Impacts of mega-projects on the human rights to water and sanitation

- Extract from official country visit reports by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation -

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr. Léo Heller, submitted a thematic report on the 'impact of mega-projects on the human rights to water and sanitation' to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (A/74/197).

This collection of extracted information from the Special Rapporteur's official country visits complements the report (see A/74/197, para. 2). The information is organized according to the following categories:

  • Water deviation or appropriation
  • Water over exploitation and depletion of water sources for drinking or domestic uses
  • Water sources pollution or contamination
  • Displacement due to mega-projects

1. General impact of mega-projects on the human rights to water and sanitation

  •  "Massive tourist and real estate developments have created serious problems [in Costa Rica], such as water scarcity, and generated social conflicts between demand by local communities for water for human consumption and the economic interests of investors and real estate developers, especially in the northern coastal areas of the country." (Country visit to Costa RicaA/HRC/12/24/Add.1 para. 49)

  • "Rural populations' access to water is also affected by large projects that directly or indirectly affect essential water sources used for drinking, domestic tasks or livelihoods. In Manipur, the Special Rapporteur was informed about how large infrastructure (dams, railways, roads and industrial projects) affects water sources of rural villages." (Country visit to India A/HRC/39/55/Add.1 para. 69)

  • "In zones hosting extractive industries (oil and shale gas extraction in Emiliano Zapata, Papantla, Veracruz State), contamination of water supply sources, owing to accidents or degraded supply networks, is apparently recurrent. (Country visit to Mexico A/HRC/36/45/Add.2 para. 58)

  • In Mongolia, while mining contributes greatly to the economy of Mongolia, it raises serious environmental concerns, including water pollution and groundwater overuse." (Country visit to Mongolia A/HRC/39/55/Add.2 para. 7) "According to the 2013 UN-Water country brief for Mongolia, as of 2009, the industrial sector was responsible for the majority of water withdrawals (38 per cent) together with irrigated crops (23 per cent) and livestock (21 per cent)." (Country visit to Mongolia A/HRC/39/55/Add.2 para. 35). Also, "reliance on groundwater, coupled with the contamination of groundwater from mining and other industrial activities, poses a serious problem for the country." (Country visit to Mongolia A/HRC/39/55/Add.2 para. 66)

  • "The Special Rapporteur is concerned that mining activities in Namibia continue, and are expanding, without the necessary regulations in place to ensure that such activities do not endanger the supply of water for personal and domestic use, both in terms of availability and quality. She is also concerned that these circumstances could lead to irreparable harm to the environment in Namibia." (Country visit to Namibia A/HRC/21/42/Add.3 para 59)

  • "During her mission, the Special Rapporteur received information on the lack of accountability cases related to pollution, especially those caused by large-scale development projects. One of them was the Klity Creek case in Kanchanaburi province on the Thai-Myanmar border, which was the first case in which the Supreme Administrative Court ordered the Pollution Control Department to pay compensation to the victims of water pollution." (Country visit to Thailand A/HRC/24/44/Add.3 para. 57)

  • "A large proportion of the total amount of water used in the country was devoted to monocultures, such as rice or soybean. […] As regards afforestation, some sources estimate that as many as 600,000 hectares may have been planted with eucalyptus and pine; concerns regarding the impact of this afforestion on water availability have been raised in some studies. (Country visit to Uruguay A/HRC/21/42/Add.2 para. 53) "The Special Rapporteur was also made aware during her visit that some livestock agribusinesses and large-scale projects were having negative impacts on water resources. Agrochemicals or faecal waste, mostly from pigs or cows, were discharged directly into water sources and were affecting the quality of the water, increasing the risks of various diseases. When it rains, the effluents leach into the ground or carry faecal matter to rivers, mobilizing the pollutants and mixing them with water polluting the rivers. According to information received, this was the situation in the Santa Lucía river basin—the main source of safe drinking water for people in the metropolitan area of Montevideo—due to dairy farms in San José and Canelones. In most cases, wells are also polluted, as the effluents penetrate the water table. […] The Special Rapporteur received information and testimonies that in some areas, water is excessively chlorinated, possibly to counter the pollution. As a consequence, people who can afford other options do not drink tap water." (Country visit to Uruguay A/HRC/21/42/Add.2 para. 54)

  • "In 2005 the Congress exempted this practice [fracking] from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, making this the only industry allowed to inject known pollutants into the ground near water sources without federal oversight." (Country visit to the United States of America A/HRC/18/33/Add.4 para.42) "Residents in regions where hydraulic fracturing occurs have reported drinking water contamination. In some cases, reports have been received of flammable tap water in a severe incident causing a home to explode. Federal and state agencies have determined the drinking water in several rural towns, such as Dimock, Pennsylvania, and Pavilion, Wyoming, non-potable due to chemical contaminants used in nearby hydraulic fracturing operations." (Country visit to the United States of America A/HRC/18/33/Add.4 para.43) "Mining activities are reportedly leading to contamination and depletion of surrounding groundwater and surface-water resources, not only affecting access to clean drinking water, but also threatening the wildlife and plants used as traditional food sources and vital to traditional cultural practices. Additionally, the absence of accountability for pollution and clean-up harms use by future generations." (Country visit to the United States of America A/HRC/18/33/Add.4 para. 69)

