UNDP’s Human Development Report: Global water and sanitation crisis is a “silent emergency” – UN Country Team praises Viet Nam’s commitment to the issue, but gaps must be closed

Nov 10, 2006

HA NOI For less than five days’ worth of global military spending and less than half what rich countries spend each year on mineral water, the world’s water and sanitation crisis could be averted and millions of lives could be saved, said UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report (HDR) 2006.

Entitled, Beyond Scarcity: Power, poverty and the Global Water Crisis, this year’s HDR aims at getting water and sanitation on the global agenda and highlights the fact that the issue overwhelmingly affects the poor – almost two in three people lacking access to clean water and more than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day.

“You can find war and conflict on the front page of any newspaper, on any day of the year, but we rarely hear about the silent, preventable deaths resulting from diarrhoea, for example, which were six times greater than the average annual number of deaths due to armed conflict in the 1990s,” said UN Resident Coordinator John Hendra at this year’s HDR launch in Ha Noi. “Achieving water security for all would mean that every person has access to enough safe water at an affordable price to lead a healthy, dignified and productive life. It would also mean sustaining the ecological systems that provide water and also depend on water.”

The central argument of the 2006 Human Development Report is that access to a safe and affordable water supply should be considered a basic human right. Governments can and should recognize this right by ensuring that all citizens have access to a minimum of 20 litres of clean water per day, and that those who cannot afford to pay get it for free.

This year’s report highlights Viet Nam’s progress in investing in water and sanitation, but also points out the wide gaps in access and quality. UNDP, UNICEF, WHO and the Government of Viet Nam each provided perspectives on the issue to jointly launch the report in Viet Nam.

 "Over two thirds of the Vietnamese population are affected by diseases related to unsafe water and poor sanitation," said Dr. Hans Troedsson, World Health Organization Representative in Viet Nam. "The Government's national strategy on rural water and sanitation which aims to provide access to clean water and sanitation by 2020, must be given adequate priority and funding if we hope to see fair and sustainable development."

“At of the end of 1998, the proportion of rural people in Viet Nam with access to safe drinking water was still low at about 23 million people or 32 percent,” said Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat in his opening remarks.  “In order to quickly increase the number of rural people with access to clean water and the number of rural households with access to hygienic latrines, the Government developed and implemented the National Targeted Programme on Rural Clean Water and Sanitation 1999 - 2005.”

According to MARD, this programme has resulted in major gains with 60 percent of rural populations having access to clean water (nearly 40 million people), 50 percent of rural households had access to hygienic latrines, with growing waste water treatment facilities for animal farms and craft villages.

“Viet Nam’s achievements in water and sanitation are indeed encouraging. However, greater investment is needed, especially for those who live in remote areas and for sanitation and hygiene promotion,” said Mr. Jesper Morch, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam. “Children have much greater chances to survive, develop and grow with safe water and good sanitation and hygiene. UNICEF will continue to work in partnership with the Government of Viet Nam to ensure that all schools have safe water and sanitation facilities to practice proper hygiene by the year 2010.”

Unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene are especially lethal for children, causing diarrhoeal diseases which are big killers in low income countries. It is estimated that nearly 5 million children (15 %) do not have access to safe water and thirteen million children (39%) do not have access to proper sanitation in Viet Nam.

The Report sets out three key recommendations:

  1. Make water a human right—and mean it: “Everyone should have at least 20 litres of clean water per day and the poor should get it for free,” says the Report. “Compare that to someone in the UK or USA sending 50 litres down the drain each day by simply flushing their toilet.”
  2. Draw up national strategies for water and sanitation: Governments should aim to spend a minimum of one percent of GDP on water and sanitation, and enhance equity, the authors urge: Water and sanitation suffer from chronic under-funding. Public spending is typically less than 0.5 percent of GDP. Research for the 2006 HDR shows that this figure is dwarfed by military spending in many countries. The Report’s authors urge all governments to prepare national plans for accelerating progress in water and sanitation, with ambitious targets backed with financing to the tune of at least one percent of GDP, and clear strategies for overcoming inequalities.
  3. Increased international aid: The Report calls for an extra US$3.4 billion to $4 billion annually: Development assistance has fallen in real terms over the past decade, but to bring the MDG on water and sanitation into reach, aid flows will have to double, says the Report.

“Either we take concerted action now to bring clean water and sanitation to the world’s poor, or we consign millions of people to lives of avoidable poverty, poor health and diminished opportunities, and perpetuate deep inequalities within and between countries. We have a collective responsibility to succeed,” said UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis.

“Viet Nam has made great progress already, achieving the target for water set out in the Millennium Development Goals, and the forecast is that 85 percent of rural households will have access to clean water by the end of the current SEDP in 2010,” said UN Resident Coordinator John Hendra. “But several challenges remain. Investment in urban infrastructure must increase to provide clean water and sanitation to Viet Nam’s rapidly growing cities, and more attention in awareness-raising campaigns is needed to ensure that individual rural households prioritise the construction, use and maintenance of sanitation facilities.”

Viet Nam’s launch of UNDP’s flagship report was one of many happening simultaneously across the world today.  The HDR includes the Human Development Index, a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: life expectancy at birth; knowledge as measured by the adult literacy rate and combined gross enrolment ratio for primary, secondary and tertiary schools and; standard of living as measured by GDP per capita and cost of living via purchasing power parity (PPP).

Global HDI rankings provide countries with an indication of their relative performance over an extended period of time, but year-to-year changes have limited analytical value because of period revisions to the underlying data. This year, using figures from 2004, Viet Nam ranked 109 of 177 countries.

A full copy of the Human Development Report 2006, press kit and country profiles are available at: http://hdr.undp.org/hdr 2006

ABOUT THIS REPORT: The Human Development Report continues to frame debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity. It is an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Kevin Watkins is the Lead Author of the 2006 report, which includes special contributions from U.K. Chancellor Gordon Brown, Nigeria’s former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, President Lula of Brazil, Former U.S. President Carter, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The Report is translated into more than a dozen languages and launched in more than 100 countries annually. Further information can be found at http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006. The 2006 Human Development Report is published in English by Palgrave Macmillan.

Contact informationMichael Coleman, Tel: (84-4) 942-1495 x161
email: michael.coleman@undp.org

or Nguyen Viet Lan, Tel: (84-4) 942-1495 x186 
email: nguyen.viet.lan@undp.org