Opening Speech by the Prince of Orange

Beppu, Japan, 3 December 2007

1st Asia-Pacific Water Summit.

Your Imperial Highness, Prime Minister, Mr. Mori, Your Excellencies, Mr Chairman, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be with you in Japan, a country that continues to demonstrate a deep commitment to facing and resolving water issues both at home and in the rest of the world.

It is a particular pleasure to be here with His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan, who has recently agreed to be the Honorary President of the UN Secretary- General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. In doing so, His Imperial Highness proves Japan's invaluable contribution to the Board's work, which was first led by my predecessor, the late former Prime Minister Hashimoto. It was in his honour that we renamed our compendium for action the Hashimoto Action Plan. It is a short - 12-page - action-oriented report, and is the only report UNSGAB will write. I will return to it later.

At this Summit of Asian and Pacific leaders, we are continuing an ancient historical tradition - to discover more effective ways to manage water. Human history is intimately intertwined with water. Social and technological progress can be linked to successful attempts to live with water. Solving water problems in both rural and urban contexts is one of the keys to unlocking economic growth.

I whole heartily welcome and endorse the aim of this Summit to contribute to sustainable water management in order to achieve the MDG targets in Asia and the Pacific.

The Asia-Pacific Region faces some of the world's biggest and most difficult water management problems. The recently published fourth assessment report of the IPCC predicts that climate change will cause a number of serious water problems in your region. Freshwater availability will decrease, water security problems will intensify, extra pressure will be put on natural resources and the environment, agricultural and forestry production will decline and sea level rise will threaten coastal areas and especially Small Island States.

Let me quote from the newly published UNDP Human Development Report 2007: "Climate change is the defining human development challenge of the 21st century. Failure to respond to that challenge will stall and then reverse international efforts to reduce poverty. The poorest countries and most vulnerable citizens will suffer earliest and most damaging setbacks, even though they have contributed least to the problem. Looking to the future, no country - however wealthy or powerful - will be immune to the impact of global warming."

Today sees the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, which will discuss these very issues. I sincerely hope that our colleagues in Bali will be able to agree on real results and commitments to tackle this human development challenge!

The Asia Pacific region is also facing enormous challenges in terms of unmet needs in water and sanitation and water-related disasters. According to the Fourth World Water Forum Regional Report, 700 million people living in Asia and the Pacific are without acces to clean drinking water, and over 1.9 billion live without access to improved sanitation. Ladies and gentlemen, all speakers have the same figures today, which is unique but at the same time the more frightening to hear the numbers again and again.

The Fourth World Water Forum Regional Report concluded with a call for concrete actions and commitments in relation to financing, water-related disasters, and water for development and ecosystems. I am happy to see that today we are building on those outcomes. For indeed it was last year in Mexico, at that same Forum, that our Board released the Hashimoto Action Plan to advance the world's progress towards the Millennium Development Goal targets on water and sanitation.

The Hashimoto Action Plan identifies six areas most in need of focused, coordinated action: Financing, Water Operators Partnerships, Sanitation, Monitoring, Integrated Water Resources Management, and Water and Disaster.

Those six areas of action and this Summit's Priority Themes have much in common.

On financing, our Board believes that the central issue is to divert international monetary flows into water and sanitation sectors. Capacity building and local financial schemes adapted to water must be promoted not separately but in concert. The Hashimoto Action Plan accordingly identifies three key actions. First, we must create better governance and transparency in water services. Second, we must expand local service operators' knowledge and awareness of new funding sources while also developing local financial markets. Third, donors should devote their water funding to building capacity in these areas. In the last year and a half, our Board has signed agreements furthering these principles with the OECD, the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

The Hashimoto Action Plan notes that since public water services currently provide more than 90% of the world's water supply, improvements in their capacity would have an immense positive impact on the provision of water services globally. Accordingly, we have proposed a new mechanism to improve public water services based on the concept of mutual support through twinning agreements between water operators, public or private, on a not-for-profit basis. We call this structured programme of cooperation Water Operators Partnerships, or WOPs for short. We were delighted when UN-HABITAT agreed to form the Global Water Operators Partnership Alliance. Already, WOPs are flourishing in Asia, with the Asian Development Bank and the Global Water Partnership collaborating to support Asian water utility operators.