2. Water deviation or appropriation

  • "One of the major projects implemented by the Government in the region to expand access to water is the transposition of the São Francisco River, which involves building canals to bring water to the region from the neighbouring states of Pernambuco, Ceará, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte. There is considerable resistance in relation to the project, including legal proceedings filed before the Supreme Court, questioning the environmental impact study conducted by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment. Other concerns include the fear that the transposition would damage the already severely degraded river, and that it would benefit large landowners, and the high costs." (Country visit to Brazil A/HRC/27/55/Add.1 para. 64)

  • "In particular, he visited two communities downstream of the Thoubal multipurpose dam project that no longer relied on the river as their source of drinking water, due to the deteriorated water quality and the irregular flow, and that had to pay for access to the water source of a nearby village." (Country visit to India A/HRC/39/55/Add.1 para. 69)

  • "The Special Rapporteur visited the communities of Santa María Aztahuacan and Lomas de San Lorenzo in the Iztapalapa borough of Mexico City. The area […] has a high level of socioeconomic marginalization. Despite being connected to the piped water system and having several wells in the area, civil society groups reported that hundreds of thousands of people in the area do not have regular access to water or have very limited and rotating access with no service on some days. There is a widespread view expressed by the community that vast amounts of water under the area are diverted by the authorities to supply other, high usage residential and commercial areas, as well as for megaprojects, including the development of a new airport." (Country visit to Mexico A/HRC/36/45/Add.2 para. 21)

  • "Watersheds involved in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project's dams correspond to over 40 per cent of the country's total area. As part of Phase I of the project, the Katse Dam and Mohale Dam were finalized in 1997 and 2003, respectively. During Phase I, there were long delays in implementing the project component Rural Sanitation and Village Water Supply for impacted and displaced communities. […] [S]everal villages surrounding the Katse Dam had lost their water supply in 1995 when their natural springs dried up as a result of seismic activity that occurred during inundation of Katse Dam, a clear impact that should be attributed to this mega-project. Consequently, villagers often have to walk for more than 2 hours to access water from other villages." (Statement at the conclusion of the official visit to Lesotho by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr. Léo Heller, Maseru, 15 February 2019)

3. Water over exploitation and depletion of water sources for drinking or domestic uses

  • One "example of social conflicts over water between local communities and investors and real estate developers is that concerning the construction of a private aqueduct to supply water to a number of tourism and real estate projects in Playa del Coco and Playa Hermosa, which, according to the residents of Sardinal, would threaten the sustainable management of the aquifer and negatively affect the supply of water to their communities." (Country visit to Costa Rica A/HRC/12/24/Add.1 para. 52)

  • "During the visit, the Special rapporteur learned of the presence of a bottling plant, La Constancia ILC, a subsidy of SABMiller, which draws large volumes of water for its commercial production of carbonated drinks, waters, juices and beers and which has plans for a possible expansion of its industrial activities." (Country visit to El Salvador, A/HRC/33/49/Add.1 para. 72)

  • "The Special Rapporteur was informed about the case in Cerro Alegre, Departament of Soriano, where a few years after eucalyptus plantations were established, all farmers' water wells dried up and the level of the river substantially decreased. Similar situations occurred in Paraje Pence, Department of Soriano; Algorta, Department of Río Negro; and Tranqueras, Department of Rivera." (Country visit to Uruguay A/HRC/21/42/Add.2 para. 53)

4. Water sources pollution or contamination

  • "According to information from the "civil initiative" in Celje, the number of people dying from diseases caused by pollution, including various types of cancer, is higher in this region than the overall rate in Slovenia. […] This pollution is a result of industrial activity and affects the wider environment. […] The Government explained that while special water-protection rules are in place in Celje, effective implementation of these rules requires the cooperation of surrounding municipalities, which is not always forthcoming. […] It was explained that, in exceptional circumstances where the water supply for residents in Celje contains a high level of contaminants, water from other areas is mixed with the local supply to make it safe for human consumption. However, the water pollution problems in this area remain a concern." (Country visit to Slovenia, A/HRC/18/33/Add.2 para. 17)

  • "[T]he Klity Creek case in Kanchanaburi province on the Thai-Myanmar border, which was the first case in which the Supreme Administrative Court ordered the Pollution Control Department to pay compensation to the victims of water pollution. In 1967, a lead mining company and treatment factory initiated its activities upstream from Klity village. In the late 1970s, the villagers noticed that the water in the creek had become murky and putrid and that their fish and cattle had started to die." (Country visit to Thailand A/HRC/24/44/Add.3 para. 57)

5. Displacement due to mega-projects

  • "As one of the pressing priorities for development, the Government is implementing the Rogun Dam and Hydropower Plant project to ensure a stable supply of electricity According to one study, between 2009 and early 2014, about 1,500 families were displaced from the reservoir area in Rogun and Nurabod districts to four locations." (Country visit to Tajikistan A/HRC/33/49/Add.2 para. 49) "While the Government had started making efforts to provide water to the settlements in these resettlement sites, due to a lack of planning, people were still suffering from insufficient amounts of water for human consumption and for subsistence farming. In both these districts, water supply was limited to a few hours per day at the maximum. […] Regarding sanitation, resettled people had had to build toilets, as well as houses, by themselves." (Country visit to Tajikistan A/HRC/33/49/Add.2 para. 50.)

  • "As a result of the construction of the Bakun hydro-electric dam, in 1998, around 10,000 people were resettled in 15 different villages with the promise of certain acres of land, free housing and other support to sustain their livelihood in a new home. Sungai Asap is now home to those displaced and, after almost two decades, the villagers still do not have proper access to safe water and are facing the problem of quality of self-supplied water." (Statement at the conclusion of the official visit to Malaysia by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr. Léo Heller pgs. 7 and 8)