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UN experts urge Uruguay to prioritise water use for human consumption

13 July 2023

GENEVA (13 July 2023) – A considerable increase in salinity levels affecting the quality of potable water in Uruguay is affecting over 60 percent of its population, UN experts* warned today.

“The continuous decline in water quality due to increased salinity levels in its composition is alarming.

This situation significantly impacts vulnerable groups, such as children and adolescents, pregnant women and people suffering from chronic diseases,” the experts said.

Health authorities have recognised the risk and urged vulnerable groups to purchase bottled water for drinking.

“But this creates a risk of de facto water privatisation for human consumption, with the population forced to buy water,” the experts said.

They expressed concern about people who cannot afford to buy water and those with disabilities or reduced mobility who cannot carry water.

"We recognise the government's efforts to reduce water taxes. However, measures must be deepened to ensure that all people can access the water necessary for life," the experts said.

While the government has recommended reducing household water consumption, these restrictions do not apply for large-scale consumers including industries using water for production.

Underlying the problem exacerbated by the salinity factor is over-exploitation of water, particularly by some industries in the country, the experts warned.

“Uruguay must put human consumption at the forefront, as indicated by international human rights standards," they said.

Experts have been warning for years that the expansion of concessions to water-intensive industries was leading to water pollution and shortages in the country.

“Water for human consumption represents barely 5% of the total supply of drinking water.

Consequently, failure to prioritise its use is unacceptable,” the experts said.

The experts recalled that the human right to water implies that water must be physically accessible, free of pollutants and managed sustainably, respecting human dignity, equality, and non-discrimination.

“Businesses, including state-owned enterprises, have a responsibility to respect human rights at all times, and States have an obligation to ensure the protection of this right by guaranteeing universal access to safe drinking water, even during emergencies,” they said.

The experts have contacted the Government of Uruguay regarding these issues.


*The experts: Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Damilola Olawuyi (Chair), Robert McCorquodale (Vice-Chair), Fernanda Hopenhaym, Elżbieta Karska, and Pichamon Yeophantong,  Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

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 voluntarily; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please contact

HRC-SR Water & Sanitation [email protected]

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact

Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and

Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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