Tag Archives: Right To Safe Drinking Water

7/27/2011 UN General Assembly Examines Vital Human Right to Safe Drinking Water, Adequate Sanitation

7/27/2011 United Nations General Assembly GA/11123 Sixty-fifth General Assembly Plenary 114th Meeting Examines Vital Human Right to Safe Drinking Water, Adequate Sanitation: ‘Water Is the Mother of All Rights,’ Says Bolivia’s Leader, Opposing Attempts To Privatize It; Venezuela Says Wrong to Flaunt Resources While Millions Lack Them. While some strides had been made to increase access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation — now regarded as a fundamental human right — efforts must be redoubled to provide access to safe water to the more than 1 billion people without it and basic sanitation services for the more than 2 billion still in need, urged experts and delegates in the General Assembly this afternoon.

Against the backdrop of the current drought-driven emergency in the Horn of Africa, where millions were struggling to survive, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Assembly that, at any one time, close to half of all people in developing countries were suffering from health problems caused by poor water and sanitation. Lack of access to adequate sanitation adversely affected children’s health and development, while, conversely, good sanitation systems could boost efforts in the field of health — including the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria — and increase school attendance and improve performance, especially among girls.

But the Secretary-General was quick to note that ensuring the more accessible, more equitable provision of water did not mean that water should be assigned no economic value. “Let us be clear: a right to water and sanitation does not mean that water should be free,” he stressed. States bore the primary responsibility to make clean water and sanitation both affordable and available to all, he added, urging Governments that had not yet done so to include the rights to water and sanitation services in their national constitutions without delay.

General Assembly President Joseph Deiss agreed that the situation was urgent. “We must, day by day, reiterate our collective will and determination to achieve our objective,” he stressed, referring to the rapidly approaching 2015 deadline to reach the Millennium Development Goals — which included one specific target to halve the global population without access to safe water or sanitation.

In a positive development, he pointed to a growing international recognition of water as human right, as well as of the fact that water underlay most other internationally agreed development goals. The General Assembly, in its resolution 64/292 of July 2010, had acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation were integral to the realization of all human rights. Two months later, the Human Rights Council reaffirmed that position, additionally concluding that the right to water and sanitation was part of existing international law. It was derived from the basic right to a dignified life, among others.

More than 1 billion people still lived without access to safe water, and more than 2 billion lacked basic sanitation services, he noted, echoing the concerns of the Secretary-General. Many challenges hampered the realization of that right, including the absence of functional institutions and necessary technical resources. But more must be done by States, and those in a position to support them, to overcome such obstacles.

“Water is the mother of all rights,” said Evo Morales Ayma, the President of Bolivia, who also addressed the Assembly today. It was the responsibility of the State to guarantee access to that resource, which was so vital to life. Bolivia, to that end, had enshrined the right to water in its Constitution, and had invested $100 million to projects providing water to people, their crops and their livestock. It was critical that States take the opportunity provided by the current debate to share their experiences and to learn from each other’s stories.

Water should not be seen as a luxury as it was in some countries, Mr. Morales said. He condemned attempts to make water a private commodity. Similarly, several representatives in the course of the meeting called for water and sanitation to be better distributed among countries that were “polarized” in their enjoyment of human rights. The representative of Venezuela, for example, said that the fact that a rich minority of the world monopolized and flaunted basic resources — while millions lacked them — was unacceptable. Water belonged to all, he stressed.

Meanwhile, other delegates pointed to particular situations of drought or deprivation experienced by their own countries. The representative of Djibouti, one of the most water-deficient in the world, said that today’s meeting was poignant as it was taking place at the time of one of the worst droughts in the history of his home region. Djibouti itself risked running out of water in the next 25 years, he said. Like so many other countries, it lacked the resources and infrastructure to desalinate water or to distribute it widely. He urged the international community to take action to reverse those trends.

Also addressing the Assembly today was Catarina de Albuquerque, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, who appealed to Member States to ensure that that right and non-discriminatory access to it was built into the development framework to be pursued following 2015. There were many technical and resource challenges, she said, but political will was the most important element. Delegates throughout the meeting echoed that statement.

Also participating were the representatives of the European Union, Brazil, Spain, Peru, United States, France, Egypt, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Germany, El Salvador, Sweden, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Nicaragua, Madagascar, Senegal, South Africa, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia, Burkina Faso, Maldives and Morocco.

