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California: New law on the human right to water and sanitation sets “inspiring example for others” – UN expert

GENEVA (28 September 2012) – The Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, welcomed the adoption of a new law in the State of California which establishes the right of everyone to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water, adequate for human needs. The law, she said, “will be an inspiration not only for other states within the USA, but equally for many other countries in the world.”

Assembly Bill 685, adopted on 25 September in the most populated US state, with over 37 million inhabitants, also provides for coordination among state agencies about the use of water for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes – an essential dimension of the protection and promotion of the rights to water and sanitation for all.

“When I received the good news about the adoption of this bill, my thoughts immediately went to those people I met last year in California who still do not benefit from this fundamental human right,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“I remember the tragic stories of farm-worker women in Seville, in the San Joaquin Valley, who were condemned to drinking the water from their polluted wells because they did not have the money to purchase bottled water. I recall the crying women who told me that they were devoting about 20 per cent of their US$14,000 per year income to water and sanitation. I am also thinking about the indigenous people of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, whose lack of water and adequate sanitation was appalling.”

“This bill is a clear sign that bringing safe and affordable water to all in California is a political priority, which I warmly welcome. I am happy to congratulate the state of California for this historical step,” she added.

During her official visit to the United States in February and March 2011, at the invitation of the Government, the Special Rapporteur also met with Assembly Member Mike Eng, the author of the bill, the co-sponsors, and communities affected by the inadequate access to safe drinking water. She has been following developments with interest ever since, and said she found them very encouraging. Her findings and recommendations were frequently quoted when the bill was introduced, discussed and finally adopted.

“The men and women of many of the communities I visited engaged the democratic process over several years to bring change to inadequate policies,” Ms. Albuquerque said. “Their efforts are an inspiring success story for human rights defenders around the world.”

With this new law, the human rights to water and sanitation will be placed at the center of policy formulation to ensure that all people in California have access to affordable, accessible, acceptable and safe water and sanitation in sufficient amounts to protect their health and dignity. California, as one of the states most dependent on water resources for its economy, and one likely to be heavily affected by climate change, should now become the first state in the country to adopt a comprehensive policy on the human right to water, the Special Rapporteur said.

“After the adoption of a comprehensive law, the crucial next step is to come up with a plan, policy and strategy for the sector. As part of the duties of our office, I am at the disposal of the Government to give the necessary support,” Ms. Albuquerque said.

“As the United States Government begins preparation for the 2014 Universal Periodic Review process, when it will report to the UN Human Rights Council on progress towards meeting human rights obligations, this important achievement in California will demonstrate the willingness of local government to address challenges identified in my 2011 mission report,” the Special Rapporteur added.

ENDS

Catarina de Albuquerque is the first UN Special Rapporteur on the human 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 the American University’s Washington College of Law 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

UN Human Rights, country page – USA: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

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