Mr Chair, distinguished delegates,
It is a pleasure and an honour for me to be present here today and to have this opportunity to take part and to speak at the General Assembly.
We are facing a major crisis. According to last year’s Human Development Report, lack of water and sanitation is the greatest single cause of death throughout the world. We urge states to take this seriously, and act now!
Children and young people experience poverty not only as want and lack of opportunities, but also lack of access to basic public services such as clean water, adequate transport, health care, and education.
Lack of access to clean water and safe sanitation is one of the greatest challenges the world is facing. The problem has an enormous impact on the lives of millions of children and young people. It deprives them not only of their right to clean, safe drinking-water, but of other human rights as well. Some children and young people cannot go to school because they have to spend all day fetching and carrying water for their families. Poor sanitation means that others are too sick to go to work. The sad truth is that 1.8 million children die from diarrhoea every year, and 443 million school-days are lost because of water-related illnesses (Human Development Report 2006).
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every state has a duty to fulfil these rights for their children.
The Human Development Report of 2006 focussed on the world’s water situation. It states that the problem is not too little water. The problem is lack of political will to give priority to safe water systems, and water policies that deny people control of their own water supply.
Currently, water services are treated as a commodity in the World Trade Organization (WTO). In the negotiations in the General Agreement on Trade in Services, certain states are requesting that water services should be opened up to foreign corporations. Liberalising water services is being advocated not only in the WTO, but also in other institutions such as the World Bank, which makes it a condition for obtaining loans, funding or debt relief. This is a problem because privatisation of water has often proved to be a bad solution. There are a good many examples of rising prices, reduced access to water, and poorer quality in countries that have privatised water services. This is especially serious for children and young people because they are so vulnerable.
According to economic theory, one commodity can be replaced by another. This logic does not apply to water. Water cannot be replaced. It is a local resource that generally cannot be transported over long distances. Therefore it must not be treated as if it were a commodity. Global trade rules should not apply to water services. Water is far too important a resource to be left to private companies.
The problem is not privatisation as such. The problem arises when privatisation does not put the best interests of individuals first. In such cases business interests are likely to be given priority over children and young people’s rights.
Children and young people’s rights are often not taken into account in these high-level decision-making processes. But in the case of water, it is essential that policy is shaped by the interests of the population as a whole. This means that decisions must be taken at the lowest possible level, and participation by children and young people must be a basic principle.
Empowering young people means allowing them to make informed decisions that affect their lives. Young people should be included in official decision-making processes, and governments should take steps to ensure that their voice is heard through democratic channels at the local, regional and national level. This is in accordance with Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and applies to rights in general as well as to water-related issues.
We also would like to encourage financial contributions to the establishment of the “Opportunities Fund for Youth Development” which was decided upon during the last Governing Council of UN-HABITAT. This fund will be youth led and among others provide resources to clean water and safe sanitation.
To conclude, access to clean water and safe sanitation is a fundamental human right of children and young people, which must not be violated. Water services cannot be regarded as a commodity, and the influence of children and young people within this sector must be strengthened.
• We urge all states and international institutions to withdraw their requests for the privatisation of water services.
• We urge all states to respect the fact that water services are not a commodity or a private service. Water must be treated as a human right, and as such water services should not be included in the GATS.
• We urge governments to include youth representatives when issues that affect young people are being debated at local, national and international levels.
• We strongly encourage the member states of the UN to financially support the establishment of the Youth led Opportunities Fund for Development.