The Assembly will reconvene tomorrow, 28 July, at 10:00 a.m.

Background

The General Assembly met this afternoon to consider the human right to water and sanitation, during which it was expected to hear an address by Evo Morales Ayma, President of Bolivia.

Opening Remarks

JOSEPH DEISS, President of the General Assembly, recalled that in July 2010 the General Assembly had adopted a resolution on the human right to water and sanitation, an important first step towards the explicit acknowledgment of that resource as a human right. It derived from the basic right to a dignified life, he said, recalling as well that the seventh Millennium Development Goal called for the halving, by 2015, of the population with no access to safe water or sanitation. That goal was crucial for the achievement of all other goals, as well.

After 10 years, progress towards meeting that target remained inadequate, he said. More than 1 billion people still lived without access to safe water, and more than 2 billion lacked basic sanitation services. Many challenges hampered the realization of that right, including the absence of functional institutions and necessary technical resources. “We must, day by day, reiterate our collective will and determination to achieve our objective,” he stressed, referring to the rapidly approaching 2015 deadline. He hoped that the upcoming Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development would give new impetus to that mission.

Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said that, at any one time, close to half of all people in developing countries were suffering from health problems caused by poor water and sanitation. Together, unclean water and poor sanitation were the second largest killers of children. While important legal advances had recently been made by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council when they recognized, respectively, the right to water and sanitation and the fact that that right was derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, the task now was to translate that commitment into specific obligations, both at the international and national levels.

“Let us be clear: a right to water and sanitation does not mean that water should be free,” stressed Mr. Ban. Rather, it meant that water and sanitation services should be affordable and available for all. States must do everything in their power to make that happen. It was not acceptable that poor slum-dwellers paid five or even 10 times as much for their water as wealthy residents of the same cities, or that wastewater from slums, farms and industry was polluting the environment.

Last month the General Assembly had launched the sustainable sanitation “Drive to 2015”, at which time, he recalled, he had spoken about how lack of access to good sanitation adversely affected children’s health and development, how good sanitation could boost efforts in the field of health — including the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria — and how it could increase school attendance and improve performance, especially among girls. He urged Governments that had not yet done so to include the right to water and sanitation services in their national constitutions without delay.

Finally, he drew the attention of the Assembly to the current emergency in the Horn of Africa, where millions were struggling to survive. There, short-term relief must be linked to long-term sustainability; namely, an agricultural transformation that improved the resilience of rural people, especially pastoralists, and minimized the scale of any future crisis.

“Water is the mother of all rights,” said EVO MORALES Ayma, President of Bolivia, as he took the floor next. He asked Presidents and other leaders to respect that right as a basis for all others, and said that the United Nations was a forum where significant progress could be made towards implementing those rights.

Water must stop being the subject of private business, he stressed, and instead must become a public service. It must not be subjected to trade and to companies that could exploit it for financial gain. The international community must implement policies to that end. Human rights, like other rights, had adversaries — policies and problems, which led to inequality and brought about injustices. The enemy of water, first and foremost, was global warming.

In Bolivia, he said, the population was suffering from the worst droughts and frosts ever seen; those crises caused forced migration and continued to be a major challenge throughout the country. In response, the country was implementing policies that underscored the right to safe water and sanitation. It was the responsibility of the State to guarantee access to that resource, which was so vital to life. Bolivia had enshrined the right to water in its Constitution. It had invested $100 million to priority projects, providing water to human beings and for the support of their crops and livestock. Today, it was critical for States to share similar experiences and to learn from each other’s stories.

Water should not be seen as a luxury, as it was in some countries, he continued. Together, a balance among all human beings must be sought. The United Nations had taken important steps through its resolutions recognizing the right to water and sanitation, and referendums on the provision of water were being held in some areas of the world. In that vein, he condemned all moves to make water a private commodity, noting that some multinational companies wanted to increase the price of water by up to 500 per cent. He asked the Assembly to build upon its recent actions and to take steps to ensure the provision of safe water and sanitation around the world.

CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, asked if measures taken so far would change the urgent situation facing millions around the world. She cited examples of children who had to spend most of the day searching for water and people who had to set up makeshift toilets and who cart away waste. The recognition of water and sanitation as a right could truly make a difference in their cases; it could cement the urgency of the matter, and create a world where people did not get sick by drinking dangerous water or make others sick by defecating into their water. The human rights approach mandated States to gradually make access to clean water and sanitation universal.

She said that the numerous strategies she had researched showed that there was no single path to such universal access and that it was within reach. Reports next year would review progress on the recognition of the right to water and sanitation, as well as on monitoring such aspects as non-discrimination in applying that right. She appealed to Member States to ensure that the human right to water and sanitation and non-discrimination was built into the development framework to be pursued following 2015. There were many technical and resource challenges, but will was the most important element. She called on all stakeholders to use the human rights framework in all their efforts.

Statements

PEDRO SERRANO, Acting Head of Delegation of the European Union, acknowledged the recent recognition of the human right to water by the General Assembly, and the Human Rights Council’s specification that that right was part of the human right to an adequate standard of living. He also recalled that there were different positions within the United Nations membership on the relevant solutions. What was important was that the international community demonstrated united political will to address the global water and sanitation crisis. Despite international recognition of that priority, there was no room for complacency.

The Union, he said, would further prioritize sustainable water management in its future development policy. It and its member countries collaborated closely with African countries on that sector. Last year, the Union had launched a Millennium Development Goals initiative; with a focus on water and sanitation, it provided 1 billion euros for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Describing other efforts by the Union and its members, he said that the Union welcomed the efforts being led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to look at the post-2015 development framework for water and sanitation and it acknowledged the importance of global monitoring of quality, affordability and accessibility of water and sanitation services.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil) echoed Mr. Morales call for greater cooperation for access to water and sanitation, which she called a pre-condition for the eradication of poverty. Domestically, her country was working for universal access and, internationally, it was sharing the expertise the expertise it had gained in that effort. The right to water and sanitation was linked to many economic rights, whose full enjoyment must be provided by the State. The central role of human rights’ bodies in gaining respect for that right, and the role of the Special Rapporteur were critical. Rio+20 would allow the international community to revisit the issue in the context of sustainable development.

FERNANDO FERÁNDEZ-ARIAS MINUESA (Spain) said that, as part and parcel of international law, the right to water and sanitation was legally binding. The Human Rights Council had renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation, further endorsing that right. Her work had provided a solid platform for further efforts.

He said that Spain, together with Germany, had drawn the attention of the Human Rights Council to the issue of water and sanitation five years ago. There was a close link between recognizing human rights and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. States needed to fully realize the right by drawing up national action plans that worked closely with poverty reduction programmes. Today, States and other actors understood their obligations; the need now lay in their implementation. Spain was one of 122 States that had voted in favour of that momentous General Assembly resolution of July 2010, and welcomed today’s debate.

GONZALO GUTIÉRREZ (Peru) said that a commitment from all Governments was needed to ensure that the right to water was realized around the world. International human rights provisions included special regulations with regard to the right to drinking water. Among other things, those obliged States to provide a certain amount of water to their people for various purposes, as well as for sanitation services, as part of the protection of their standard of living. Water must be managed in an integrated fashion; it was a renewable resource and part of many ecosystems. Its management, therefore, should include a recognition of its worth, the participation of the people in taking decisions relating to it, legal security for investments in water use, and decentralization of water management and efficiency, among other key principles. He also advocated an approach that acknowledged the multidimensional impact of the right to water. The human right to water and sanitation was derived from the right to life, to physical and mental health and to human dignity.

FREDERICK D. BARTON (United States) said that his country was deeply committed to addressing the needs of those around the world who lacked access to safe water and sanitation services. He acknowledged some progress, noting that more than 1.6 billion people had gained access to safe water between 1990 and 2005, but stressed that it had not gone far enough. In March, the United States had supported the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. It believed, first, that Governments should strive to realize the right to water and sanitation, and should expand access to underserved populations. They should also commit sufficient budgetary resources to meeting those goals. Second, States needed to make sure that access was provided on a non-discriminatory basis, including to persons in State custody.

Third, he noted, the right to safe water could be interpreted to mean cooking water, as well as water in sufficient quality and quantity to meet personal hygiene needs. Fourth, Governments should work towards greater transparency and accountability in the provision of water and sanitation, and should strive for the participation of the beneficiaries in that process. He hoped that today’s meeting would push States to take concrete actions to reduce the number of people without access to safe water or adequate sanitation.

