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Water and sanitation

The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

14 June 2012


Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation has released an open letter calling on all States negotiating the outcome document for Rio to again commit to the human right to water and sanitation.

De Albuquerque says the language it is not sufficient in the outcome document of the Conference to commit to water and sanitation- the language must be explicit. It is a human right and must be referred toas such, according to Albuquerque, who points out that the right to safe drinking water and sanitation is recognized in international law.

In the negotiations for Rio+20 some States have suggested alternative phrasing which she says, attempts to reinterpret or diminish the human right to water and sanitation.

“Governments have to integrate the human right to water and sanitation and aim at achieving access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all without discrimination, and in sufficient quantities to protect human health and dignity, particularly for the most marginalized,” De Albuquerque says.

The UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 20 to 22 June is aiming to reach consensus on an integrated global strategy for economic and social development and environmental protection.

UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay, who will be attending the conference, has also drawn attention to the interdependence of human rights and sustainable development.  In an interview with the International Press Service, Pillay said, “Without human rights safeguards, policies intended to advance environmental or development goals can have serious negative impacts on those rights.” 

“Technocratic efforts” in recent years to achieve sustainable development, Pillay says, have resulted in the exclusion of many communities from decision-making processes, exacerbating social and economic inequalities and side-lining human rights.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aim to halve, by 2015, the number of people without access to safe drinking water. In April 2012 the World Health Organization and Unicef announced that their joint monitoring programme for water and sanitation (JMP) found that the goal for safe drinking water had been achieved ahead of the deadline.

The MDG target to halve, by 2015, the number of people without access to basic sanitation is well off target, with 2.5 billion people still deprived of a basic latrine or toilet. 
Nonetheless, the report said, that 11 percent of the global population – 783 million people –have no access to improved water sources. The report indicates that , progress has been uneven, with enormous strides being made in China and India, but many poorer countries not tracking sufficiently well to have any expectation of meeting the 2015 objective. The report also points out, the MDG targets do not measure quality or reliability of water.

The Special Rapporteur has stressed that human rights obligations do not stop once arbitrary benchmarks are realized.

Human rights law requires “progressive realization”: States should aim for universal access within timeframes tailored to the country situation and the maximum of available resources, the Special Rapporteur says.

A number of the independent experts of the Human Rights Council, including on water, food, indigenous peoples, internally displaced people, migrants, international solidarity, health and the environment, earlier published an open letter to the States negotiating Rio+20, calling for the incorporation of human rights standards into the outcome document with strong accountability provisions to ensure implementation.

“Rio+20,” the experts said in their letter, “should ground global commitments in human rights.”

“It should enable citizens to monitor the commitments of their Governments. And it should put accountability, the foundation of a human rights based approach to development, at the core of its commitments,” they said.

14 June 2012