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UN expert: Speed up efforts to achieve human rights to water and sanitation

GENEVA (27 July 2020) – Ten years after the UN explicitly recognised water and sanitation as a human right, billions of people lack safe drinking water and sanitation, a UN expert has warned.
“The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that leaving behind the people most in need of water and sanitation services can lead to a humanitarian tragedy,” said Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation. “Over the next 10 years, the human rights to water and sanitation must be a priority if we are to build just and humane societies.”
He issued a statement on the anniversary of adoption on 28 July 2010 of UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292. Since then 193 States have committed to ensure access to safe drinking water and to sanitation for all. They explicitly reaffirmed their commitment to the human rights to water and sanitation in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, whose Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone.
“The glass is half-empty and it is also half-full. The progress made since 2010 may show a slow pace in the implementation of the human rights to water and sanitation but, indeed, the UN General Assembly resolution, as a starting point, triggered some initiatives and inspired several creative developments,” said Léo Heller.
Although much has been achieved in the last 10 years, Heller said, countries are not on track to meet by 2030 the goals related to water, sanitation and hygiene. One in three people on our planet still lack access to safe drinking water and more than half of the global population lack access to safe sanitation. Some three billion people lack basic handwashing facilities with soap and water, and more than 673 million people still practice open defecation. This unacceptable situation causes 432,000 deaths from diarrhea every year.
“The commitments of the 2030 Agenda are a driver to ‘leave no one behind’ but it will not suffice if countries approach the targets and goals merely as a quantitative exercise, leaving the human rights to water and sanitation to the side.”


Mr. Léo Heller (Brazil) is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, appointed in November 2014. He is a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil and was previously Professor of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil from 1990 to 2014. Marking ten years of the human rights to water and sanitation, he organized a year-long campaign to build a bridge between the conceptual and theoretical aspects of human rights to water and sanitation and its practical implementation on the ground.
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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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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