News / 25 September 2008

All hands on deck for the Millennium Development Goals

In September this year the UN held its annual meetings in New York. The Dutch government was well represented: with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Development Aid all attending. Both ENDS was also in New York to call for the inclusion of the right to water and sanitation in the Millennium Development Goals. We spoke with the Dutch Prime Minister, attended high-level meetings, and published an opinion article.


At the UN's Annual General Meeting in September, in New York, Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, called for more collaboration in order to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. It's all hands on deck! The Prime Minister pointed out that the goals can only be achieved if all parties work together, including the private sector, civil society organisations and citizens.


Both ENDS and Dutch NGO Simavi supported the call, but argued that it won't be enough. In particular, the right to water is still not reflected in the policies of large financial institutions like the World Bank, which shares responsibility for international poverty relief. This includes the quest to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water (part of MDG number 7 on ensuring environmental sustainability).

A special MDG meeting focused on global access to drinking water and sanitation was organised at the UN in New York, by the Netherlands, Japan, Germany and Tajikistan. This basic human right has been formally acknowledged by the United Nations and approximately 20 countries, who appreciate that water needs to be recognised as a human right if there is to be any real improvement in the supply of drinking water for the poorest of the poor. The Dutch Prime Minister, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Bert Koenders, the Minister of Development Cooperation, all played a part in making this worthwhile initiative happen. For further information, see Minister Koenders' column in METRO (only in Dutch), dated 25 September, and his speech (only in Dutch) of 9 July 2008. The snowball is rolling with more and more countries joining this initiative.


But there is a danger that the meeting in New York won't suffice. The real hurdle doesn't lie in New York, but slightly to the southwest, in Washington, where every year the World Bank spends billions of dollars of rich countries' money to fund development cooperation activities. But the World Bank is not interested in adhering to international agreements on the right to clean water, arguing that banks are about money, not legislation.

Many feel that institutions such as the World Bank should definitely support international agreements and their implementation. A dedicated policy aimed at fighting poverty requires regulation, as the Netherlands knows only too well. But the Netherlands turns 30% of its development budget over to the World Bank (and this pales in comparison to the contributions made by Germany or France). Why should these funds end up with a bank that does not formally underwrite international law?


Since the Netherlands is leading the pack and has formally acknowledged the human right to water, the Dutch Minister of Finance, Wouter Bos, could play a key role here in challenging the World Bank to institute a policy that recognises drinking water as a basic human right.

Our Prime Minister is right that it'll take all hands on deck to reach the Millennium Development Goals. There is also a need to facilitate open and transparent discussions between government leaders, civil society organisations and international organisations. Halving the proportion of the population that have no access to clean drinking water is attainable, but we won't succeed unless the World Bank and other international financial institutions are convinced that the right to safe water is a basic human right.


Daniëlle Hirsch, Director Both ENDS
Rolien Sasse, Director Simavi


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