EMMANUEL BONNE (France) said it had also supported the resolution adopted by the Assembly one year ago. With the full involvement of all stakeholders concerned, the international community needed to move forward and implement that resolution, as well as that of the Human Rights Council. France, therefore, committed itself, alongside other members of the “Blue Group”, to achieving those goals. He welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative on sanitation, as well as the work of the Economic Commission for Europe, and the creation of a handbook on equitable access to water, among other recent progress made.

In March 2012, he said, France would host a conference in Marseille on the right to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. States must delineate the roles of different stakeholders and ensure the implementation of rights. He called for a greater role for local authorities in the delivery of water, adding that all public stakeholders must commit to solidarity-based solutions ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all.

MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ (Egypt) affirmed that all human rights must be achieved in an integrated manner, and that States must take all necessary measures to extend those rights, including the right to clean water and sanitation. That process should take into account regional differences, without creating “sub-rights” differing from those agreed upon in international instruments. In Egypt’s efforts, funding, climate change, population growth and other factors created challenges. To meet them, the Government had adopted an integrated national plan several years ago. Its implementation was based on decentralization and full cooperation among concerned ministries and national agencies and had wide-ranging goals. The United Nations and the international community must intensify their joint endeavours towards the development of integrated studies in order to address the major challenges, taking account of the particularities of all Member States.

RODOLFO ELISEO BENÍTEZ VERSÓN (Cuba), supporting the statement made by President Morales, said that the recognition of the right to clean water and sanitation was a milestone in helping the hundreds of millions of people who did not have access to those necessities, with millions dying each year from the lack. With climate change, international cooperation must be enhanced and mechanisms must be created that were not subjected to the conditionalities of the international financial institutions. His country had achieved the Millennium Development Goal on water before it was elaborated and had taken many actions to guarantee that human right. Despite that, the country faced many challenges, including the cruel blockade, which had prevented access to the latest technologies. The country did not envisage the privatization of water or other commercial solutions, since the access the water, which was a fundamental right, should not be a source of profit.

MURAD ASKAROV (Uzbekistan) said that no one disputed the truth that the Earth was experiencing an increasing incidence of natural catastrophes. This year, his region had experienced a severe drought, with reduced food production and environmental degradation. The Aral Sea had disappeared and had been replaced by a desert. Partial and ambiguous approaches to the water problem in his region would only lead to further disasters. In Uzbekistan, a programme was being implemented to rationalize water use, with associations of water users for agriculture. Billions invested in improving soil and water extraction from rivers were being reduced. A coordinated effort was needed on the part of States in the region, in line with treaty obligations, on the use of transboundary water sources. His country, in that context, was categorically against the construction of hydro-electric plants in the high reaches of the area. It was agreed that major dams created great risk. Fresh water should be used primarily for food production.

MIGUEL BERGER (Germany), supporting the statement made on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the recognition of the human right to clean water and sanitation, the pursuit of which his country had long supported. The big challenge now was to implement that right, and to think in bigger terms than technology. Ignoring any parameters in the integrated effort meant ignoring the people bereft of their rights. He looked forward to discussing the compendium of best practices that would be presented to the Human Rights Council soon. He urged all States to ensure that a human-rights approach was employed when designing national action plans to ensure universal access to clean water and sanitation.

CARLOS ENRIQUE GARCÍA GONZÁLEZ (El Salvador) said that many human rights could not be enjoyed in the absence of water. That key right was jeopardized by shortages and pollution; every day, 6,000 people, mainly children, died as a result of polluted drinking water. Under the current administration in El Salvador, a series of projects were in place to address water quality. The resolutions discussed today were “major strides forward in international endeavours to support sustainable human development”. Nonetheless, more remained to be done. Availability of water, when it was provided, must be equitable, sustainable, and affordable. It was the duty of States to prevent their people from being cut off from water sources as well as to counter pollution, whose impact on forests should also be considered. Industry, mining and agriculture, as sources of water pollution, must also be regulated.

SIGNE BURGSTALLER (Sweden) said that States must ensure that all people had access to water for personal use, and that water was distributed in a non-discriminatory way. That basic human right, along with the provision of adequate sanitation, was critical for sustainable economic growth. Improving water management at all levels was vital, as was providing access to women, who were often the household members who cared for others and managed a family’s water needs.

