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World must end overexploitation of groundwater, says UN expert

18 March 2022

World Water Day - 22 March 2022

GENEVA  – The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo Agudo, has called for an end to the appropriation, pollution and overexploitation of groundwater to safeguard human rights to water and sanitation and mitigate social risks arising from climate change. On the occasion of World Water Day, he issues the following statement:

“The greatest social risks arising from climate change are and will be generated around water. In the face of increasing climate variability, the key to adaptation strategies lies in strengthening the resilience of the water cycle by recovering and conserving the functionality of the most inertial ecosystems of the water cycle: wetlands, riverbank ecosystems, riverbeds, and, above all, underground aquifers.

The overexploitation of aquifers increases the vulnerability of drinking water supplies due to the scarcity of water during drought cycles, often forcing water to be supplied from further away, with a consequent price increase. Ultimately, such overexploitation of aquifers jeopardises the accessibility and affordability of drinking water in drought cycles, especially for those who live in poverty and situations of marginalization.

In many countries, groundwater is managed de facto, as if it were the property of the owner of the land on which the well was drilled, often leading to an individualistic and abusive consumption of water and jeopardizing the realization of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, especially in the context of a changing climate We must not forget that water must be considered and managed as a common good.

Underground aquifers are the water lungs of Planet Earth. Aquifers can and should be strategic reserves to face extraordinary droughts that climate change will harden. By preserving aquatic ecosystems, lakes, wetlands, rivers and especially aquifers, access to safe drinking and water and sanitation for people living close to nature such as indigenous peoples, peasants, fisherfolks, hunters and gatherers, and livestock rearers would be protected.”

See video statement.


Mr. Pedro Arrojo Agudo (Spain) is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, appointed by the Human Rights Council in September 2020. He is Emeritus Professor of Economic Analysis at the University of Zaragoza and previously served as an elected member of the Spanish Parliament during its eleventh and twelfth legislature from 2016 to 2019. The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups 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.


For more information and media requests, please contact Ms Ahreum Lee ([email protected])

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