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Speeches & Transcripts

Budapest Water Summit: Speech by Mahmoud Mohieldin

October 11, 2013

Mahmoud Mohieldin Budapest Water Summit Budapest, Hungary

As Prepared for Delivery

Mr. President (Janos Ader), Mr. Secretary-General; Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me express my sincere appreciation to the Government of Hungary for convening this summit and for its leadership on water for development.  It is appropriate that the Water Summit be held in Hungary, a country which has contributed so much in terms of technology and thoughtful policy for water resources management.

This summit is the culmination of the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, and I do not think anyone needs to be convinced of the critical importance of water for life, development and poverty reduction. 

Thus, I would like to focus my remarks on ways we can enhance efforts towards reaching the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.  I’ll also speak about a way forward beyond 2015.

  • While the target of halving the number of people without access to improved sources of water is considered to have been achieved, 1 billion people still lack access to a safe water source.  This important target should be considered a floor for countries to meet, not a ceiling, and we should not rest until everyone has access to safe water.

  • Far less progress has been made on improving sanitation. More than 2.5 billion people still do not have access to improved sanitation. 

The global water and sanitation crisis causes thousands of child deaths every day.  It also causes  global economic losses of an estimated US$260 billion annually, more than double the total amount of official development assistance..  It has an impact on development, security, and economic growth all over the world.

As other distinguished speakers have shared, climate change – with associated floods, droughts, sea-level rise - makes water supply more unpredictable and the world’s growing population is placing even more demand on already stressed water resources.

With roughly 800 days left before the MDGs deadline, every effort must be made to accelerate progress and make smart plans for water in the post-2015 era.

At the World Bank Group we see four specific areas where reinvigorated efforts could make an enormous difference:

First, it’s time to redouble our efforts on sanitation. There are still over 1 billion people who defecate in the open instead of using toilets or other modes of improved sanitation like pit latrines. Changes in behavior at the community level result in a cleaner environment and healthier people who have new opportunities for a better life. Driven by national level leadership, such interventions have proven to be sustainable and scalable.

Second, today there are more mobile devices with access to the internet than human beings.  Let’s seize the unprecedented opportunities provided by modern technology, like crowd sourcing, to tackle water development challenges. For example, apps can enable public officials to tag and respond to citizen complaints about the delivery of water and sanitation services – and create transparency and accountability. In a project in Liberia data collectors on motorbikes used mobile phones to map 10,000 previously unknown water points. The results informed the country’s first water investment plan, launched earlier this year.

Third, let’s leverage innovative ways to draw in financing from the private sector that will expand services for the poor. Countries first need to ensure that water utilities can recover costs so that they can sustain services over time. They need to build strong governance to ensure good service is delivered over the long term.  In Kenya, shadow credit ratings of 43 utilities provided information about the borrowing capacity of urban water service providers – crucial to attract private investors. There is enormous market potential which waits to be tapped by the domestic private sector in providing affordable services to the poorest, un-served people in developing countries.  In Bangladesh, Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania alone the estimated the market for improved on-site sanitation services to be worth US$2.6 billion.  This is a very significant opportunity to improve services that could be unlocked with the right innovations in finance and policy..

Finally, looking at our experiences from the MDGs, we know that targets need a strong implementation framework with supporting financing and quality data to achieve speed, scale and to create accountability.

While these are important steps, much more needs to be done. In agriculture, energy, forestry and cities, decisions are made daily that directly affect the use and availability of water. But too many of these decisions are made in isolation.  And they become vastly more complicated when waters cross international boundaries.   The discussion around the post-2015 sustainable development goals gives us an opportunity to break down silos between different sectors of the economy and come to integrated approaches, aimed at poverty reduction and sustainable development.

In the end, water is managed by people – farmers, households, and industrial users.  Goals agreed at the international level will only be achieved with the cooperation and good will of all at the regional, national and local levels.  Negotiations are fraught with perceived risks – risks associated with the capacity and knowledge of various parties, voice and accountability, sovereignty and autonomy, equity and access, stability and support. 

These risks must be acknowledged, and strategies devised to mitigate them.  The challenge is to each one of us, as much as it is to the farmer, consumer or industrialist to modify his behavior.  Can we build the institutions, knowledge and skills to manage water more effectively?  Do we have the skills to broker lasting agreements between competing interests?  Are we open to innovations in financial instruments and guarantees?  Are we seen as legitimate and honest brokers of diverse constituencies, including young people who will inherit our environmental legacy?

World Bank Group President Jim Kim announced in April that the Bank has set the goals of ending absolute poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity for the poorest 40 percent -- both to be achieved in a sustainable way.  The Bank (along with the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda) recognizes that ensuring water will continue to flow and that people have access to proper sanitation are essential to achieving these goals.  It is therefore reorganizing its technical practices to enable the delivery of higher quality, more integrated solutions.  I’m pleased to announce that water, including sanitation, and climate change will be two of the select areas of focus.  

As the largest multilateral donor for water development we are ready to increase our efforts on all those issues I touched upon.  We are looking forward to work with you, our partners, and to seize this opportunity to discuss what action is necessary and achievable to secure water resources in a world of climate change.

Thank you.