UNGA President H.E. John W. Ashe organizes UN Debates on Water, Sanitation and Sustainable Energy

UNGAOn February 18th and 19th , 2014, the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convened a three part thematic debate entitled “Water, Sanitation, and Sustainable Energy in the post 2015 development agenda”. The debate sought to initiate discussion on priority areas for the post-2015 development agenda.

The panels 

The 2-day debate was divided into panels, including The Sustainable Energy Nexus and The Water Energy Nexus. Each of these panels consisted of national representatives the UNGA and experts in the fields.

The state of world poverty

Here are some key facts on lack of access to water, sanitation and energy that highlight the state of extreme poverty that remains in the world:


  • 2.5 billion people lack access to sanitation
  • 1.4 billion do not have access to electricity
  • Over 1 billion children die every year due to unsafe drinking water (that’s 3000 children a day)
  • About 1 billion practice open defecation
  • 783 million live without access to clean water

For an illustration of what it is like to live in such dire poverty, please click here for a short documentary about 4 Americans living on a dollar a day in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, and the 6th poorest country in the world.

Background to the debate

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals outlined what the world should aim for going into the new millennium (2000-2015). As this time frame will soon draw to a close, the United Nations is now working tirelessly on what to do after 2015. This thematic debate helped raise the curtain to the discussion on Water, Sanitation and Sustainable Energy in the post-2015 development agenda.


Setting the Stage: H.E. John Ashe and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon


Both the opening remarks of the President of the 68th Session of the UNGA, John Ashe, and those of the UN Secretary General , Ban Ki-Moon, acted as anofficial announcement that the post-2015 development agenda of the United Nations should resolve member nations to debate, develop and find funding for projects relating to Water, Sanitation and Sustainable Energy.

A development challenge:

H.E. John Ashe stated that “the water, sanitation and sustainable energy crises ARE the pre-eminent development challenges of the world” to which he added, “sanitation and sustainable energy [are]…a matter of moral imperative for the entire international community…we need to ensure that access to clean and safe water, sanitation and sustainable energy services are provided without further delay”.

For H.E. John Ashe’s Full Statement click here.

A matter of justice and opportunity:

Noting that someone living in a slum likely pays more for water than those from wealthy neighborhoods, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon emphasized the importance of eradicating extreme poverty and providing universal access to safe water, sanitation and energy by 2030 as a matter of “justice and opportunity”. Reminding the international community of the UN’s two distinct call for actions on these issues, the Secretary General pointed to the CEO Water Mandate which engages the international business community in water and sanitation issues and the Climate Summit he has arranged for September 23, 2014 to help tackle global warming, a crisis, he reminded, which if left unconsidered could undermine the international efforts to provide universal and equitable access to water and energy.

For H.E Ban Ki-Moon’s Full Statement click here.

The Sustainable Energy Nexus: the key to poverty reduction

During “The Sustainable Energy Nexuspanel, participants focused on the importance and necessity of creating stronger, more efficient electric infrastructures in the developing world. Opening the session, the Chair, H.E. Bartelemy Kassa, Minister for Energy, Oil and Mineral Exploration, Water and Development of Renewable Energies in Benin, stressed that “renewable energy will be critical to ensure Green Economy”.

sustainable energy Evolving the energy market and working towards producing less oil-based energy and greenhouse gas emissions while reaching the international community’s economic/GDP goals is indeed the only way to accomplish this goal. H.E. Greir O. Pederson, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations, one of the speakers on the panel, argued that, not only is “development…not possible without energy”, but that “sustainable energy is the key to poverty [reduction] and climate change”.


Questions for the reader:

–       How do you think our energy system could be more Earth-friendly?

–       What in your opinion makes an energy source renewable?


The Water Energy Nexus: a call for integrated targets

Chaired by Mr. Masood Khan, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, “The Water Energy Nexus” panel helped to highlight how water and energy use and demand are intrinsically connected.


Demands for additional funding:

Mr. Pulod Muhiddinov- Deputy Minister of Energy and Watch Resources from Tajikistan, emphasized that the post-2015 agenda goals must include an integrated full mobilization of finances and water related goals, and a call for broad based introduction that provides opportunity for improving implementation of the Water Energy Nexus based on the fact that there is an inadequate amount of freshwater supply and sanitation and severe electrical shortage in the winter months in Tajikistan.

Phasing out water and energy subsidies to address a pattern of resource depletion:

Mr. Najob Saab: Secretary General, Arab Forum for Environment & Development (AFED), focused on the topic of the Arab region. Stating that the Arab region not only holds the bulk of the world’s water reserves and 50% of the world’s desalination capacity, he stated that it was predicted that by the end of 2100 there would be a 25% decrease in precipitation in this region.  He explained that this pattern of resource depletion required institutional and policy reforms in the water and energy efficiency sectors. To do this, Mr. Saab suggests a phase out of water and energy subsidies to motivate the private sector to do the right thing and diversify energy production. Pointing to renewable energy sources, Mr. Saab suggested that solar energy is underutilized and could “help diversify and power a more sustainable future”.

Fears of oversimplification by government delegates: Some of the government participants did voice some reservations on the “Nexus”, supporting integration rather than a “silo” approach to the new Post 2015 agenda, while others cautioned against subsuming one topic underneath another, or creating a nexus that may limit consideration of, over “oversimplify,” each issue.


Question for the reader:

–       What water conservation measures are in place in your country? Do you think more could be done?



Despite some of the reservations by delegates, on the structure of policy initiatives, the debate was heavily in favor of working towards a greener future and emphasized the need for energy reform, more funding for water and sanitation and a call to the private sector to be a part of the efforts.

Wu_Hongbo_largeConcluding the debate, Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo explained that the “resource nexus” embodies the key principles of sustainable development, by balancing the social, economic and environmental dimensions. Calling for national institutions to be “flexible” and “adaptive” he explained that the reforms required by the Nexus process must “allow for innovation and the development of a strong evidence base, which can be shared and used to influence policy” to help all countries achieve sustainable resources management and improved resource use efficiency overall.

For more information about the work of UNGA President H.E. John William Ashe please click here for an exclusive GFDD Global Roundtable meeting between him and GFDD Executive Director Ms. Natasha Despotovic.


Questions for the reader:

–       How do you think our energy system could be more Earth-friendly?

–       What in your opinion makes an energy source renewable?

–       What water conservation measures are in place in your country? Do you think more could be done?



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