GENEVA – United Nations expert on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque today called on States to devote more resources to sanitation, to use existing ones more effectively, and to begin treating adequate access to toilets as a human right with serious implications for the enjoyment of other fundamental rights.
“Lack of sanitation implies the loss of millions of school and work days as well as enormous health costs,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation.
“The sanitation sector is in desperate need of more financial resources, in both developing and developed countries, but investing in sanitation is good business and a smart deal,” noted Ms. de Albuquerque, stressing that for every US dollar spent, there is an average return of US$9 in averted costs and productivity gains. “In developed nations, advances in life expectancy and child mortality were only achieved after governments began making substantial investments in sanitation.”
“Especially in a period of economic crisis, it is fundamental to invest in crucial sectors that have a multiplier effect, spend the available resources more efficiently and ensure better targeting so as to prioritize the most excluded and marginalized,” the independent expert stressed.
In her recent report* to the UN General Assembly (“Financing for the Realization of the Rights to Water and Sanitation”), the Special Rapporteur focused on the need to increase and re-structure financing in the water and sanitation sectors to meet human rights requirements.
Universal access to sanitation by 2015 would require over US$14.5 billion annually, according to a 2006 study by the World Health Organisation and the UN Development Programme. “This seems a huge sum,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “Yet, put in perspective, it is less than what people in rich countries spend on bottled water each year.”
Current spending on water and sanitation does not meet these needs. In the 2010 Global annual assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water by UN-Water, 95% of countries reported that current funding was not enough to provide access to half of those without toilets.
“Additional resources are needed for the realization of the right to sanitation, but a lot more could be achieved with the funds already allocated,” the UN expert said. “Money is being spent in the wrong places. We need better targeting of resources aligned with human rights requirements.”
“Resources must be targeted towards those most in need,” Ms. de Albuquerque stressed. “The majority of resources, both national and donor funding, are benefiting the relatively well-off rather than low-income communities that lack even basic access to toilets. In some countries, millions of people gained access to improved sanitation in recent decades, yet access among the poorest quintile of the population hardly improved.”
The Special Rapporteur called on States and donors to re-assess allocation decisions and investigate who benefits from them, in order to ensure that they prioritize the most disadvantaged.
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.
(*) Check the report: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/WaterAndSanitation/SRWater/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx or http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/443/64/PDF/N1144364.pdf?OpenElement
Learn more about the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and work, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/SRwaterandsanitation
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