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Spain: Power outages put children’s lives at risk in informal settlement – UN experts

22 December 2020


GENEVA (22 December 2020) – A two-month power outage in a vast informal settlement near Madrid is endangering the health of some 1,800 children, UN human rights experts* said today, calling on the Government of Spain to immediately restore electricity as temperatures fall to freezing.

"Children in Cañada Real Galiana are truly suffering, and their health is at risk," the experts warned. "Now that winter is closing in – and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – electricity must be restored."

The latest power outage started on 2 October and has affected at least 4,500 people, particularly in Sectors 5 and 6 of Cañada Real Galiana. The settlement is home to some 8,000 people who live in a 16km-long, 75m-wide strip established more than 40 years ago. Many residents are migrants or Roma.

"Madrid is notoriously cold and now that temperatures are plunging, at least one baby had already been taken to hospital with symptoms of hypothermia," the experts said.

"Without electricity, there is no heat in homes and no hot water, meaning children cannot shower or wash properly. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when hygiene is more important than ever, this is especially troubling."

The health of many children has already suffered: those who use electric wheelchairs cannot charge their batteries; children with diabetes are struggling to keep insulin at the proper temperature; children with autism are having trouble adapting to the lack of light, and a girl who normally uses oxygen therapy equipment for 15 or 16 hours a day has been deprived of it.

"The lack of electricity not only violates these children's right to adequate housing, it is having a very serious effect on their rights to health, food, water, sanitation and education," the experts said.

Children have no light to do their homework, and cannot use the Internet for classes that have moved online during the pandemic. In addition, NGOs that provide essential educational support to students outside of school hours cannot operate because they have no heating or electricity.

"Without decisive action to immediately remedy this situation, the chronic educational disadvantage of the children living in Cañada Real is going to get even worse," the experts said.

They criticised the authorities who blamed the power outages on illegal marijuana plantations and implied that residents of the informal settlement are criminals.

"We call on all politicians to stop stigmatising migrants, members of the Roma minority and anyone who lives in poverty," the experts said.

"The people of Cañada Real urgently need the support of the Government to achieve adequate living conditions, not verbal attacks that provoke public hostility."

The expert has been in contact with the Government of Spain on these issues.


(*) The experts:Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal,Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Mr. Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Ms. Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Mr Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. Olivier De Schutter,Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; and Mr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

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 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.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Spain

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