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World Water Day: Put people first in allocating scarce water resources – UN expert

World Water Day: "Put people first"

21 March 2014

GENEVA (22 March 2014) – States should give priority to allocating water for human consumption, amid increasing water and energy demands that affect the most marginalized and vulnerable communities, says United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque:

“By 2030, nearly half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress, according to the existing climate change scenario. At the same time, demand for water to produce energy will double by 2035.

Of course, people – and countries – need water, and they need energy. A country’s development goals might lead it to prioritize water for energy production, so undermining water usage for human consumption and sanitation.

Ill-thought out allocation of water has a disproportionate effect on the poorest sectors of society. It is crucial that governments apply a human rights framework to guide their actions. Put simply: priority must be given to water destined for personal and domestic use.

Water and energy are interlinked. Firstly, energy generation and transmission require a large amount of water - the production of electricity to power just one 60W incandescent light bulb for a year consumes about 24,000 litres of water.
That is the same amount of water consumed per capita annually in northern Jordan, an example of a water scarce environment.

Water and energy prices are also linked. As Special Rapporteur, I have come across situations where increases in electricity prices, or reductions in state subsidies for electricity, led to higher water tariffs which were unaffordable for the poor.

In addition, those connected to a poorly functioning water network often rely on private boosters to pump water, while those not connected at all are forced to get water from their own wells or pay for the delivery of water.

This amounts to a pattern of exclusion in which the most marginalized end up devoting a significant percentage of their household income to secure water.

Human rights law stipulates that all people, without discrimination, must have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, which is affordable, acceptable, available and safe. States must continually take steps to ensure that access to these fundamental rights is guaranteed.

People should not have to spend such a big part of their household income on securing water that their access to other human rights, such as the rights to food or health care, is undermined.

Governments have a crucial role to play in making sure that increased electricity and water demands do not impose a disproportionate or unfair burden on the poor, and that water allocation prioritizes water for human consumption.”

UN World Water Day 2014 is focusing on the links between water and energy

Catarina de Albuquerque is the first UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. She was appointed by the Human Rights Council in 2008. Ms. de Albuquerque is a Professor at the Law Faculties of the Universities of Braga, Coimbra and of the American University’s Washington College of Law. She is a senior legal advisor at the Prosecutor General’s Office. Learn more, log on to:

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