Speech of The Prince of Orange
New Delhi, India, 31 October 2007
at the World Toilet Summit.
(Check against delivery)
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Water is the basis for life on earth. It is a basic requirement for the survival of each human being and for the development of societies as a whole.
This crucial role of water was already known in ancient times. Greek and Roman civilisations already were very well aware of the importance of clean water and of the positive impact of hygiene and sanitation on the health of their citizens. And they acted accordingly, by building lavatories, bathhouses and drains. After the demise of these civilisations, Europe sank into the dark middle ages and it was not until the mid 19th century, well after the rise of cities and nation states, that we rediscovered the importance of universal sanitation, which led to a dramatic decrease of death rates; hygiene and sanitation save most lives, not medical science and technology save most lives!
More than 80 years ago, in 1925, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: "The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing of excreta anywhere and everywhere".
Two years later, when Gandhi visited the Mayavaram Municipality, he told his audience: "The first condition of any municipal life is decent sanitation and an unfailing supply of pure water. Do not for a moment consider that either of these two things require any great outlay of money. Both these things are capable of being secured, if you have the will to secure them to the citizens."
Now, 80 years later, we have just passed the halfway mark towards the most impressive development targets the members of the United Nations have ever committed themselves to, the Millennium Development Goals. Meanwhile, the words of Gandhi are still very appropriate. Half the world's population is living in urban area's and more than 1 billion in unacceptable slums, as we euphemistically call the informal settlements. Despite all our knowledge, we have to face very cold figures: 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation. 40% of our world population! How is this possible? How can we accept 5000 children dying daily, day after day again, from diarrhoea and other water related diseases? Why do we deny those 2.6 billion fellow citizens a healthy and dignified future while we know the solutions and have the technology, but lack serious political will and determination to solve this mega crisis?
Here, at the World Toilet Summit, you are all more than aware of the staggering scale of the problems. And you all know the dramatic consequences for human health and development and the enormous challenges ahead of us to reach the Millennium Development Goals.
I don't have to convince you of the need for action and I am happy to be here with you, in the company of a group of people that is actually working towards solutions that make a difference for the poor people who are in such an urgent need for help.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This Summit offers a platform for sharing experiences and an exchange of ideas on sanitation services by all stakeholders. You are going to develop strategies and you will discuss best practices available, to extend global sanitation coverage. So what can we do, to get the world on track to achieve the sanitation target of the MDG's?
First of all, we need to mobilize the political will to really tackle the problem, like Gandhi already told us. Awareness raising and advocacy will be our main instruments to this end. In this context, as chairman of the United Nations Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, it is a pleasure for me to announce next month's official global launch of the International Year of Sanitation. This International Year will be the focal point for a global sanitation awareness campaign, aimed at furthering health, dignity and development.
In this campaign we will have to reinforce the global awareness of the importance of sanitation and personal hygiene to all. Policymakers are usually not faced with the horrors of lacking sanitation in their personal surroundings, so we will have to keep on reminding them what it is all about.
A second point I want to stress is the importance of including water and sanitation in sustainable development programs and, where applicable, in PRSP's, otherwise water supply and sanitation will just fall of the radar screen of the real decision makers.
Water and sanitation solutions effect the possibility of achieving at least 5 other MDGs and every dollar invested in Water and Sanitation triggers a total of 7 dollars productive activity. By providing adequate sanitation we are fighting poverty and stimulating development at the same time!
Finally we will have to support every activity, public, private or triple P's, aimed at providing better water and sanitation facilities. Every sustainable connection counts, as long as the costs are acceptable and the quality is guaranteed. Sulabh International has proven how effective small-scale solutions can be and how they can be expanded all over the country. This once more shows that the most successful programs are those that respond to local demand, with strong local participation and using low-cost local technology.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to congratulate the organizers of this summit with their initiative and their commitment.
Sulabh International and the World Toilet Organization show the courage that is needed to tackle such a huge and culturally sensitive problem. The Government of India is showing tremendous effort to achieve the MDG's and even aims to provide total sanitation coverage by 2012 in rural areas. Such commitment is a prerequisite for success. Look at yourself to see what you can do. Look around you to see what we can do together. Like Mahatma Gandhi said: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
I wish you all an inspiring and successful conference.