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Press briefing on sustainable development commission


The challenges before the Commission on Sustainable Development were of great importance for the international community, particularly in terms of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and for the broader development agenda agreed in United Nations conferences, José Antonio Ocampo,
Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said at Headquarters this morning.

Briefing correspondents on the opening of the Commission’s thirteenth session, he said those challenges involved social dimensions -- access to clean water and sanitation facilities, as well as a reduction in the number of
slum-dwellers -- and environmental dimensions, relating to better use of water resources and the reduction of contamination of water.

While there had been significant progress with regard to the social dimensions, with 1 billion people having got access to clean water and sanitation facilities since 1990, the challenge was still larger than that.  In order to meet the Millennium goal of halving the number of those lacking access by 2015, there was a need to raise the pace of improvements so that 1.5 billion people had access to clean water and 1.9 billion had access to sanitation facilities.

The situation of slum-dwellers was even worse, as their numbers continued to increase, especially in the developing world, where all the population growth of the coming decades would take place in cities, he said.  That, in turn, led to the major challenge of upgrading and facilitating access to housing and urban services for the poor.  The problem was particularly daunting in Africa, where a significant proportion of people already lived in slums.

He said the Commission had to agree on international actions that could accelerate the rate of progress, as well help to disseminate good practices that had allowed progress, particularly in the water and sanitation area, in past decades.  The Commission’s major task in the next two weeks, therefore, was agreeing on international actions by United Nations agencies, as well as bilateral activities by major donors, and to disseminate among MemberStates and partnerships whatever good practices that could be scaled up and multiplied.

In the case of water, the Commission would discuss how to improve low-cost approaches, such as rainwater harvesting, which had been promising in low-income countries where it would take time to develop infrastructure.  Another low-cost solution was the tapping of groundwater resources.  The Commission would also discuss proposals contained in reports of the Secretary-General on how to improve efficiency in agriculture, which was the largest consumer of water in the developing world and which, in many cases, made inefficient use of the commodity.

The Commission’s discussions, he said, would also include the importance of education in the water and sanitation area; the crucial role of women as agents of development and in influencing the hygiene and behaviour of young children; and how to process water, reduce contamination and the extent to which it could be reused after simple processing.  On human settlements, the Commission would discuss how to make housing affordable for poor people in
low-income countries.  Several initiatives were being undertaken to improve security of tenure for slum-dwellers.

Recalling that decisions taken at Johannesburg had resulted in some
300 private-public partnerships registered with the United Nations in the area of sustainable development, he said that a large proportion of them were in the area of water.  The Partnerships Fair and the Learning Centre would be among the major side events of the Commission’s two-week session.

A correspondent, citing the statement that there could be no security without development, or development without security, asked whether that situation should be seen as a paradigm or a vicious cycle.

Mr. Ocampo replied that it was clear from the Secretary-General’s report, as well as that of the High-Level Panel of Threats, Challenges and Change, that the incidence of conflict was highest in the poorest countries.  However, it was possible to break the vicious cycle through a specific commitment to the development of the poorest countries.

Asked by the same journalist how the focus on terrorism by the
United States could be squared with the development focus of others, he said there was broad agreement within the international community that the two dimensions were highly related.  Civil strife was a major characteristic of the world’s poorest countries.

Responding to a question about affordable housing for Brazil’s
slum-dwellers and about that country’s street children, he said Brazil had many interesting experiences, including successful slum upgrading.

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For information media. Not an official record.