Statement delivered by Mr. Matthew Kahane, UNDP Resident Representative on the occasion of the Launch of the Human Development Report

Nov 10, 2006

Statement delivered by Mr. Matthew Kahane, UNDP Resident Representative on the occasion of the Launch of the Human Development Report
Friday 10 November 2006 at UN House

Good afternoon Honourable Vice Chairman of the National Planning Commission, Dr. Jagadish Pokharel; Mr. Ajaya Dixit, the Director of the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation; our very special guest Ms. Jasodha Sharma; Ladies and Gentlemen.

The word crisis is sometimes overused in Development. But when it comes to water, there is a growing recognition that the world faces a crisis that— left unchecked—will derail progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and hold back human development. For some, the global water crisis is about absolute shortages of physical supply. This report rejects this view. It argues that the roots of the crisis can be traced to poverty, inequality, and unequal power relationships.

It is ultimately a crisis for the poor. Around the world, the poor have less access to water for life— by this we mean for domestic use and sanitation—and to water for livelihoods, such as irrigation. The human cost of this situation is enormous. Millions of women spend hours every day collecting water; 1.8 million children die every year from diarrhea; 443 million school days are lost each year to water related illnesses.   

The global water crisis is a silent one, as those suffering the most—poor people in general and poor women in particular—often lack the political voice needed to assert their claims to water.  

We see examples of this everyday in Nepal at community water taps where lower-caste people are forced to wait until upper-caste groups have finished. Here the less powerful, who are also often the poorest, spend more time collecting water, which means they have less time for income generating activities that could pull them out of poverty. At the same time education opportunities are being lost, as girls are spending time collecting water when they should be at school.

Access to clean water and sanitation are among the most powerful drivers for human development. They extend opportunity, enhance dignity and help create a virtuous cycle of improving health and rising wealth.

Undermining Nepal’s efforts to meet several of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly reducing poverty and improving education, is the unresolved challenge that access to water and sanitation present.

Nepal falls in the category of countries with sanitation coverage less than 40 percent. The results of this are plain to see. Recently I visited Baitadi where several UN Agencies are supporting programmes, and the biggest health problem still facing most families could be resolved if sanitation and clean water were made available to them.

I am pleased that Arjaya Dixit is with us today as he will go into more detail about what action needs to be taken to extend these basics to more people in Nepal. But I would like to say this, while significant public investment is required to address this challenge, there are many simple, low-technology solutions that could be easily replicated in villages all over the country. I encourage you, as the people who have most influence in the water sector here, to visit the exhibit organized by Water Aid, where some of these excellent ideas are on display.  

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, water management will require broader and stronger partnerships. These partnerships will need to be strengthened between communities and Governments, but also between countries.

Basin level cooperation in now well established in many regions. The range of cooperation stretches from coordination, such as sharing information, to collaboration and joint action. While the cooperation between Nepal and India on the Bagmati, Gandak and Kosi rivers are not perfect. This Report hails the treaties’ broad structures as good examples of how countries establish cooperation on shared water resources. Improving on such cooperation is the way of the future.

Ultimately human development is about the realization of potential. It is about what people can do and what they can become—their capabilities—and about the freedom they have to exercise real choices in their lives. Water pervades all aspects of human development.

Thank you.