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UN Advisory Board Seeks Powerful New Global Arena for Water and Sanitation

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 18 2015 (IPS) - A 21-member UN Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), which has just completed its 11-year mandate, is calling for a complete overhaul of how the United Nations and the international community deals with two unresolved socio-economic issues on the post-2015 development agenda: scarcity of water and inadequate sanitation.

The supreme importance of water and sanitation to development and well-being merits creation of “a powerful new global arena inside the UN”, dedicated to resolving water conflicts and common challenges while tracking progress against the world’s newly-agreed development goals, says a report released Wednesday.

The far-reaching recommendations by UNSGAB include a new intergovernmental platform on water and sanitation, supported by strong, independent panels of world scientists, counsellors and monitors.

Created by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004 to advance water-related Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) targets, UNSGAB warns that today’s institutional infrastructure requires a major upgrade worldwide to possibly meet water and sanitation-related objectives in the 2030 Agenda — the new “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) adopted by world leaders at a UN summit in September.

The 17 SDGs, which include ensuring clean water and sanitation, plus the eradication of poverty and hunger, are targeted to be achieved by 2030.

“There is currently a mismatch between the integrated and ambitious 2030 vision of freshwater and sanitation management and the international political structures available to contribute to its implementation,” says the report, presented Wednesday by UNSGAB Chair Uschi Eid to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The proposed body, if created, is expected to be the world’s pre-eminent sphere for reaching consensus on common water and sanitation concerns, and to assess progress.

It would closely involve the private sector and other major stakeholders, supported by both a secretariat (UN-Water, and a panel of independent experts mandated to amass authoritative information on water and sanitation issues and stimulate research to fill knowledge gaps.

Additionally, it would support international decision-making “in a balanced, fact-based, transparent and comprehensive way.”

A fact sheet released by UNSGAP points out that the business community ranks water crisis as the number one global risk, based on impact to society, while the projected global increase in water demand between 2000 and 2050 is around 55 percent.

The number of people currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge is over 1.7 billion.

People who still lack improved drinking water sources is estimated at one in 10 (663 million in total) while people without access to improved drinking water: 8 in 10 living in rural areas.

The number of people without such access is increasing in urban areas and in sub-Saharan Africa, and the number of people who use a source of drinking water that is faecally contaminated is at least 1.8 billion.

Still, the world has missed the MDG target for basic sanitation by almost 700 million people.

People who still lack improved sanitation facilities number one in 3 (2.4 billion in total) and people who practice open defecation: one in 8 (946 million in total)

The estimated loss in developing countries from lack of access to improved water sources and basic sanitation: 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) while priority given to public water expenditures varies widely between countries: from less than 0.5 percent to more than 2.0 percent of GDP.

The statistics have been sourced to several international organisations and UN agencies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Economic Forum.

Addressing the special thematic session on water and disasters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday water is the source of life, health and livelihoods across the world.

The provision of safe drinking water, he pointed out, is one of the basic responsibilities of national and local governments. Water drives the decisions of businesses and, in many places, determines the rhythm of daily life.

Too little water at the time when it is needed most can mean drought and food insecurity. And too much water – in the form of floods, storms or waves – can devastate entire cities, rich or poor, Ban said.

Contaminated water, whether from human or industrial sources, is claiming the lives of children and affecting the health of communities worldwide, with far-reaching consequences, he warned.

Currently, floods, droughts and windstorms account for almost 90 per cent of the 1,000 most disastrous events since 1990.

“They have caused more than 1.0 trillion dollars in damages and affected more than 4 billion people. The poor and most vulnerable have suffered first and worst,” Ban added.

UNSGAB’s recommendations include:

— A push for increased and improved financial flows, with increased priority to the water and sanitation services sector, as well as water resources management, in national budgets.

— More emphasis to the reality that water scarcity, water pollution and deterioration of water-related ecosystems pose a threat to global sustainable development.

— Develop national wastewater policies and master plans, including cost estimates, timeframes, and sustainable financing plans, to ensure that capital investment plans are matched by external and internal funding sources.

— Water-related disasters must be addressed as part of development planning, including required social protection.

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