CAMILLO GONSALVES (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that his country had been an enthusiastic co-sponsor of the resolution, by which the Assembly had recognized the right to water and sanitation as a human right. It had devoted tremendous resources to ensuring the realization of that right. His country’s modest national success in entrenching that human right showed that progress was achievable if political will was present, he stressed.

Too often, he said, Governments left much of the work on water issues to civil society organizations. It was now necessary to operationalize the resolutions, including by providing resources and technical assistance to States working to scale up the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation. He noted, in particular, the urgency of “looming threats” to achieving the right to water, namely, climate change and desertification. In his archipelago, people had often resorted to transported water by ship; water levels had risen, threatening a disastrous effect. The number of States worldwide that were classified as “water-scarce” was estimated to double by 2025. Mainstreaming the issue in the global agenda, therefore, was essential.

MARIA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO (Nicaragua) said that it was critical to put the human being at the centre of development, including human economic and social rights. For that purpose, her country had drawn up national plans for water and sanitation and had opposed the privatization of resources. The plight of those without access to drinking water and sanitation should drive international efforts, with technical assistance for achieving the vital goals. So far, the sector had not garnered the necessary focus. An inclusive, rights-based approach was important. Without creating sustainable models of production and consumption, in addition, it would be impossible to ensure the continuance of life on Earth.

SEM ZINA ANDRIANARIVELO-RAZAFY (Madagascar) said that a year after the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation, it was time to consider implementation, along with the challenges involved. The right must be upheld without any discrimination or exception, and each State must ensure that the right was fulfilled. His country had instituted a code and established a ministry on water issues, to provide for growth, ensure access to drinking water and develop infrastructure for sanitation. Other ministries had complemented those efforts.

He said that the support of Madagascar’s partners for those efforts was essential. Such partnerships had already borne fruit and much progress had been made, but the challenges were still numerous. Every year, there was drought in the south of the country, halving the proportion of those with access to clean water and sanitation. He called for the mobilization of greater resources for the sector and for all Member States to implement the decisions they had taken so that the right becomes “real” and not just a theory.

ABDOU SALAM DIALLO (Senegal), welcoming the recognition of water and sanitation as a human right, said that in his country access to those necessities was at the centre of development policy. Its water programme had already achieved “striking” results. However, water quality and access in rural areas must be improved. To augment progress, there were programmes to ease access to surface water. For the efforts to be successful, climate change and drought must be factored in, and for that to happen, assistance to the sector must be increased. He expressed Senegal’s willingness to host the Special Rapporteur in the context of her studies.

ROBLE OLHAYE (Djibouti) said that the presence of Evo Morales at the meeting added significance to the gathering and underscored the high-level political commitment to water and sanitation, by putting them on the international agenda. The timing of the meeting was also important, taking place as it did against the backdrop of a severe drought in the Horn of Africa. Only a few years from the 2015 Millennium Development Goal deadline to halve the number of people without drinking water and sanitation, it was inconceivable to bridge that gap without major actions by States.

However, he said he was encouraged that so many countries were recognizing the right to water and sanitation, and implementing both short- and long-term measures to realize that right. The world was divided into “haves and have nots”, but those distinctions must give way to the equitable enjoyment of human rights. States bore the primary responsibility for the provision of those rights. Djibouti was one of the most deficient in the world with regard to safe water access, and it risked running out of water in the next 25 years. Like many other countries, it also lacked the resources and infrastructure to desalinate water or to distribute it widely. Challenges, however, should not discourage the international community from striving to reverse those trends and ensuring safe water and sanitation for all.

THEMBELA OSMOND NGCULU (South Africa) said that his country’s bill of rights provided a legislative framework for the enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms, including the enjoyment of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. His Government, therefore, had an obligation to create an enabling environment for the provision of those resources and services; it had committed itself to those goals since 1994. Water and the environment were catalysts to South Africa’s economic growth, and a strategic framework for water services had been in place since 2003, requiring that all clinics, schools, and people had access to safe water. South Africa also used the water policies of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and other regional development frameworks. He called for international cooperation to help all countries, especially developing ones, achieve the Millennium Development Goals and other targets related to water and sanitation.

