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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation 67th session of the General Assembly

Third Committee
Item # 69 (b,c)

New York, 30 October 2012

Mr. Chairperson [Permanent Representative of Suriname H.E. Mr. Henry Leonard Mac-Donald]
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today to present my annual report before the Third Committee, pursuant Human Rights Council resolution 16/2 and 18/1, as well as General Assembly resolution 64/292. The latter requested that I report to this Assembly on the “principal challenges related to the realization of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation”.

Inequality is without doubt the most persistent of all challenges we face in the world in general and also in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. As shocking as it is to know that approximately one out of three human beings lack access to “improved” sanitation (or approximately 2.5 billion of children, women and men ), the truth is that lack of access is not evenly distributed among and within societies. This also applies to water. I have constantly seen in my country missions that systematic patterns of exclusion persist among discriminated ethnic minorities, slum dwellers, people living in rural areas, girls, women, persons with disabilities - just to mention a few individuals and groups – who continue to be marginalized every day.

Inequalities in the enjoyment of human rights are not new, unfortunately. But now the time has come to address them. In the 21st century progress cannot continue to mask inequalities. The international community will only be able to achieve genuine advances in poverty reduction and social development by reducing the equality gaps in access to fundamental services.

With 2015 clearly on the horizon, the international community needs to start offering answers to some essential questions about its development priorities: who has been excluded from access to water and sanitation? why has this happened? and how can progress be more effectively measured in the coming decades in order to stop ignoring the most marginalized?

In my report, I offer recommendations to address these questions. These can be summarized in two key points:

  • Equality and non-discrimination must be placed at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda. For this purpose, I strongly suggest that a global and generic stand-alone goal on equality be adopted.
  • Water, sanitation and hygiene must have a specific goal, targets and indicators, on equal footing with other key priority areas for development. Universal access must fully integrate the elimination of the inequality gap.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Allow me to expand on these two recommendations and offer a few of the reasons behind them.

There is no doubt that the Millennium Development Goals have played an important role in placing key issues on the agenda that might have otherwise been neglected. Sanitation is a clear example of this. Moreover, thanks to the MDGs, governments and international actors have started to collect more data and have clearly used it in conveying powerful messages to influence policies and shape national or international measures.

We know that what is measured matters. The flipside is, of course, that issues left out are not monitored and reported on, and easily become blind-spots when priorities are set, policies defined or budgets allocated. This is one key reason why the overall post-2015 development framework must explicitly aim at revealing those who are currently invisible. Moreover, current limitations in measurement or data collection cannot deter the international community from committing to a robust set of goals, targets and indicators.

Inequalities are present in every country across the globe, even if they manifest themselves differently across regions and within countries. Some types of discrimination, such as those based on gender, age or disability status are relevant across all countries, while others—such as those based on race or ethnicity—can vary from country to country.

Regardless of these differences, patterns of exclusion are consistent across the world. The future development framework should aim at reducing inequality gaps while focusing on the most marginalized members of society. If this is done effectively, it will address the underlying truth behind the figures: MDG indicators are consistently worse for groups and individuals who have a disability, live in slums or rural areas, have a lower income, belong to a discriminated ethnic or linguistic minority, or are homeless.

A global goal and targets dedicated to eliminating inequalities will draw attention to the groups and individuals who are most disadvantaged; it will create incentives to end discrimination and call for more effective ways of collecting data.

Distinguished participants,

Turning more specifically to water, sanitation and hygiene: the post -2015 development agenda should incorporate a stand-alone goal to ensure that universal access to these services will be treated as a vital feature of social and economic development.

Our world is a different place since 2000 when the MDG’s were agreed upon. On the one hand we have more information regarding lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene for certain members of society, we are more aware of the positive impact of investing in water, sanitation and hygiene for the whole society, we know about the enormous economic return of investing in this area.

On the other hand more stakeholders are concentrating on and devoting attention to water and sanitation. There is an increased awareness that water, sanitation and hygiene are crucial for present and future development – hence we need a stand- alone goal for water, sanitation and hygiene. And why do we need that? Simply, because we can’t continue to live in a world where girls miss school days because they can’t adequately manage their menstruation. We can’t accept a world where one seventh of the population is every day forced to defecate in the open. We can’t accept a world where every 20 seconds a child dies due to the consumption of poor quality water.

The future development agenda must aim at universal enjoyment of the human right to water and sanitation by every single human being, while ensuring that the progressive realization of this right prioritizes the most excluded and disadvantaged. Is this an ambitious goal? Yes it is! And its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly is in your hands, Excellencies. The billions currently lacking access to this human right deserve nothing less than that.