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Brazil mine disaster: UN human rights expert calls for urgent access to safe drinking water

Portuguese version

GENEVA (8 December 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, on Tuesday urged the Brazilian Government to secure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for people affected by catastrophic collapse of a tailing dam in Mariana.

“More than a month after the incident, hundreds of thousands of people in Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo States are still suffering interruptions to the water supply,” Mr. Heller said.

“As an emergency measure, the authorities have been providing water at distribution points, and mining companies have been bringing bottled water to the affected areas. However, people continue to complain about the insufficient and disorganized distribution of water,” the expert added. He noted that the affected Doce River is the main water source in the region and that ongoing high turbidity in its water, due to the collapse of the tailing dam, has resulted in the poor performance of water treatment to date.

People are reported to have to queue for hours to get small quantities of water that are insufficient for proper sanitation or hygiene, with no priority given to older people  or persons with disabilities.

“There is growing discontent due to the poor management of this water crisis, which has already generated some violent incidents and could lead to further unrest,” the UN expert warned.

“I remind the Government of Brazil that it is the State’s human rights obligation to take action and ensure access to safe and sufficient water, and to alternative sanitation,” stressed Mr. Heller.

“Understandably, people are worried about the quality of the water coming from the restored water supply system. They are also frustrated by the inconsistent and inadequate information on the safety of the water provided by the different authorities,” said the expert. “Having information about the safety of water is a key element of the human rights to water and sanitation,” he added.

The UN expert noted that some analyses of the water and sediments of the Doce River have revealed levels of toxic elements above the acceptable levels.

“I call upon the authorities to urgently take preventative measures in accordance with the precautionary principle,” said Mr. Heller. “The Government must strengthen its monitoring of both raw and treated water, improve water treatment, and disseminate clear information to the population in order to protect people’s human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation,” Mr Heller concluded.

Léo Heller is the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council in November 2014. Mr. Heller is currently a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/WaterAndSanitation/SRWater/Pages/SRWaterIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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

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Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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