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UN expert hails Bill Gates drive to reinvent the toilet, but warns hardware solutions alone are not enough

GENEVA (22 July 2011) – UN Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque welcomed the multimillion dollar grant offered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at “reinventing the toilet” through new technology to save water and transform human waste into energy and fertiliser. However, she warned “the great challenge ahead is making sure that people actually use the new hardware solutions.”

“New technology alone is not enough to overcome the sanitation and water crisis we face,” said the expert on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. “Investments in software solutions, like awareness rising among the people on the vital importance of sanitation, are crucial to make sure the hardware solutions are actually used, as I have witnessed in some of the countries I have visited.”

“I urge all countries which face challenges in ensuring access to sanitation for the whole population, to associate the creation of hardware solutions with awareness raising and education activities, on hygiene promotion, including hand washing, as well as on the crucial importance of safe sanitation as a means to decrease child mortality and improve health conditions,” Ms. de Albuquerque stressed.

Even though the primary responsibility for the realisation of human rights lies with States, the Special Rapporteur noted that support by other parties – in this case a private foundation – are most welcome. “If we combine the desperate situation the world is facing concerning sanitation with the growing water crisis, the Gates’ initiative proves to be even more valuable,” she said. “It aims at coming up with a solution for sanitation, while avoiding wasting precious water flushing toilets.”

The Special Rapporteur emphasized that sanitation is one of the most off-track of the UN Millennium Development Goals and new ideas for the sector are urgently needed, if the world aims to meet the target of reducing by 50% the number of persons without access to improved sanitation.

“Sanitation is a human right which has been recognised as such by the UN General Assembly precisely one year ago, and through this resolution governments have committed to adopt measures in order to ensure that this right becomes a reality for all,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “Sanitation, as well as water, must hence be safe, culturally acceptable, affordable, accessible and available to all without discrimination.”

Catarina de Albuquerque (Portugal) currently works as a senior legal adviser at the Office for Documentation and Comparative Law (an independent institution under the Portuguese Prosecutor General’s Office) in the area of human rights. She holds a DES in international relations with a specialization in international law from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. Ms. de Albuquerque was appointed in September 2008.

Learn more about the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and work, log on to: www.ohchr.org/SRwaterandsanitation

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