By Beth Nyaga
In a final report on Wednesday, the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) says the UN needs a scientific body similar to the IPCC for water and sanitation issues that are relevant to much of the post-2015 development agenda, including health, food production and climate change issues.
Kenyan geologist Eric Odada is among prominent academic, business and policy representatives who sit on this board.
Created by then-SG Kofi Annan in 2004 to advance water-related Millennium Development Goal targets, the elite 21-member UNSGAB warns the institutional infrastructure requires a major upgrade for the world to possibly meet water and sanitation-related objectives in the 2030 Agenda.
“There is currently a mismatch between the integrated and ambitious 2030 vision of freshwater and sanitation management and the international political structures available to contribute to its implementation,” says the report, presented by UNSGAB Chair Uschi Eid to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN headquarters, New York.
The Board’s valedictory report underlines that water, sanitation and hygiene are central to human health and contains blunt messaging with the constructive intent of enhancing the UN’s handling of water issues, which have been accorded newly elevated status within the world body.
“Considering that a lot of UN organizations are dealing with water but only as a marginal issue, nothing less than a full-scale water-cultural revolution within the UN is needed,” the report says.
“Relevant UN organizations need to allocate (more) core funding to water and need to review their policies. It is, for example, high time that WHO endorsed water, sanitation and hygiene as primary prevention.”
UNSGAB points out “there is a difference between a drinking water source that is only ‘improved’ and drinking water that is truly safe.”
“In many quarters, the correction has been made: safe means safe, that is, uncontaminated. However, in too many others, including official UN statements, the fallacy persists and the global need for safe drinking water is thus seriously underestimated.”
The UNSGAB report also calls for global-level UN data to better illuminate back-sliding in access to water and sanitation services in cities: “the global regression seen today in urban areas is not currently being explicitly reported.”