Toespraak van de Prins van Oranje bij ministeriële rondetafel over afvalwaterbeheer tijdens het 6e Wereld Water Forum in Marseille (Frankrijk)

13 maart 2012

De toespraak is uitgesproken in het Engels.

Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

Thank you for inviting me to join you today in my capacity as Chair of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation for an in-depth discussion on wastewater management.

As some of you may know, the Board is an independent body established by former United Nations Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan to provide advice and galvanise action on water and sanitation issues. Our members include dignitaries, technical experts, academics and activists, bringing a wide variety of skills and experience to the table. What binds us is our shared belief that water and sanitation are two fundamental building blocks of development. We do not implement or fund projects. Instead, the Board plays a catalytic role by bringing actors together to advance water and sanitation coverage in developing countries. Given our niche, you are a vital audience. Most of you play a role in the daily practice of wastewater treatment. You can join the wastewater revolution and make an important difference for the billions of people who don't enjoy the benefits of wastewater treatment.

The theme of this year's World Water Forum is 'Time for Solutions'. The Board believes that improving and expanding wastewater management is essential for the future. Within the development community, we are making the point that sanitation does not stop at the toilet. Unless excreta is safely treated AFTER the toilet, the multiple benefits that we know come with good sanitation will simply not be achieved. The scourge of childhood diarrhoea will not be addressed. The economic benefits that effective sanitation systems offer will not be achieved. Human health will simply not improve at the rate we need to see in so many parts of the world. A study published by the University of North Carolina found that if we take the percentage of the global population fortunate enough to have their faeces treated as a measure of sanitation access, only around 3.5 billion people, or 51% of the global population, benefit from sanitation services.

Wastewater management is a challenge, but it is a challenge in which we can find many solutions for the future. After treatment, urban wastewater can be reused for peri-urban agriculture. We know that in many parts of the world, wastewater is already being used for agriculture. This practice should be encouraged, but it must be done in accordance with safety guidelines, such as the globally accepted World Health Organisation Guidelines for Wastewater Reuse. Energy can also be captured from wastewater. According to a recent study by the Newcastle School of Engineering, wastewater contains an average of 7.6 kilo joules per litre. This is 20% more than previously estimated.

Transporting water produces sizeable greenhouse gas emissions, and the energy required accounts for as much as 35 to 40 per cent of many municipal energy bills. New systems should use much less water and be much more energy efficient, and so contribute to our climate change efforts. We need more affordable systems adapted to local conditions that are as small as possible and as big as necessary. For example, small-scale aerobic ponds, with biodigesters that allow for biogas recovery not only remove deadly pathogens from water but also produce affordable fuel which can be used for cooking and safe, cheap fertiliser. Membranes which can decontaminate water in a single step are becoming more widely available and less expensive. Of course we won't tear down existing installations - but new installations and retrofits of older systems need to be more innovative and efficient and easier to operate and maintain.

Our Board is not suggesting massive trunk and branch wastewater systems that are prohibitively expensive and prone to failure. Instead, we need a wastewater revolution which promotes innovation, with smaller modular systems that capture energy and clean water for the next appropriate use. In certain cases, on-site sanitation solutions such as waterless toilets which hygienically separate and store faeces safely away from the living environment make the most sense in terms of both technology and finance. All these innovative systems will yield green jobs, which are so desperately needed. We must also remember this: reducing the amount of pollution entering our water should continue to be a primary objective.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need a wholesale paradigm shift. And we need it now. Which is why the Board's current mandate document - the Hashimoto Action Plan II - broadens our existing efforts on sanitation to include a new focus on wastewater collection, treatment and reuse. We agree that wastewater management must be improved to protect human health, to build vibrant cities and to reduce threats to ecosystems. And so, several years ago we incorporated an objective urging a new drive towards wastewater collection, treatment and reuse into our current action plan. Since that time, the Board has been encouraged by the increasing attention accorded to wastewater management by Regional Development Banks, governments and global meetings such as this.  

More recently, the Board identified wastewater management as one of three messages for the Rio +20 process. We suggested that, together, governments should strengthen action to reduce water pollution by adopting a shared vision of urban, industrial and agricultural wastewater management at Rio +20. Right now, there is no internationally agreed target for wastewater management and no system to effectively monitor how much wastewater countries and the global community are treating. We believe Rio +20 is a well-timed opportunity for the global community to recognise the links between wastewater, food and energy by rallying around a common vision of wastewater management.

It is high time to acknowledge that wastewater is a vital resource for development.  In June, we hope governments will take up this call in Rio, but this will only happen if we can make a case for the importance of wastewater management. The current Rio +20 zero draft recognises the need to set goals for wastewater management. The Board fully supports this strong wording on wastewater management. Pairing this commitment with a system of wastewater data collection and monitoring would be a positive step and could lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future. As members of this group, you are in a perfect position to help ensure that this wording is included in our Rio +20 outcome document by working with your governments and through your networks. Crafting a strong vision on wastewater treatment during this session and at this Forum will help build the momentum we need for Rio +20.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I encourage every participant to take a moment today to envision what we want the world's cities and towns to look like in the future. The decisions we make today and the systems we put in place will have a profound impact, not only in the coming years, but also on future generations. Let's unite in a wastewater revolution that will help move the world towards sustainability and recognition of equity, with good jobs and clean environments. An important part of the future we want includes innovation, pollution reduction and expansion of wastewater management. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank you once more for inviting me here today. I look forward to our discussion.

 Thank you.