CSABA KÖRÖSI (Hungary), aligning his statement with that of the European Union, said speakers at the meeting had already shown a major commitment to improving access to safe water and sanitation. A firm legal basis was of vital importance to successful water management, both at the national and international levels, he added. While access to clean drinking water and sanitation should be universal, that was far from reality. In truth, realizing the basic human right to water and sanitation required investments in institutions and infrastructure. Preventative measures must be taken now, he stressed.

JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY (Switzerland), calling the recognition of the right to water and sanitation historic, said that in view of the Millennium Development Goals and planning for the period following 2015, the rights-based approach was essential. He supported the joint monitoring programme of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, which showed the great gaps between the needs in the field and their financing, and called for greater investment, both nationally and internationally. His country had agreed to increase its official development assistance (ODA), which would be focussed primarily on water. Efforts to realize the right to water and sanitation must be scaled up worldwide. He cited the Protocol for Water and Health, to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, as an instrument that embodied the links between human rights and sustainable development. Switzerland was drawing up guidelines to better utilize the rights-based approach.

GARY FRANCIS QUINLAN (Australia), noting that his country was in fact the driest inhabited continent on Earth, recognized that access to water and sanitation was fundamental to the realization of the range of human rights. He welcomed progress towards improving access to water and sanitation, but was alarmed that the sanitation target would be missed by 1 billion people. For that reason, his Government had invested more than $330 million on water, sanitation and hygiene in developing countries and was planning on spending more in the next four years.

He said that addressing the many challenges in the sector required enhanced water policy and management approaches, increased investments through funding and capacity support, the application of innovative and cost-effective water supply and sanitation technology and an improved focus on the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized. Also necessary was to improve planning for both urban and rural areas, to expand rainwater catchments and storage and to empower community initiatives. It was also vital to support integrated management systems and to urgently address the disproportionate impact that poor water and sanitation access had on health, education and economic opportunities for women and young girls, as well as people with disabilities.

MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) said that his country had set up a State-owned company to ensure adequate water supply and to look after the operation of sanitation facilities. Considerable progress in the past few years had gained the country the “MDG prize”. He thanked Burkina Faso’s partners for their assistance in the sector. However, there were many challenges in his Sahelian country, and he noted that it was working with Morocco on new technologies. He hoped that the upcoming summit on desertification would help address the water issue, which had an impact on many other sectors.

THILMEEZA HUSSAIN (Maldives) said that her country had a policy of ensuring that all inhabited islands had access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation services. Streams and rivers did not exist in the island, and lakes were scarce. Its main source of water was shallow groundwater, and the Maldives, therefore, was extremely vulnerable to water scarcity. “Urgent and transformational action” was needed, in particular, in small island States, such as the Maldives. They faced climate change and water scarcity; that was a problem today, and not one in the distant future. The human right to water and sanitation was legally binding, she stressed, and the provision of that right must be considered further in the context of sea-level rise, climate change, and other critical phenomena.

MOHAMMED LOULICHKI (Morocco) said that the rights to water and sanitation were at the centre of the economic, social and cultural rights that Morocco held dear. It was not a political, ideological or a moral matter, but a “solemn appeal” for the right to life. He asked whether it was acceptable that in Africa and Asia a woman or child must walk an average distance of six kilometres for water. He himself had lived in very difficult circumstances and had personally experienced such deprivation to water, which affected four people out of every 10 in the developing world. The time had come to harness energies towards finding a sustainable solution. Today’s meeting was a recognition of the gravity of the situation, but more action was urgently needed. Morocco supported any international effort to give full recognition of the human right to water, which was a major domestic policy priority. It was critical to save water to make the best possible use of it, as the primary responsibility of States in relation to water was to save lives. But more support was needed at the international level.

JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela), noting that polarities existed between countries around the world with regard to the enjoyment of human rights, stressed that the right to water and sanitation must be more widely respected. The fact that a rich minority of the world monopolized and flaunted those resources, while millions lacked them, was unacceptable. Those discrepancies were characteristic of the capitalist system; it was necessary to overcome the “miserable economic fundamentalism” that stymied the equitable distribution of water around the world. President Morales had noted that water was “the mother of all rights”. Venezuela would add that water was not a source of finance and trade. The country’s domestic provisions stated that water was an asset of society, and belonged to all. Full exercise of national solidarity was exercised and the exploitation of water by foreigners was prevented. Venezuela had achieved the Millennium Development Goal on water, with more than 95 per cent of its population today having access to safe drinking water, and more than 92 per cent with access to adequate sanitation.

