“Water, sanitation and hygiene are central for all development efforts”, the Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN, Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen said in his opening remarks as he welcomed speakers and guests to a special event on how to address inequalities in the post-2015 agenda for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in New York on Thursday.
“Even with their imperfections, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have proven to be a successful tool in our common efforts to eradicate poverty. Now that we are discussing the post-2015 development agenda, water and sanitation are also a good case to learn on how to do things better”, Ambassador Viinanen stated. Millennium Development Goal on water has been achieved well ahead the deadline of 2015. At the same time the sanitation target is still far to be reached.
UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque participated in the discussion on clean water’s importance to world’s development and equality. De Albuquerque whose commitment and energy for the cause was noted and thanked throughout the event, described how her own relationship to the issue had evolved: ”The topic of water and sanitation was relatively new for me. However, it is an issue for which you develop a passion; living it, breathing it, day and night, and I cannot live without it any longer.”
De Albuquerque made a strong point of the fact that inequality in water and sanitation is the main issue. According to her, there are lessons to be learnt from the achievements and blind spots of the MDGs.
“Progress has been made – that’s true. But those who need the progress the most have had the least of the benefits”, she said, referring to the gap between wealthy areas and poor or rural areas. She stressed that the most disadvantaged people must be prioritized. A question arose via Twitter: How can that be done? “We have to make noise on a local, national and global level”, she answered.
Deputy Executive Director at UN Women, Lakshmi Puri reminded everyone that gender inequality is the mother of all inequalities. “Women and girls are more likely to carry the responsibility of water and sanitation in a household and thus more likely to be exposed to waterborne diseases. Too many girls still spend too many hours fetching water instead of being in school.”
Ms Maniza Zaman, Deputy Director of Programme Division at UNICEF, pointed out that although not yet accomplished, the MDGs have been effective in galvanizing the world’s efforts in removing poverty. She stated that UNICEF sees this as a renewed opportunity for collective commitment in reaching these goals. “Investing in WASH is investing in human rights and children. Water, sanitation and hygiene are essential for human dignity.”
Ms Margaret Batty, Policy and Campaigns Director at WaterAid shared UNICEF’s concern about girls dropping out of school at puberty due to lack of segregated toilets in schools. “Everybody everywhere should have access to water and sanitation, such basic and fundamental things. In seventeen years, when 2030 comes, this should not be an issue anymore. We have the means to deliver this in our lifetime. We really can end poverty, starting with WASH.”
Dr Jarna Petman from the University of Helsinki was the voice of the Academia at the event. She touched upon the historical development of human rights where economic and social rights, and thus, the poor and disadvantaged people, were left aside. She made a strong statement saying, that at the end of the day, all human rights are in fact social rights. "The right to safe drinking water and sanitation too receives meaning only through application". She applauded the special rapporteur for her work as her report indeed turns to the marginalized people – and their absence from the MDGs – and calls for a change in the current practices that serve to perpetuate inequalities.
The event was hosted at United Nations headquarters in New York on February 21st by the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN.