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“Development cooperation is key to realizing rights to safe drinking water and sanitation” – UN expert

GENEVA (21 March 2016) – Everyone involved in development cooperation is being urged by a UN expert to work together to ensure that the human rights of water and sanitation are available to all people around the world.

The appeal comes from the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to water and sanitation,  Léo Heller, on World Water Day (22 March) and aims to shed light on the key role of development cooperation in the realization of the rights to water and sanitation.

Mr. Heller says: “development cooperation is a crucial element in the funding of these services in many developing countries and seems to be increasing in accordance with commitments outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” 

Although many States and multilateral organizations have declared their intention to realize the human rights to water and sanitation through development cooperation, the Special Rapporteur notes that a human rights-based approach in development programmes and projects appears to be more the exception than the rule.

“It is clear that development cooperation can establish a benchmark for those involved in the water and sanitation sector, including the governments of countries in development cooperation partnerships,” Mr. Heller says.  “If such moves are guided by a human rights approach they can contribute to the realization of the rights to water and sanitation. But if not, they can instead have a negative impact.”

The Special Rapporteur calls for a framework solidly based on human rights, prioritizing projects that benefit the poorest and most disadvantaged and supporting states to progressively realize those rights. “For outcomes to be effective and sustainable, States need strong legal, regulatory and policy frameworks. Development cooperation hence needs to focus on capacity-building activities that strengthen local authorities,” he says.

“Funding for development cooperation is on the rise but water generally receives more money than sanitation,” Mr. Heller notes. “Large systems regularly get about twice as much as smaller ones, suggesting that urban areas are being favoured to the detriment of those more rural.”

The Special Rapporteur is conducting further research involving talks with key actors, as well as field visits. His findings and related recommendations will be reflected in a report to be presented to the UN General Assembly in October. 


Léo Heller 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. Learn more.

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.

For more information and press inquiries, please contact Ms. Viktoria Aberg (+41 22 917 9790 / vaberg@ohchr.org) or write to srwatsan@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Bryan Wilson, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / Mediaconsultant1@ohchr.org)  

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