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Brazil / Water and sanitation: “In a land with great potential and deep contrast, nobody must be left behind” – UN expert

BRASILIA / GENEVA (20 December 2013) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, today urged the Brazilian authorities at federal, state and local levels to give further priority to the poorest and most marginalized, “to ensure that inequalities in the country are progressively eliminated and all receive access to sanitation and water.”

“Nobody must be left behind,” Ms. de Albuquerque said at the end of her first official mission* to Brazil to evaluate the improvements and challenges the country still faces in realizing the human rights to water and sanitation.

The expert welcomed Brazil’s significant progress regarding the realization of the right to water and sanitation. “PlanSab – the recently adopted National Water and Sanitation Plan – is an excellent document that will guide nation-wide action in the coming 20 years,” she said. “Moreover, the financial commitments to the sector, with 300 billion reais (150 billion USD) being allocated from the federal budget to the sector in the coming 20 years also very positively impressed me.”

“But Brazil is a country of contrasts,” the Special Rapporteur said. “I was shocked by the misery I saw and by the lack of access to sanitation and water by significant portions of the population. These are fundamentally people living in favelas or in rural areas.”

“The situation of people in favelas or informal settlements cannot be forgotten. And even though I acknowledge progress in this regard, the truth is that still millions of Brasilians live in deplorable conditions where access to sanitation and water is still only a distant dream.”

“Despite the positive examples of social participation in some social programmes, and government institutions, I was especially touched by my interaction with many Brasilians, who repeatedly – in the different regions I visited – told me that they still felt invisible and forgotten by public powers.

Ms. de Albuquerque documented deep inequalities in access to water and sanitation among different regions in the country, where the Northern region is the most affected. While in Sorocaba (São Paulo) the rate of sewerage treatment is of 93.6%, in Macapá (Amapá) is just 5.5%.”

In the area of sanitation, the expert explained, “the low coverage does not match the advances of modern Brazil, where 52% of the Brazilian population still doesn’t have sewage collection, and only 38% of the sewage generated is treated.”

“The fact that Brazil still has almost 8 million people defecating daily in the open is unacceptable and an affront to human dignity,” Ms. de Albuquerque stressed. This lack of access to sanitation is particularly serious in the North, where less than 10% of the population has sewage collection.

During her fact-finding mission, the Special Rapporteur received numerous complains of people suffering from diarrhea and other water and sanitation born diseases due the bad quality of water.

“Another concern of many people is the high value of the water and sanitation tariffs, especially in places where these services have been delegated to companies that are making significant profits,” she said. “People told me they felt suffocated by the high bills they have to pay.”

“I end my mission to Brazil with a sweet and sour feeling,” Ms. de Albuquerque noted. “Sweet, because of the progresses made, the vision the government has for the sector and public commitment to support the most vulnerable. Sour, because I remember the voices and faces of the many Brazilians I met and talked with over the past 10 days and for whom the human right to water and sanitation still is a distant reality and who still live in the shadows of a rapidly advancing society.”

“I believe however, that Brazil is well positioned do make even more progress in realising the human right to water and sanitation, while giving priority to the most vulnerable, poor and marginalized populations,” the expert highlighted.

From 9 to 19 December, the independent expert visited Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Fortaleza and Belém do Pará, where she met with federal and local authorities, civil society organizations and service providers. She also visited several rural areas and informal settlements, to get first-hand information regarding the outstanding challenges in the realization of this human right.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report to a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, which will include her final findings and recommendations to the Government of Brazil.

(*) Read the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14127&LangID=E

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, Coimbra and of the American University’s Washington College of Law. She is a senior legal advisor at the Prosecutor General’s Office. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/WaterAndSanitation/SRWater/Pages/SRWaterIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Brazil: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/BRIndex.aspx

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