NGO Major Group Discussion Paper On Water, Sanitation And Human Settlements


Main conclusions

1. Water, sanitation and human settlement policies impinge upon every area of public concern. As such they must be addressed holistically and comprehensively. And, whatever approach is settled upon, it must face the light of constant public scrutiny if it is to be effective and meaningful to the bulk of humanity. Making available safe drinking water is not only a technical problem but also a social challenge encompassing issues of ownership, community rights and management concerns, the issue of water wastage, the burden of repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure, corruption, lack of accountability, the choice of options, quantity of resources allocated and so on.

2. Achieving Sustainable Human Settlements requires a cross-cutting (from the perspective of all three pillars of Sustainable Development) approach to building sustainable communities, rectifying environmental and social injustices (including gender aspects) and achieving sustainable production and consumption patterns, whilst ensuring economic and social innovation and development. Public participation (the 4th pillar of Sustainable Development) is crucial in this process. All this must be done while also meeting basic human needs.

3. Many successful examples of sustainable water and sanitation projects, and human-settlement development are developed and managed by Community Based Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations, yet these groups frequently do not participate in national policy schemes or even grander international schemes. Policies are needed to reverse current processes that marginalize crucial groups in society that play a vital role in building sustainable communities and integrated water policies.

4. Globalisation in its current form has increased economic insecurities especially in poorer neighborhoods. The lack of participatory structures and accountability makes communities relatively powerless in ensuring environmental and social sustainability.

5. Human settlements are indeed complex entities. Any strategy for sustainability needs to work with different disciplines and sectors, and just as every practitioner needs to understand those working around her or him, so governments also need to ensure that plans for sustainable development are integrated across the sectors, and will genuinely meet international targets while also meeting the needs of the poorest.

6. A primary concern is the protection and conservation of water catchment areas and restoration of those that have been degraded and destroyed, such as wetlands. Deforestation and degradation of water catchment areas has been going on without adequate checks. The ecosystem approach should be integrated into water resource management policies at all levels.

7. Human rights standards have a key role to play in sustainable water development. The UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee provides a framework for action that is anchored to legal accountability, and should be recognized by the CSD as a means to secure the right to water for all. As such, it should be reflected in future water management policies, including all National Water Management Plans expected to be in place by 2005.

8. The vital role of water resources in rural and urban livelihoods should be appreciated as water is an essential resource for reducing vulnerabilities through attaining food security, alleviating poverty and enhancing people’s health.

9. There is a need to strengthen the coordination and cooperation for the mobilization of both internal and external resources and the wise use of such resources as well as to make increased effort to allocate more budgets for water resource management, sanitation and human settlements. Financial and other commitments must be honored. The type and nature of conditionalities must be fundamentally reviewed and not be imposed. The donor community must rely less on standard blueprints for water development and pay more attention to small scale water management and service provision options, which should be replicated and up-scaled.

10. There is an urgent need to introduce innovative approaches in involving the private sector. The adverse impacts of resource privatisation and over-exploitation now call for firm regulations and strong enforcement. This will help conserve and improve upon the current rural and urban environments and to promote corporate social accountability and good practices in private business.