By JAN KULCZYK
Two years ago at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Green Cross International(GCI) appealed to the Commission on Sustainable Development.Addressing the 123 ministers gathered, we stressed the urgent need to meet the MillenniumDevelopment Goals (MDG), commitments pledged by world leaders at the UN in 2000.We focused on providing safe drinking water and basic sanitation to all people, because morethan 5m die every year for want of these most critical of services.If we could speak to the same audience today, we would simply say that all of us should beashamed.The 2006 Human Development Report stated that - if we continued with business as usual -the MDG safe water target would be missed by 234m people, and the sanitation target wouldbe missed by 430m people. Behind these figures are the faces of sick children, desperatemothers, and men looking for a minimum of subsistence, of dignity. Their suffering shines aspotlight on our humanity, or indeed inhumanity.Is it justifiable for humankind to accept this etat de fait? Certainly not. Failure to achieve theMDGs would damage the credibility of the UN, the entire system of global governance, andgovernments of rich and poor countries alike.Although access to safe drinking water has been recognised as a universal human right since2002, as established by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it is farfrom being realised. Appropriate ways and means to extend this basic human right to allpeople are yet to be clearly defined and deployed, and the majority of countries are yet toconfirm this right in their legislation.It is not too late to act. Achieving the water and sanitation MDG is eminently do-able, and at areasonable price: it will cost only around Pounds 10bn per year over the next 10 years. This isless than half of what rich countries spend each year on mineral water. It is not charity, but aninvestment in humanity that will reap global economic benefits of at least Pounds 20bnannually and unleash massive increases in productivity.The UK government has recently formally recognised for the first time that access to safedrinking water is a human right. Its international development secretary, Hilary Benn, hascalled for a global action plan to solve the water crisis, and pledged to double UK support towater and sanitation in Africa by 2008.Doubling international aid to water is absolutely essential, but to secure the flow of finance forwater and sanitation infrastructure in poor countries it is important to improve localgovernance, to train local decisionmakers.Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of UN Habitat, once said that even if enough funding waschanneled to Africa, it would be impossible to use it effectively. Capacity building to improvegovernance and management must therefore be a priority.During the 4th World Water Forum in 2006, Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia Water,proposed the creation of an International Observatory of Good Water Practices, which wouldbe available to water managers and decisionmakers everywhere. This is an excellent idea andGCI encourages the business community to support this with resources and experience.In rich countries, the state has invested in water infrastructure over the centuries and askedconsumers to cover the cost of water services. Many developing countries are so indebted thatthe state is unable to invest in infrastructure without the support of the internationalcommunity. We cannot expect poor people to pay for water infrastructure; eventually, peoplecould pay a reasonable, affordable charge for their water - but only once the services actuallyexist. New financial mechanisms urgently need to be put in place. Decentralised financing andco-operation must be enhanced, including targeted development loans guaranteed by localauthorities from the north.GCI strongly commends the stance being taken by Stavros Dimos, the European environmentcommissioner, on the recently proposed directive that obliges EU states to treat seriousoffences against the environment as criminal acts.To repeat: there is still time to act. The battle for clean and safe water for all must not be lost.Mikhail Gorbachev is chairman, and Dr Jan Kulczyk on the board, of Green Cross International,which campaigns for a sustainable global community. It aims to prevent conflicts arising fromenvironmental degradation and provide assistance to people affected by the environmentalconsequences of wars and conflict.
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