If WEHAB Today, We Have Tomorrow. (Perspective)

Article excerpt

As President Halonen observes in the preceding article, the United Nations has a central role in safeguarding global development and combining positive economic development, the well-being of the people and the environment. In the context of the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), Secretary-General Kofi Annan had proposed five key areas for particular focus: water, energy, health, agriculture and bio-diversity, and these have been brought together under the acronym WEHAB. These are areas "in which progress is possible with the resources and technologies at our disposal today", Mr. Annan said.

We should be able to help at least one billion people without drinking water and two billion without sanitation.

Electricity and other modern energy services should reach the more than two billion without them, while reducing over-consumption, promoting renewable energy and addressing climate change through a ratified Kyoto Protocol.

Halt the deaths of three million people each year from air pollution, addressing effects of toxic and hazardous materials, and lower the incidence of malaria and African guinea worm-spread through polluted water and poor sanitation.

Assure protection to two thirds of the world's agricultural lands affected by land degradation by reversing it.

Build "a new ethic of global stewardship", challenging processes that have destroyed about half of the world's tropical rainforest and mangroves, threatened more than two thirds of the world's coral reefs and decimated the planet's fisheries.

Two weeks of intensive negotiations over the plan of action that Governments will adopt at the Summit concluded on 7 June in Bali, Indonesia, with substantial agreement on a wide range of issues that could boost efforts to fight poverty and protect the environment. But the talks could not bridge differences on several global key trade issues that still will have to be resolved at Johannesburg. At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, the international community committed itself to a comprehensive plan of action known as Agenda 21, which embraced economic growth, social development and environmental protection, to achieve sustainable development in the twenty-first century. Ten years later, with progress towards most of Agenda 21 goals sorely lagging, the Johannesburg Summit is seen as a fresh opportunity to adopt concrete steps to meet the challenges involved, which are now ever more urgent.

At the Johannesburg Summit, participants will agree on a political declaration. They will define an implementation programme that specifies what priority actions Governments agree are necessary. And there will be announcements of partnership initiatives or specific undertakings that will yield measurable action in particular areas, independent of any global consensus on the details.

In two earlier preparatory meetings, participants honed in on areas where action was essential--and realizable--including poverty reduction, the preservation of natural ecosystems and resources, expansion of access to clean water, improved sanitation and electricity, change in harmful patterns of consumption and production, and special attention to Africa. …