the case for water and toilets in his meeting with President Obama after the Haiti earthquake.

Finally, UNICEF Executive Director Mr. Anthony Lake, shared his emotional experience in Pakistan during the recent floods, when he observed that ‘people’s fear for diarrhea and cholera were real and with good reason, as water and sanitation are a matter of life and death’. He remarked that if all the children that die today in one day of diarrhea were all together in one place, the world would pay more attention’. Diarrhea is a continuous silent disaster."

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