Sun, Feb

U.N. Meeting Tackles 'Silent Humanitarian Crisis'

A high-level U.N. meeting is trying to tackle what a senior U.N. official called the world's "silent humanitarian crisis" -- dirty water, poor sanitation and slums.

UNITED NATIONS — A high-level U.N. meeting is trying to tackle what a senior U.N. official called the world's "silent humanitarian crisis" -- dirty water, poor sanitation and slums.

Jose Antonio Ocampo, undersecretary-general for economic and social affairs, told the 53-member Commission on Sustainable Development at the opening of a two-week meeting on Monday that providing safe drinking water, basic sanitation and improving the lives of slum dwellers are interrelated.

"These three issues encapsulate the silent humanitarian crisis in the world today, where roughly 4,000 children die each day of diarrheal diseases caused by poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water, and where the living conditions in crowded slums are exacerbating public health issues such as communicable diseases," he said.

U.N. goals call for cutting in half the proportion of people without access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 and significantly improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Since 1990, Ocampo said, more than 1 billion people have gained access to improved water sources and sanitation facilities, which he called "genuine and impressive progress."


"Still, if we are to meet the water and sanitation targets, we will need to ensure over the next decade that safe drinking water reaches an additional 1.5 billion people, and basic sanitation becomes available to an additional 1.9 billion people," he said.

Meeting the targets will require strong political resolve and a sizeable increase in resources to poor countries as well as the mobilization of domestic capital, Ocampo said.

The estimated cost of meeting the water, sanitation and slum targets is US$30 billion (euro23.13 billion) to US$40 billion (euro30.84 billion) a year -- which is achievable, he said.

"Clean water and latrines is something we can achieve for the world," he said.

But with the number of slum dwellers at 1 billion and growing, Ocampo said, the target of significantly improving the lives of 100 million "is not nearly ambitious enough."

The challenge is even more daunting because over the next 25 years, all population growth will be in cities and there is already a huge backlog of unmet demand for decent housing, services, roads, infrastructure and jobs, he said.

The commission is the key U.N. forum bringing together countries to consider ways to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development -- economic growth, social development and environmental protection. It was created in December 1992, after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro earlier that year to follow up on its environment and development program.

This year's focus on water, sanitation and human settlements will be followed in 2006 with talks on energy, industrial development, air pollution and climate change.

John Ashe of Antigua, the commission's chairman, urged delegates to agree on perhaps just a few practical measures "with real commitments of resources to implement them" to reach the U.N. goals for water, sanitation and slums.

The commission's two-week meeting includes a three-day ministerial session starting April 20 where ministers from more than 75 countries are expected to speak. Keynote speakers include Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who chairs Green Cross International.

Source: Associated Press