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Speech to the UN on World Water Day

New York March 2007

On behalf of Lord Patel and myself, can I welcome you all today and to thank such important partners as WaterAid and World Vision for joining us. We are here to draw attention on World Water Day to the dreadful...

On behalf of Lord Patel and myself, can I welcome you all today and to thank such important partners as WaterAid and World Vision for joining us.

We are here to draw attention on World Water Day to the dreadful consequences of millions of children being denied clean water and proper sanitation - and to redouble our efforts to tackle this scandal.

Our children are fortunate to live in a country where these very basics of human life are taken for granted.

But that’s not the case even in the 21st century for so many children throughout the world.

More than 400 million children, it is estimated, live without access to a safe drinking source.

Over twice as many - almost one billion - lack proper sanitation facilities.

The price they pay is huge.

Five thousand children die every day of every year because they drink dirty water.

Of the 10 million children under five who die annually, over one in four succumb to diseases caused by unsafe water and inadequate or non-existent sanitation.

In fact, at any one time, half the population of developing countries are suffering illness from these two inter-linked causes.

In some parts of the world the situation is even more desperate.

In East and Southern Africa nearly 40% of the population live without access to adequate sanitation.

And, of course, all this has a huge impact on our hopes for a fairer, better and more peaceful world.

For clean water is integral to life, health, education and prosperity.

The daily grind, for example, of finding and fetching water can take hours out of every day.

This task largely falls on the shoulders of young people - and young girls in particular, cutting the hours they can spend in schooling.

So for these children and especially girls, improved water and basic sanitation means freedom and the chance to learn.

Benefits which in turn they will pass onto their own families to improve health and extend prosperity.

All this explains why why the world, through the Millennium Development Goals, pledged to halve the number of people without access to these absolutely essential services by 2015.

And it is also why UNICEF has set up a task force to bring together partners, foundations and NGO’s to help ensure this target can be met.

I was proud to be asked to join the taskforce and to do what I can to raise the profile of this huge problem.

What is so impressive about UNICEF is that it strives to ensure young people themselves have a big say in what it does and that’s the case as well with the membership of the taskforce.

It was humbling and heart wrenching to hear directly from some of the young members from Africa and Asia just what the lack of clean water meant to their communities.

It brought all the statistics to life….

I’m sure Kamlesh will speak more about Doly and the other children who came to the world’s leading development and UN specialists like him how they can be helped - and more importantly how the energy and enthusiasm of young people, with our help, can provide the solutions we seek.

Because the message coming over loud and clear - and which I know is central to UNICEF - is that the best way of overcoming these challenges is to help communities to become self-reliant and self-sufficient.

And this is also, of course, at the heart of the pioneering work of Lord Patel and his team at the Centre of Ethnicity and Health.

I’ll leave Kamlesh to talk in detail about his wonderful work but I know the eay he harnesses the knowledge, ideas and energy of local communities has excited both Unicef and World Vision.

I am also delighted that he has secured a UK based donor to support pilot projects in India which will be run in conjunction with community led charities working with young children.

This will, I hope, lead to a fruitful relationship with UK and Indian charities to ensure clean water and sanitation become an integral part of humanitarian programmes - and lead to similar partnerships in Africa which will also value full community involvement.

So there is a great deal more to do. But it is also clear that a great deal is happening. It is up to us to ensure, in every way we can, to ensure we deliver a better future for the millions of children who depend upon us.

Thank you.