(Texte disponible uniquement en anglais)
Dear Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak,
Dear Women and Children of Alwar and Tonk,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Last summer, my husband Prince Philippe and I visited the Unicef Belgium exhibition on water and sanitation in Brussels. We both wanted to generate awareness for and support these complex issues that are of outmost importance to economic development, environmental protection and above all to survival of humanity.
Speaking in public about personal hygiene and sanitation is not something one does every day. I would even say "it is not done at all!" Well, it is about time we broke this taboo.
Too many people are dying every day from lack of water and adequate sanitation, mainly because of ignorance on what exactly they should do as they have never had the opportunity to find out. It is unacceptable that in this day and age more than 2 billion people around the world do not have access to basic sanitation services; an estimated 42.000 people die every week from diseases related to poor water quality and an absence of adequate sanitation. I want to stress that education is a key factor in building and maintaining a healthy and sustainable society. And we all know that good public health is the basis for any development and improvement in society, be it rural or urban, rich or poor.
These issues are strongly connected to virtually all the Millennium Development Goals, in particular those involving the environment, education, gender equality, the reduction of child mortality and poverty.
When I heard about your project, I did not hesitate for a moment to come here. I wanted to witness your achievements and to share with you your experiences.
Sulabh provides an inclusive approach with a focus on the improvement of human rights, the empowerment of women, the environment, health care and education for those who are forced to live on the margins of society. Sulabh's never ceasing efforts have liberated and socially and economically promoted a group of marginalised people, in particular women and girls. Sulabh has achieved extraordinary results in the field of sanitation. Over the years your activities have stretched out all over the world.
The organisation deserves credit for the amazing work it has completed. And I congratulate you on receiving the Stockholm Water Prize in 2009!
I really admire you - girls and boys, women and men - who are fighting for respect, human dignity, equal treatment and social justice for all. As Mahatma Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world". That is exactly what you have done!
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, 40 years ago you understood already that water and sanitation are about much more than just building toilets. You defended -rightly so- a holistic approach towards a peaceful social change.
I congratulate you sincerely for your vision and your courage to restore human dignity to thousands of people living in poverty and lacking water and sanitation something that has all too frequently become a public health risk.
I congratulate your staff, school children and teachers, but especially the girls and women present here.
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, ladies and gentlemen, dear children, thank you for receiving me so warmly here today and for giving me the opportunity to learn more about the Sulabh Centre. I look forward seeing the rest of Sulabh's work.