Speech by His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange

Amsterdam, 4 June 2007

At the 8th Council Meeting of the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP)

Brothers in arms

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

First of all, Mr van Poelgeest, let me say that we have you to thank for the first good news of the day. By establishing World Waternet, the city of Amsterdam and its Waternet partners have set an example to water operators around the world. Amsterdam has once again proved itself to be a capital with a capital C. My congratulations and best wishes to World Water Net.

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, water friends,

Let me thank you, Mr Saghir, for your invitation to address this year's WSP Council Meeting. As chair of UNSGAB - the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation - I have very much looked forward to discussing with you how we can best work together. That we should work together is obvious, because we clearly share a common goal. Your aim, as the WSP website so eloquently puts it, is 'a world where all people have sustainable access to safe, reliable and affordable water and sanitation services'. Our goal is to speed up progress on MDG target ten. So we're brothers in arms - and sisters of course.

As the more junior organisation, UNSGAB views WSP's advisory work and activities with fitting respect. It seems to me that your main strength is the hands-on approach at national level. And you're absolutely right to concentrate on local capacity building, because investment in water and sanitation pays off best if funds are administered at the lowest possible level. It has often been shown that a 'water and sanitation dollar' invested at community or household level has the most positive impact on the lives of the poor. So your activities have made a difference to countless people since WSP was set up in 1979. There's absolutely no doubt about that.

Yet vast numbers of people still have no access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. So we need to do more, and we have to think big. This is especially true if you look at things from the MDG perspective, because they're all about figures. You know the key figures as well as I do. To meet the 2015 target we still have to provide 1.1 billion people with an adequate water supply and 1.6 billion people with basic sanitation. All connetctions being sustainable of course.

When it became clear a few years ago that we were not making fast enough progress towards these goals, the former UN Secretary-General established UNSGAB. As a small expert group with an advisory role, we are not here to do other people's work. We couldn't do that - and we wouldn't want to. Our job is to promote and facilitate the worldwide debate on water and sanitation. In short, UNSGAB is there to push the right buttons, bring people together, and commit them to targeted action - through policy, funding and political measures.

Focus is provided by the six key areas of the Hashimoto Action Plan. They include providing adequate funding, sanitation, Water Operators Partnerships and better monitoring instruments - topics that are also key to WSP activities. At the moment we are engaged in a series of three regional dialogues, on Africa, Asia and Latin America. At these fora we bring together governments, NGOs, the water sector, water users and financial institutions. Our aim is to give the Hashimoto Action Plan a regional dimension.

So, ladies and gentlemen, if I am correct, the one big difference between WSP and UNSGAB is that we work at different levels. You focus on partnerships within nation states. We concentrate on partnerships within regions, and with various UN agencies, donors and other international stakeholders. So we're not competing at all. Far from it. We complement each other. Working 'bottom up' and 'top down' we meet half way, where conference proceedings and policy papers have to be turned into concrete results.

So the central question this morning is 'how can we reinforce each other?' How can we create added value? In my role as chair of UNSGAB I find these questions fairly easy to answer. Giving regional shape to the Hashimoto Action Plan, for instance, is not an automatic process. The national governments that join our regional dialogues need all the help they can get to draw up their own road map on MDG target ten. WSP has the perfect network and the most experience in this field. So you are all very welcome to join our next regional dialogue on Latin America and the Caribbean in Bogotá later this year. And, of course, that includes a representative of World Waternet!

Conversely, I can imagine that it is sometimes difficult for the WSP to break through the barriers of the international circuits. National capacity building programmes, for example, often fall between two stools. It often takes a joint effort by multilateral and bilateral donors to get them off the ground. I believe that UNSGAB could play a very useful role as middleman in such cases. But I'd like to hear your views on the matter.

Ladies and gentlemen, one of this morning's agenda points is especially close to my heart. Last December, the UN General Assembly adopted one of the Hashimoto Action Plan proposals and unanimously passed the resolution declaring 2008 the International Year of Sanitation. We want to use this year as a way of pushing sanitation to the top of the agenda, on the way to 2015. And that is absolutely necessary, because the sanitation targets lag further behind than any other water-related MDG target. But it's also a matter of common sense. Investing in sanitation is about giving people health, dignity and development. It results in lower child mortality, better maternal health, fewer people dying of waterborne diseases, fewer girls dropping out of school, and more women playing an active role in their communities. So every dollar spent on sanitation is a dollar spent on at least five other MDGs.

A month ago in New York we had a successful preparatory meeting on the International Year of Sanitation, where we pinpointed the general objectives. My main priority over the next seven months is to lobby as much support as possible. What we need are advocates to take the International Year of Sanitation to the national and local level. Sanitation must become a top priority at these levels. So I am here to ask for your support. I have already agreed with your chair in New York that the World Bank and WSP will be drawing up a plan of action to support the objectives of the IYS.

I trust that with this plan we can work together to engage donors and governments.

By way of inspiration, let me tell you the following story. At the end of the Second World War, only forty percent of Dutch households were connected to a sewer. By 1960, that figure had risen to eighty percent. In other words, it had doubled in only fifteen years. That is even more remarkable given the rapid population growth at the time. Especially in a country that was almost bankrupt and devastated by war. Two factors made it possible. The first was Marshall Aid, that helped Europe to rise again from the ruins. The second was the down-to-earth attitude of the Dutch governments of the time. They thought long and hard before spending public funds. And when they did, they tried to spend them on basic infrastructure. As a historian by training, I would be the first to admit that the comparison doesn't entirely hold water. But I am convinced that the combination of committed donorship and responsible governance is one that still works today.

Ladies and gentlemen, or should I say: brothers and sisters in arms,

WSP and UNSGAB may have a somewhat different approach. We may have a different background. And we may use different instruments. But we are fighting the same battle: to provide as many people as possible with adequate water and sanitation services. And so I hope that after this meeting we can shoulder arms collectively. Because if we make use of one another's strengths, we should be able to make a real difference.

Thank you.