BANGKOK / GENEVA (8 February 2013) – At the end of an eight-day mission to Thailand, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, called on the Government of Thailand to establish an independent water and sanitation regulator and to take prompt action to fully realise the human rights to water and sanitation for all.
While recognizing the significant progress made in Thailand in relation to access to sanitation, especially rural basic sanitation, the Special Rapporteur noted with concern that only 21 per cent of community wastewater produced daily is treated.
“Rivers and other sources of water are being increasingly polluted by the discharge of untreated human waste,” she said. “I was shocked by the very poor management, disposal and treatment of human waste, which may be one of the major causes of the increasing diarrhoea morbidity rate in Thailand in spite of the high basic sanitation coverage that has been achieved,” the expert said.
According to estimates based on limited sampling by the Ministry of Public Health, the current rate of access to safe water in rural and urban areas is roughly 25 and 40 per cent respectively. “Not only is untreated faecal matter being discharged directly into water systems, but large scale industrial, mining and agricultural projects are exacerbating the problems of water pollution. This is having a severe impact on the environment and on Thailand’s water sources, including drinking water sources,” said de Albuquerque.
“I am deeply concerned that no State entity is in charge of monitoring and ensuring the quality of water inside the household. I hence call on the Government of Thailand to establish strong accountability mechanisms to ensure full compliance by all, including the private sector, with the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. Proper regulation in the water and sanitation sectors is fundamental,” de Albuquerque said.
“I call for the establishment of an independent regulator to undertake independent monitoring, ensure genuine public participation and impose penalties for non-compliance. The supervisory role of the central government over local authorities should also be strengthened,” stressed de Albuquerque.
While less than one per cent of the overall population had access to water and sanitation in 1960, the country reached almost universal coverage by 1999. However strong disparities exist, noted the Special Rapporteur.
“The contrast between people who have access to water and sanitation in modern and formal zones in cities and those who suffer from the lack of access to these basic services and have been left behind, including informal settlements and hill tribe communities was striking,” de Albuquerque said.
“While the great majority of Thai people have experienced rapid development, millions of people, including stateless people and undocumented migrant workers, have not reaped these benefits,” she added.
“A migrant construction workers’ camp I visited only had ten non-sex-segregated toilets and one open bathing point. They were shared by the nearly 300 workers, including 70 women, as well as by 40 children living in the camp,” de Albuquerque said.
“The people who live in the shadows of Thai society suffer not only from the lack of access to water and sanitation but also from stigma and denial of dignity and privacy. When I asked one migrant worker how she bathed in the open bathing point especially during menstruation, she said: ‘I just shut my eyes and wash myself as quickly as possible, so that it’s done.’”
“In a female correction centre I visited, the showers and toilets had no doors. The inmates were completely exposed, had no privacy and were forced to wash themselves and “do their business” in front of everybody. As a woman, I was especially appalled by the undignified conditions these women faced on a daily basis,” said de Albuquerque.
“I also observed glaring contrasts in access to safe drinking water,” the Special Rapporteur said. “The majority of Thai people are not provided with safe drinking water. There is also still a big gap in the systematic monitoring of water quality,” she added.
“The Government has achieved impressive progress over the last decades in the areas of sanitation and water and I am confident that it will be able to continue its efforts towards the full realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation, including for the most marginalised groups of people,” the Rapporteur concluded.
The Special Rapporteur will present a formal 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 Thailand.
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 in Portugal.
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