In September 2000, 189 world leaders adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. They made concrete commitments to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger with an eight point roadmap that has specific and time-bound targets. These have since come to be known as the Millennium Development Goals and the deadline for achieving them is 2015.
Fast forward 10 years. In a few days UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will host a major summit for world leaders to review the implementation of the Millennium Declaration and the goals set. For many of the targets, major progress is still needed. Now, with only five years left to the deadline, world leaders have the opportunity to step up their efforts and honour their commitments.
Providing safe drinking water and sanitation is key to eradicate poverty and hunger. But, to date about 1 million people are still without access to safe water and more than 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation. While a few countries may reach the water and sanitation targets, insufficient emphasis is put on the role of water to reach the Millennium Development Goals. This despite the fact that safe water and wise water management reduce child mortality, help to produce local crops to combat extreme hunger and reverse the incidence of malaria and other major water and sanitation related diseases.
At the UN summit, world leaders need to recognize that improving access to water and sanitation benefits the capacity to reach all of the MDGs. There is a clear correlation between clean water, basic sanitation, ending extreme poverty and socio-economic development. In many ways, providing access to safe water is a catalyst for broader change and development.
But, water can also be a foe. The recent disasters in Pakistan and China have shown again that dramatic floods can wipe out swats of productive land and livelihoods. In the aftermath of the flooding, citizens – starved from clean drinking water – have to fight again for survival. Being able to cope with these disasters alone and ensure access to water and sanitation can make us contribute to slashing poverty and hunger. Without proper investment in managing our water disasters we will continue to throw people back into extreme poverty.
On the 28th of July this year, 122 members of the United Nations – General Assembly adopted a text on the human right to water. They called upon all States and international organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity and transfer technology for affordable drinking water and sanitation. For the first time, the UN-General Assembly confirmed that water and sanitation are integral to the realization of all human rights.
During the upcoming summit, world leaders must show a clear commitment to accelerate all our efforts and go beyond a world in which access to water and sanitation is a luxury. To this end, the water and sanitation targets should be accepted as a primary goal amongst the Millennium Development Goals.
The summit also provides the opportunity to mobilize additional financial means to assist in delivering on this major global challenge. For this, new financial resources should be made available from global transfers that drive growth and development. These new resources can best be derived from taxing global financial transfers and international air-traffic. Without these means, the commitments made will not be honored. World leaders must now step-up and grasp the opportunity to end poverty with water.