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World Water Day 2019

“Leave No One Behind”
Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

19 March 1600-1730
PdN Room XVI

Your Highness Princess Sumaya,
Minister Del Re,
Friends and colleagues,

Today we mark World Water Day and launch this important report. My Office is pleased to host this year’s event, and to co-lead the year-long campaign with UNHCR under the flag of UN Water. I applaud the number of UN agencies and partner organizations speaking with one voice on such a vital issue.

 “Leave no one behind” is essential in all areas of development, but has particular resonance when it comes to water.  Water is a basic human right and is fundamental to human dignity. The figures in this report should shock us all into action. Three in 10 of the world’s people have no access to safe drinking water. Six in 10 lack safely managed sanitation services.

If people cannot enjoy their right to water, they cannot enjoy their right to life.  Many of the 800 women, who die every day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, could be saved by access to safe water and sanitation.  Waterborne diseases kill around two million people a year. More than 700 children under five die every day from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water and sanitation. Untreated water from springs, rivers and lakes may carry toxic industrial contamination as well as disease. Water scarcity can transform hospitals into high-risk infection zones.

But the benefits of safe water flow beyond health, into food security, livelihood and many other key human rights.  Our commitment to deliver ”Water for all” requires us to address not just people’s need for safe drinking water and sanitation, but the root causes of the multiple inequalities that affect our most vulnerable communities.

We must put an end to a world where the few have better, cheaper access to water, while the many pay more for less.

Unless we urgently address these inequalities, water will not be a source of life, but one of conflict.  

Global estimates suggest that just over a decade from now, 700 million people could be displaced by water scarcity, in a growing crisis fueled by climate change, population growth and increased competition for scarce resources. Water wars could happen in many places in the world.

Already, about four billion people face severe water scarcity for at least part of the year.

Almost half the people currently drinking water from unprotected sources live in Sub-Saharan Africa. With global demand for water forecast to grow by 20 to 30 per cent above current levels by 2050, the need for urgent action is clear.

Friends and colleagues,

It’s hard to think of any development priority that speaks more directly, and undeniably to fundamental human dignity than SDG 6, aimed at ensuring availability and sustainable management of water.  This means leaving no one behind.

Despite progress on the 2030 Agenda, the glass is still half empty.  Billions of people still lack safe water and sanitation.

International human rights law obliges States to work towards universal access to water and sanitation, without discrimination, while prioritising those most in need.  This is neither optional nor unachievable.

States must act to close the gaps not just between countries but within countries.  They must reach the furthest behind – including refugees and displaced people; people living in slums; the rural poor; and indigenous peoples, who make up five per cent of the world’s population but 15 per cent of the world’s poor;

But the commitment to “Leave no one behind” runs even deeper. To end these vast inequalities in access to water, we must invest in people themselves, valuing their contributions, seeing them as active rights-holders participating in their own sustainable development. 

“Whoever you are, wherever you are, water is your human right”.  This campaign is very much a rallying cry to us all: a call to stand up for human rights.

Thank you.