United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development


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EMBARGOED: Thursday 21 April, 11.30 am.
Speech by His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange at the 13th session of the
Commission on Sustainable Development, New York, 21 April 2005, 11.30 am
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
?Twice should be enough.? That is what Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher and teacher,
once said about the man who always thought three times before acting. In other words, if you
want to achieve something, it is better not to postpone the step from thinking to doing for too
long. I believe that is a wise lesson, certainly in light of 2015 ? the deadline for the Millennium
Development Goals ? and Professor Sachs? latest report. Acting means doing. And fortunately,
people the world over are now convinced of that. This thirteenth session of the Commission on
Sustainable Development on turning political commitment into action underscores that.
So I have not come to New York to convince you yet again that something has to happen.
Today I want to talk to yo u about what and how. What are the key elements? And, to fuel
discussion, I want to translate those elements into a concrete suggestion at the end of my speech.
First, it is important always to keep in mind the people you are doing it for. That is easier said
than done. In international conference rooms, the focus usually lies on the big promises:
· to feed two billion extra people,
· to give 2.6 billion people access to sanitation,
· to connect 1.2 billion people to drinking water networks,
· and to give 100 million slum dwellers a roof over their heads.
Perhaps it is these big figures that make it difficult to turn commitments into action. Because
where do you start? The simplest answer is: at the beginning. With that, I mean that the basis for
success lies in simply keeping promises. Of course we will never achieve the Millennium
Development Goals with only regular development funds. But we would be on the right track if
every donor country met the 0.7 per cent commitment. The same applies to developing
countries, but then on the matter of good governance. Countries that have got their social
structures in order get far greater returns from both people and money. The UN secretarygeneral
recently pointed that out again, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.
So turning commitment into action starts with keeping promises. The next step is to choose the
right method. I am convinced that you should start and finish where you want to achieve your
results. And my views were confirmed recently by a number of people who were clearly in a
position to know. A few weeks ago, I spoke to people from various developing countries who
were in the Netherlands for a short but intensive capacity building programme on the subject of
water management in relation to the MDGs. Their message was that genuinely sustainable longterm
solutions start and end at the local level, and that NGOs have to play a leading part. This
advice was spot on. It dovetails seamlessly with the main message being delivered in this Year of
the Micro Credit: that you can often achieve a lot with very few resources, provided you give
local people very specific opportunities. For instance, by focusing on the important role of
women. In addition private players can and must play a much more prominent role.
How does that work in practice? Let me tell you about a very inspiring project, in which I am
indirectly involved. It is now under way in Burundi, and is being implemented by Unicef and
Aqua4all, an organisation of Dutch drinking water companies. 200 wells and two water
distribution systems are being restored, and 4,500 latrines are being built for schools, orphanages
and villages. Part of this project is a large-scale training programme for the people using these
facilities. What?s more, the project is being car ried out using local materials and local labour.
Issues like the environment, sanitation, health, housing and economic reconstruction go hand in
hand. All in all this project leads to maximum results for the relatively modest sum of about four
hundred thousand dollars.
The need to focus on the local level was also one of the most important conclusions of the FAONetherlands
conference on water for food and ecosystems, which was held recently in The
Hague. Only a quarter of the people we want to reach with the MDGs live in cities. The other
three quarters live in rural areas. That is why we talked in The Hague about rural water
management as the cornerstone for rural development. To do that successfully, we need to get
every stakeholder to the table. A system that doesn?t meet local needs or cultural conventions is
doomed to failure. What?s more, an approach like that takes no account whatever of the
knowledge and experience of local people and NGOs. That is why the conference in The Hague
came up with a whole series of action points to boost their role.
The second message that came through loud and clear at the FAO-Netherlands conference was
that only an integrated, sustainable strategy will work. The interaction between water, food and
ecosystems is clear to see. But it is in fact true of everything on the sustainable development
agenda. Most people know and acknowledge that now, but they too find it difficult to practise
what they preach. They often find it much easier to operate only within their own secto r. That is
why the conference in The Hague didn?t only decide what actions were needed for an integrated
approach, but also who should carry them out. For political commitment you need
The need for an integrated strategy applies in particular to the environment. The alarming UN
report on the future of our natural resources underscores that on every page. This report ? the
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment ? shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that sustainability must
be our watchword ? not just on the way to 2015, but beyond that date too.
Let me put it this way: if the international community sees the MDGs as stand-alone projects,
sooner or later we will grind to a halt. For example because at some point increasing shortages of
water will prevent further economic development. We haven?t reached that stage yet, but we need
to face this reality now. In Asia for instance it is much easier to connect large groups of people to
drinking water supplies in the short term than in Africa. So it would be easy to score points that
way. But if you do that, the time will inevitably come when there are hardly any natural resources
left, while you still have the most difficult half of the game to play. And that is the sustainable
development agenda after 2015.
So going for the easy points leads ultimately to even bigger problems. That is why I would say, go
for the long shots too. It doesn?t have to be that difficult, and it can often be done just as quickly.
Provided you have a strategy which allows you to go for more than one MDG at once.
Let me illustrate that with an example from my own field of expertise, water management. A
successful project has been implemented in the Kitui district of Kenya. Thanks to a series of
simple little dams, far more groundwater can now be stored. That is good for local farmers and
food security. But it is also good for the environment. On a bigger scale too, water storage
presents all sorts of opportunities to combine sustainable development goals. Certainly in
countries with unpredictable rainfall patterns, it is very important for a whole variety of sectors,
like farming, water supply, energy and the environment.
The international debate on whether or not to carry out major infrastructure projects, like dams,
is of course very much in the news again. It is not my intention to go into the subject here. But I
would like to say that if countries work together and draft a strategy for the entire river basin,
many problems can be solved. Especially because water storage always calls for serious
consideration of different interests. The best place to build a dam is where the maximum number
of people gain maximum benefits, at the lowest cost to the environment. And the best ones to
decide that are the countries that share the river.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is only a very small step from an integrated strategy to the CSD work programme up to 2015.
This is the last year in which water, sanitation and human settlements are on your agenda. The
CSD has taken some very important steps. But it would be a big mistake to allow your attention
to stray from water-related subjects in the next few years. Because water is a key element in
practically all the topics that will follow, up to 2015. Starting with those on next year?s agenda:
energy and climate.
So you bear a heavy responsibility. Here in this international forum, but at home as well. After all,
the results of this and earlier CSD meetings will now have to be turned into plans, projects and
actions by your governments. You will by now have gathered that I see only one way of doing
that. By cooperating and coordinating with your fellow ministers. Especially your heads of state
and finance ministers, because turning political commitments into actions is above all a matter of
political support, with money coming a close second. It is up to you to deliver both ? here in the
CSD, and at the Millennium Review Summit in September.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At the start of my address I promised to give you fuel for discussion. And I have already g iven
you a foretaste when I said that political commitment needs accountability. My question to you is
simply this. If it is really so important for NGOs and local stakeholders to be involved, and if
everyone agrees that an integrated, sustainable strategy is the only way to work, shouldn?t there be
mechanisms to enforce that? For instance, by making these elements a condition for the funding
of projects. Or by putting together a team of independent experts, including NGO
representatives, in every country to assess projects for compliance? And I?m sure that there are
other ways. What matters is that important, widely accepted principles can be safeguarded. I am
interested to know your views. Not because I want to postpone the step from thinking to doing
any longer. But because, looking to 2015 and beyond, we must hit the bull?s-eye with every shot.
Thank you.