UNSGAB online Conference, 12 February 2021


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 12 February 2021

Dear Friends,

In its last message to the world in November 2015, the United Nations Secretary-Generals' Advisory Board on Water & Sanitation (UNSGAB) urged governments, the UN and the private sector to adopt a more globally coordinated approach to water. One where policies would match the realities of all, and our future’s common needs.

A little over five years later, while the context has dramatically changed, the message remains valid, and all the more urgent. This is why this meeting with former members of UNSGAB is so important.

The COVID-19 crisis is a stark reminder that “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water and to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all” – the ambition of SDG6 – is one of the keys to sustain an inclusive development.

It is simply not acceptable that, still today, one in three people worldwide does not have access to safe drinking water. And it is not acceptable that two out of five people do not have a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water.

The policy responses to the pandemic have led to historic economic disruptions throughout the world. Decline in real per capita income and increasing poverty levels will intensify affordability constraints. This is unsustainable. Water is the most important of our natural resources. It is one of the first lines of defence to fight the pandemic. Everyone should be granted safe access to it.

National and local governments are in the frontline to provide quality water services. They must acknowledge such constraints to deal efficiently with all challenges.

For instance, since the start of the crisis, many cities and utilities provided partial exemptions on water and sanitation tariffs. Such exemptions, coupled with a reduction in water consumption given closures and reduction in commercial activities, will affect revenues from water tariffs, projected to decline by 15% globally.

The short-term liquidity crisis is likely to become a structural financial issue, exacerbating the current funding gap, with pervasive consequences on investments.

This is why the UNSGAB’s message remains relevant, if not more crucial. It is also why this UNSGAB+5 meeting is particularly timely.

It further strengthens our collective call to raise the profile of water in the political agenda, at a time when recovery plans can provide additional funding for water-related investments. But to work, all parties should unite to answer this wake-up call. Public spending will only deliver if combined with policy, governance and financial action. The Recommendation of the OECD Council on Water, which our member states unanimously endorsed in December 2015, can guide governments’ initiatives.

In particular, four courses of action can align policies, governance and finance to needs:

  1. Make the smartest use of existing sources of finance and assets. For instance, better co-ordination amongst donors investing in water and sanitation can ensure effective use of limited external funding.
  2. Minimise future investment needs by planning, setting priorities and sequencing investment.
  3. Mobilise additional sources of finance. Official Development Assistance for water and sanitation reached USD 10 billion in 2019, up by 3% compared to 2018. However, external funding remains insufficient compared with actual needs. We need to better understand how public and development finance can be used strategically to mobilise commercial capital.
  4. Strengthen the enabling environment for investment in water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Water governance is key to expedite investments. The OECD Principles on Water Governance indicate the way forward. Similarly, institutional and regulatory frameworks for investment and financial markets can direct financing flows towards investments in water.

UNSGAB colleagues, dear friends:

Access to water and sanitation is essential to beat the pandemic. It is critical to launch sustainable recovery strategies and build back better. And most importantly, it is a determinant factor for economic development focused on inclusion, well-being and better lives for all.

We are running behind in our commitments. We have not delivered yet. I hope that we will use today’s meeting to live up to our responsibilities.

Count on the OECD!

Thank you.


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