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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Issue of Human Rights Obligations Related to Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, presented her report to the Human Rights Council during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council in October this year. Her report focused on her mandate in Egypt and Cost Rica.
Ms. De Albuquerque’s mandate is framed in the human rights perspective, and focuses on a collection of good practices and recommendations for the realizations of the MDGs; she intends to collect good practices in the forthcoming meetings that will transpire. After devoting considerable time to the subject, she is even more convinced that sanitation is a fundamental human right. In that regard, we are in the midst of a sanitation crisis. We need to break the taboo on the language with regards to sanitation. It is undoubtedly a human right and of human dignity. Access to sanitation should be guaranteed to all; it should be a human right imperative and a human right in itself. She argues that it should be understood that it is a significant component to the standard of living. There is currently a trend towards its recognition as a distinct right. She calls on the Council to recognize this trend, as there are clear implications. Moreover, there are many misconceptions and misinterpretations, which create obstacles to the full enjoyment of the human right to sanitation.

In Costa Rica, for its part, national policy recognizes access to drinking water as an inalienable human right. In this way, on the whole, Costa Rica has achieved considerable success in this area. Costa Rica has recently invested considerably in facilities for waste, water and sanitation. That said, it faces difficulties in its legal framework, which is no longer runs parallel to the present social and economic situation in the country. The complex network and lack of clarity creates confusions, and policies are hampered by the lack of infrastructure and human resources. In addition, there is a lack coordination of the institutions involved. Only 3.5% of water is purified before being discharged into the natural environment. Moreover, persons belonging to marginal and vulnerable groups, those in poverty, those of African descent and migrants, and other such groups have limited access. Furthermore, difficulties have arisen out of construction and tourist spheres. Her report offers recommendations.
Costa Rica, in response to her report, welcomed the report. It agreed that it desperately needed a new law on water, as the law goes back to 1942 and is obsolete. However, it would like to note that it has been making efforts to bring the system up-to-date, and this has led to a bill. Moreover, it has one of the three best coverages of water in the Caribbean. That said, a lack of infrastructure has led to considerable pollution of water, as 63% of polluted water goes into the natural systems. A solution to this problem is of higher priority to the state. Supplementary solutions are also being sought. One result is the executive establishment of an instrument to reduce pollution, increase the efficiency of water, and create progress in the degradation of the environment. Cost Rica is aware of the difficulties in access to water and the disposal of sanitation, particularly in some segments of the population. Finally, it would like to highlight that in December 2008 it established a policy on water management, where guidelines were established towards planning a clear water policy.

In Egypt, the country still faces many challenges with regards to the quality of water and access to sanitation. There are many disparities between rural and urban areas, and formal and informal habitations. Her report with regards to Egypt will be presented next year.

Egypt, in response to her report, stated that this issue is at the core of its policies. It affirmed that legislation law is at an advanced stage and the rate of coverage has increased exponentially in recent years. That said, it recognizes that many challenges remain. Among these challenges are the disparities that need to be addressed as well as the need to improve both the quality of and access to water. Once it has achieved the required coverage, the next step on the agenda is water quality, giving special attention to rural areas. Egypt continues to subsidize water services, has three levels of water monitoring, has initiated new projects with regards to access of water and sanitation, and is currently considering the preliminary qualifications. 


Human Rights Nexus said...

Yesterday, 19 November, the United Nations marked World Toilet Day, stressing access to proper sanitation as a human right due to all, with a particular focus on “forgotten” prisoners and detainees in state institutions.

“With 2.5 billion people worldwide without access to proper sanitation, which leads to 1.8 million deaths a year, access to sanitation itself is clearly a human rights issue,” three UN human rights experts – on water and sanitation, health, and torture – said in a joint statement.

“States must ensure that everyone, including people in detention, have access to safe sanitation. Without it, detention conditions are inhumane, and contrary to the basic human dignity which underpins all human rights,” they added.

“International human rights law demands that all persons deprived of their liberty be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,” they said, noting that “sanitation itself is increasingly recognized as a human right, which should be enjoyed without discrimination, in all settings, including detention.”

J said...

It is often said, and I agree, that wars of the future will be fought over water. Yet as I walk down the street, I pass at least one building worker standing on the pavement washing away leaves or dirt with a hose. How lucky are we that while others don't have water to drink or bathe in, we have perfectly clean water to dump into the streets bc we are too lazy to pick up a broom. I went to the Water: Charity event two years ago where you carry those yellow containers of water for barely 20 feet. Baby children do this for miles daily in countries through out the world and I'm ashamed to say that even with the 1/2 weight ones, I could barely go 20 ft.

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