Dear Honorable Kevin Rudd, distinguished guests and Ministers,
It is a pleasure to participate in this important meeting on Investing in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, a topic in which Finance Ministers can play a pivotal role.
Progress is encouraging, but further efforts are needed
The Latin American and the Caribbean, has seen important progress on access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. Progress on access to safely managed water services in the region has plateaued at 79% since 2005, and the access to safely managed sanitation services has seen a continuous upward trend, reaching 49% in 2017.
Yet, we must increase our efforts. These rates of access are still too low, and hide considerable variations between and within countries: whilst 14 countries are on track to meet the SDGs, there are 12 where progress is too slow and 5 where progress is negative. Moreover, the lack of access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene services often particularly affects women and girls, as they are often those who carry the burden of doing long distances to find water.
WASH is more important than ever in the context of the pandemic
These challenges have become even more urgent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With only about 8% of the world population, Latin America and the Caribbean has recorded 26% of all COVID cases and 38% of all COVID-related deaths. And the most vulnerable people, those without access to hygiene and handwashing facilities, have been hit particularly hard.
The economic and social consequences of the crisis have also intensified the financial pressure on water and sanitation service providers. Pressure on public budgets has exacerbated the challenges of financing necessary investments, while real income per capita has declined, intensifying affordability constraints. Moreover, revenues from water tariffs are expected to drop due to a reduction in water consumption and suspended action against non-payers.
Under these conditions, it will be key to shore up the sector’s financing to ensure that these short-term liquidity challenges do not become long-term solvency issues, which would undermine the financial stability of the sector and limit future investments.
We must act fast and on multiple fronts
This dire context is not an excuse to delay or scale back our efforts. On the contrary, a delay of action will only increase the harm inflicted on the most vulnerable, poor and marginalised communities.
To avoid this, we need action on multiple fronts. And Finance Ministers have a key role to play. Let me highlight three key recommendations:
First, strengthening the enabling environment for investment, thus attracting financiers to water-related projects and investments. The OECD Policy Framework for Investment provides a series of key recommendations that can help guide this process.
Second, ensuring that public expenditure programmes – at national and local levels - provide tangible benefits for communities in a cost-effective way.
And third, mobilising additional sources of finance, including domestic commercial finance, or investment from private investors as well as impact investors or patient capital from pension funds.
The OECD stands ready to continue to support these efforts, through our Principles for Water Governance.
Dear colleagues, dear Ministers,
Water, sanitation and hygiene for all is more important than ever in today’s environment. Water is undeniably essential in our daily lives, it is essential to our planet, and essential to our health. Investments in water security and sustainable growth must feature prominently in the recovery packages you have all worked on.
The OECD is ready to keep supporting such efforts. Thank you.