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“Don’t turn your back on Tuvalu” – UN expert urges the international community

FUNAFUTI / GENEVA (19 July 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, called on the international community not to turn their back on the impacts of climate change in the human rights of individuals and communities in Tuvalu.

“Climate change is an everyday reality for people in Tuvalu, and is slowly but steadily impacting their human rights to water and sanitation,” the independent expert warned* at the end of her first mission to the South pacific country. “Climate change will exacerbate water scarcity, saltwater intrusions, sea level rise and frequency of extreme weather events.”

As of 2010, 98% of the population had access to improved source of water and 85% had access to improved sanitation facilities, according to a joint WHO/UNICEF report. However, Ms. de Albuquerque stressed “these figures do not portray an accurate picture of the country’s situation and mask severe challenges currently faced by its population.”

“In fact, people cannot drink directly the water contained in the water storage tanks and have to boil it,” she said. Furthermore, and despite various efforts to improve the situation, “people are still suffering from a lack of water in sufficient quantities on a continuous basis. Several people told me that they have no confidence in the sustainability of the water supply.”

The rights expert underscored that “water and sanitation must be available to all in sufficient quantity,” and asked the authorities to ensure that the water harvesting system is used to its maximum potential in old and new buildings. “Quality, sufficient quantity and affordability are key aspects of the enjoyment of these fundamental human rights.”

“The Government bears the main responsibility for the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation,” she said, urging the immediate adoption and implementation of a national water strategy and plan of action covering the entire population, and a clear legal framework for the sector. Tuvalu is currently developing a draft Water Act as well as a Sustainable and Integrated Water and Sanitation Policy.

“Access to water and sanitation must be affordable to all, in particular to those who have a lower income. The price paid for water, sanitation and hygiene must not compromise access to other human rights such as food, housing or education,” she said. “I call on the Government to bear this in mind when discussing and adopting new water tariffs or when advancing the use of composting toilets.”

Ms. de Albuquerque also appealed to the authorities to take concrete and targeted steps within the maximum of available resources, including by seeking international cooperation aid and assistance, to address some of the challenges to the enjoyment of the human right to water and sanitation.

During her three-day visit, the Special Rapporteur met with numerous Government departments, including Foreign Affairs, Public Utilities, Health, Education, Natural Resources, and Finance and Economic Development. She also held talks with civil society organizations and development partners. Before going to Tuvalu, the rights expert also met with representatives of AusAid and New Zealand Aid, the United Nations Country Team and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Applied Geoscience and Technology Division in Suva.

Ms. de Albuquerque visited a settlement on the outskirts of Funafuti and welcomed the opportunity to meet and engage in a dialogue with people living there, and she also visited a school to discuss the pupil's access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report on her mission to a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, which will include her final findings and recommendations to the Government of Tuvalu and the international community. Her mission was the first ever to the country by an independent expert of the UN Human Rights Council.

After her visit to Tuvalu, Ms. de Albuquerque will travel to Kiribati on a similar fact-finding mission from 23 to 26 July.

Catarina de Albuquerque is the first UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. She was appointed by the Human Rights Council in 2008. Ms. de Albuquerque is a Professor at the Law Faculties of the Universities of Braga and Coimbra and a Senior Legal Adviser at the Office for Documentation and Comparative Law, an independent institution under the Prosecutor General’s Office. Learn more, log on to: www.ohchr.org/srwaterandsanitation

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12372&LangID=E

UN Human Rights, country page – Tuvalu: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/TVIndex.aspx

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