The water, sanitation and sustainable energy crises are the among the world's pre-eminent development challenges, senior United Nations officials warned today, urging Member States to adopt coherent integrated policies and innovative strategies to tackle these issues, which take a tragic toll on the lives of millions of poor people, especially women and young girls.
"Lack of access to water, sanitation and sustainable energy services is a compound magnifier of poverty, ill-health and mortality, and gender inequality," said General Assembly President John Ashe as he opened the 193-member body's thematic debate on the issue.
Today's gathering is the first in the series of such debates and high-level events he will host this year to provide a platform for Member States and other stakeholders to set the stage for the post-2015 development agenda.
Mr. Ashe has made the effort to achieve a new post-2015 agenda to succeed the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the hallmark of his year-long Assembly presidency, which ends in September.
The MDGs, agreed by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000, aim to slash extreme hunger and poverty, cut maternal and infant mortality, combat disease and provide access to universal education and health care, all by the end of 2015. But these targets will likely not be reached in many countries and areas, and they will be incorporated in an even more ambitious post-2015 agenda.
"Addressing this nexus of water, sanitation and sustainable energy is not just a matter of grave concern, it is a matter of moral imperative for the entire international community," said Mr. Ashe, explaining that the magnitude of the problem is great: 783 million people live without clean water; 2.5 billion have no adequate sanitation; and 1.4 billion people are without access to electricity.
He said the international community is already in agreement that energy, water and sanitation are essential to the achievement of many development goals.
"They are inextricably linked to climate change, agriculture, food security, health, gender and education, among others," said Mr. Ashe, adding: "So today, I ask you to consider how we can develop a more integrated approach to problem-solving so that we can best address this development nexus."
"Let us not forget that we are working on behalf of countless millions who are currently consigned to eking out a living in the dark, who watch their infants die of dehydration, and who are mothers and wives, fathers and sons suffering the adverse effects of indoor air pollution that accrues from the use of inefficient energy services," he said.
Tackling such "complex and self-reinforcing problems" will require Member States to "dig deep, to express your creativity, to share your experiences and to provide your guidance and inputs in collaborating to achieve these goals, and in creating a post-2015 world that allows every member of the global family to live in dignity," said Mr. Ashe.
That call for diligent and creative action was echoed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene must feature prominently in the post-2015 development agenda. "We must improve water quality and the management of water resources and wastewater. This is a matter of justice and opportunity."
With that in mind, he recalled the UN's launch in 2007 of the CEO Water Mandate to engage the international business community in water and sanitation. In a similar vein, the Organization launched a "Call to Action on Sanitation" last year to drive progress on sanitation and water goals towards the 2015 target date and beyond.
"Affordable and reliable modern energy services are essential for alleviating poverty, improving health and raising living standards," Mr. Ban continued, explaining that this is why he launched the Sustainable Energy for All initiative in 2011.
The initiative has three goals: universal access by 2030; improve efficiency of energy and cut waste; and to increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
"We need clean efficient energy to combat climate change," he said, noting that with the global population now at 7 billion and rising, "by 2030 we will need 35 per cent more food, 40 per cent more water and 50 per cent more energy."
Climate change will also exacerbate water stress and scarcity in many regions. If the current global warming trend is allowed to continue, all the international community's efforts to provide universal and equitable access to water and energy will be undermined.
As such, he intends to convene a climate summit on 23 September for global leaders from government, business, finance, and civil society. "I want to catalyze ambitious action on the ground and mobilize greater political will for a meaningful legal climate agreement in 2015."