Water is life. Water in the form of flood, tsunami or mudflow is also a threat to life. To lower the human and social costs of such tragedies, the Hashimoto Action Plan suggests that the international community must agree on targets and goals for coping with water-related disasters to create global awareness and political commitment. When disaster comes, water is life again: the displaced need adequate water and sanitation in their temporary shelters. We are working with relief agencies to devise a modular repeatable approach to this challenge. To facilitate this, a High-Level Expert Panel on Water and Disaster met this September in Tokyo. It formulated objectives for funding, developing guidelines for integrating information on flood projections. Cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh with relentless force a few weeks ago, is a good example of what can be achieved. Although every human life lost is one too many, the difference between half a million in the early 1970s and several thousand in 2007 is striking. The solutions are not high-tech or only available to the developed world. I look forward to exploring synergies between this expert panel's work and our discussions on water and disaster over the next few days.

Next year will be a pivotal year for water and sanitation issues. The Hashimoto Action Plan recognised the acute need to galvanise political will to address the sanitation crisis. And so we proposed an International Year. We were delighted when the UN General Assembly unanimously declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation. It was officially launched on 21 November in New York.

I look forward to the regional launch tomorrow and the opportunity to think hard about how best to capitalise on this opportunity to bring improved sanitation to the people of this region. Sanitation is the foundation for health, dignity and development and next year we must make progress.

In 2008, Japan will host the G-8 Summit, and UNSGAB is calling for the G-8 members to re-examine "Water - a G-8 Action Plan," which they adopted in Evian five years ago. Next year, we believe, is pivotal, and we think the G-8 could make an important contribution by renewing their commitment to water and sanitation. Preferably not as item number x under the popular topic of climate change, but as a specific issue, with the full attention deserved by the 2.6 billion of our fellow human beings who still live without adequate sanitation.

Revisiting progress made on agreed targets is another important area of the Hashimoto Action Plan. We must have effective data collection, monitoring and reporting tools so we can determine if progress is being made. We are currently looking at how much to strengthen the Joint Monitoring Programme by WHO and UNICEF, which monitors progress in water delivery and sanitation.

Integrated Water Resources Management is an internationally acknowledged approach that seeks to avoid the lives lost, the money wasted, and the natural capital depleted because of decision-making that did not take into account the wider ramifications of sectoral actions. Our Board believes IWRM is a flexible tool for optimising water contribution to sustainable development, while also ensuring water for ecosystems and environmental flows. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, countries agreed to develop national IWRM Plans and the Hashimoto Action Plan suggested that countries should share their experiences at the sixteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in May 2008. The United Nations responded, and requested that countries share their Plans for review at CSD-16. These Plans are currently being collected and analysed by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and we look forward to a substantive discussion on IWRM next year.

Our Board will be very encouraged if Asian and Pacific leaders take the initiative to develop a regional Ministerial Council on water and sanitation. We commend the effort already made and we urge bold steps to institutionalise the progress so far. In Africa, the African Ministers' Council on Water has been invaluable in providing political leadership and advocacy for water and sanitation. It has, for example, been directly involved with our Board in promoting an African Union Summit on Water and Sanitation next year. A similar model here in the Asia-Pacific region could make a significant contribution to advancing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Asia Pacific region is facing enormous water challenges. Climate change, river basin management, drinking water and sanitation and water-related disasters all demand a swift, appropriate response. Concrete measures are needed to bring the MDGs within reach and to assure sustainable development for all countries and the chance of a safe and healthy future for all your citizens.

Your presence here testifies that you have the will to cooperate and to find solutions. I can assure you of UNSGAB's full support in this difficult process. And on behalf of our Board, I wish you all an interesting, insightful and very productive Summit.

Thank you.