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ECOSOC TOPIC: Sustainable Development

ECOSOC is a broad assembly of several sub committees designed to deal with economic and social issues. It is the purpose of this committee to facilitate communication and action within the United Nations as well as its subcommittees. Sustainable development has become a major Economic and Social issue in the past few years. There are many sub categories that fall under the broad heading of Sustainable Development. In this conference we will be focusing on 3 of these categories: Poverty, Fresh Water, and Human Settlement.


The years following the Rio Conference (1992) have witnessed an increase in the number of people living in absolute poverty, particularly in developing countries. The enormity and complexity of the poverty issue could endanger the social fabric, undermine economic development and the environment, and threaten political stability in many countries.

The General Assembly, in its 1997 Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 (para 27) decided that poverty eradication should be an overriding theme of sustainable development for the coming years. It is one of the fundamental goals of the international community and of the entire United Nations system, as reflected not only in Chapter 3 of Agenda 21, but also in commitment 2 of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development.

Priority actions include:

•  Improving access to sustainable livelihoods, entrepreneurial opportunities and productive resources.

•  Providing universal access to basic social services.

•  Progressively developing social protection systems to support those who cannot support themselves.

•  Empowering people living in poverty and their organizations.

•  Addressing the disproportionate impact of poverty on women.

•  Working with interested donors and recipients to allocate increased shares of ODA to poverty eradication.

•  Intensifying international cooperation for poverty eradication.

Fresh Water

"Water is needed in all aspects of life. The general objective is to make certain that adequate supplies of water of good quality are maintained for the entire population of this planet, while preserving the hydrological, biological and chemical functions of ecosystems, adapting human activities within the capacity limits of nature and combating vectors of water-related diseases. The multi-sectoral nature of water resources development in the context of socio-economic development must be recognized, as well as the multi-interest utilization of water resources for water supply and sanitation, agriculture, industry, urban development, hydropower generation, inland fisheries, transportation, recreation, low and flat lands management and other activities" (Chapter 18, Agenda 21).

The rationale for the sustainable development and management of freshwater resources is clearly articulated in chapter 18 of Agenda 21 . Today it is widely recognized that an i ntegrated approach to freshwater management offers the best means of reconciling competing demands with supplies and a framework where effective operational actions can be taken. It is thus valuable for all countries at all stages of development.  

 Further recommendations to support the implementation of chapter 18 were taken by the Commission on Sustainable Development at its second (1994)  and sixth (1998) sessions; by the Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management in Harare 1996 , the United Nations General Assembly at its nineteenth Special Session to review the implementation of Agenda 21 (1997) and reviewed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) through its Plan of Implementation.

Current global water challenges and future targets are clearly stated in the Millennium Development Declaration (2000) - which includes the access to safe drinking water as one of its Millennium Development Goals - and are strengthened and expanded in the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The key role of sustainable water management for poverty eradication has been one of the key outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development

Central statements related to freshwater and sanitation issues:

•  Halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water 

•  Halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation

•  Combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought and floods

•  Develop integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans by 2005, with support to developing countries

•  Support developing countries and countries with economies in    transition in their efforts to monitor and assess the quantity and quality of water resources

•  Promote effective coordination among the various international and intergovernmental bodies and processes working on water-related issues, both within the United Nations system and between the United Nations and international financial institutions

The emphasis on action-oriented policies and implementation has been the main focus of the World Summit for Sustainable Development. Two further initiatives have complemented the plan of implementation: Partnership initiatives (Type II outcome) and the WEHAB Initiative.  

The partnership initiative aims at establishing new partnerships supporting the implementation of sustainable development issues bringing together governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, scientific and research communities, local authorities, universities and business and initiating new forms of collaboration among all stakeholders. The WEHAB initiative, focusing on five key thematic areas of crucial global importance: Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity (WEHAB), was proposed by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to bring additional impetus on action at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. The WEHAB initiative consisted of a series of  all  discussion rounds and interactive moderated dialogues with governments and all major stakeholders at WSSD.

 In recognition of the central importance of water resources as a key to sustainable development, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the year 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater. The International Year of Freshwater provides the international community with an excellent opportunity to raise awareness globally, promote best practices, motivate people and mobilize resources in order to meet basic human needs and manage water in a sustainable way. The International Year activities are being coordinated, on behalf of the UN system, by UN DESA, UNESCO with the support of UNEP.

 The Division for Sustainable Development, through its Water, Natural Resources and SIDS branch, provides project execution and policy advisory services  at the request of interested countries to promote and support in practice integrated water resources management at the international, national, regional, local and basin level. These services are based on a contemporary technical cooperation model that links current political discussions with the realities in the field.

Human Settlement

Human Settlements is discussed in Chapter 7 of Agenda 21. Here it is noted that, in industrialized countries, the consumption patterns of cities are placing severe stress on the global ecosystem, while settlements in the developing world need more raw material, energy and economic development simply to overcome basic economic and social problems.

Countries need to take a more integrated approach to development, with high priority being given to the needs of the urban and rural poor, the unemployed and the growing number of people without any source of income. At the same time, greater external assistance is needed to help generate the internal resources needed to improve the living and working environments of all people by the year 2000 and beyond.

Human Settlements was discussed at the second and third sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development and during the nineteenth Special Session of the General Assembly. In the context of the Commission's multi-year programme of work, human settlements will next be taken up at the eighth session of the Commission, in 2000, as a part of the discussion on integrated planning and management of land resources.

The main focuses in sustained human settlement:

•  Providing adequate shelter for all;

•  Improving human settlement management;

•  Promoting sustainable land-use planning and management;

•  Promoting the integrated provision of environmental infrastructure: water, sanitation, drainage and solid-waste management;

•  Promoting sustainable energy and transport systems in human settlements;

•  Promoting human settlement planning and management in disaster-prone areas;

•  Promoting sustainable construction industry activities;

•  Promoting human resource development and capacity-building for human settlement development.

Research Documents:

United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development acting as the preparatory Committee for the World Summit on Sustainable Development Organizational Session-- New York , 30 April- 2 May  2001

United Nations General Assembly 19th Special Session New York , 23-27 June 1997

United Nations General Assembly 4th Session New York , 18 April 3 May 1996

United Nations General Assembly 3rd Session New York , 11-28 April 1995

Research Links:

United Nations Social Policy and Development

World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen)

First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty

PovertyNet (World Bank)

Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Africa and the Least Developed Countries

People2People: a partnership of NGOs reporting on poverty initiatives worldwide

Editions Quart Monde: activities and information related to 17 October, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty


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