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Four Corners Free Press: Living with the legacy of uranium on the Navajo Nation

Four Corners Free Press: Living with the legacy of uranium on the Navajo Nation By Sonja Horoshko: Box Springs, Ariz., is cut off by the Little Colorado River from access to any paved roads or the conveniences of groceries, gas stations, banks, electricity and power, not to mention jobs and economic development. But the community’s willingness to solve its own problems is gaining it recognition as one of the most pro-active areas on the Navajo Nation. Surrounding the tiny hamlet is the country in the Navajo Nation Western Agency referred to by some as “Cancer Alley” – the heart of leetsoii, the uranium belt stretching through the Navajo Nation to the Four Corners region.

It is a place where unregulated water sources are poisoned with contaminants left behind by the un-remediated abandoned mining operations begun in the mid-1940s to fuel the Atomic Energy Commission and the Cold War.

As if the lack of safe, potable water isn’t problem enough, Box Springs, a community of less than 150, is 30 miles from Leupp, Ariz., the nearest town — a drive that often takes an hour. Harsh winter weather and the crenellated, pitched washboard of the partially graveled road add stress to the difficult, typically wind-whipped trip to haul drinking water twice a week for consumption and hygiene. The necessity is the dominant concern for all families living there.

On a mid-April Friday morning, the Tahonnie family opened their home to another community meeting of their grassroots organization, The Forgotten Navajo People, to hear from the Navajo Department of Water Resources about plans for a waterdelivery schedule beginning that day and to welcome the first 4,000-gallon water truck to the area.

“It is a blessing today, “said Rolanda Tahonnie. “A lot of progress has been made here, so it’s a beautiful day. Two years our water barrel has been completely empty and now it’s full.”

Thirty percent of Navajo families living on the reservation haul drinking water, compared to 1 percent of the U.S. population nationwide. With gas prices exceeding $3.80 per gallon and the expense of wear and tear on the vehicle, the price tag for Navajo consumers is more than 10 times the cost of water for a typical household in Phoenix, one of many Arizona metropolises fed by the water found beneath the reservation and transported through it to cities lying south of the reservation boundaries in Arizona.

The new water truck was bought with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant awarded to Indian Health Services, providing the Navajo Department of Water Resources funding for a three-year Safe Drinking Water Hauling Feasibility Study and Pilot Project.

Its huge shiny white hulk rumbled over the hill into the clearing that served as a casual parking area filled with pick-ups and trailers loaded with empty water containers. Following close behind was another truck hauling a new trailer and two 200-gallon tanks to be used by the residents there to move their personal water from the Tahonnie watering point and storage tank to homes further out in the community. Tó … Tó … Tó … (drip, drip, drip)

“Today is a great day,” said Forgotten People program director Marsha Monestersky. “Box Springs and the Forgotten People have become the heart of the Navajo reservation. It is the beginning.”

The program is a model that can work in all communities tucked into remote locations where water is scarce and roads are rough. “We are working with Department of Water Resources to schedule regular delivery points here in the Western Agency chapters, including Canyon Diablo, Gray Mountain and Cameron and then Coal Mine,” Monestersky said.

“It is a model water-hauling project,” added the director of DWR, Najam Tajiq. But it was a tough crowd gathered in the room: the local people, the real experts at hauling water. They directed their concerns to him about the lasting reliability of the program.

Benson Willie told Tajiq that they will need to strengthen the one bridge crossing a small arroyo on the road. It was not built to withstand repeated trips carrying the weight of a 4,000-gallon water truck and, he said, “The spigot on the Tolani Lake storage tank has been broken for months. We aren’t allowed to fix it, even though it’s a job any high-school student could do. We’ve been told it’s under warranty and it’s NTUA’s responsiblility.” NTUA is the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

Adding to the challenge is the anticipated heavy maintenance and repair of the truck because of the ongoing Navajo Department of Roads maintenance issues.

In their mission statement, the Forgotten Navajo People write that they are dedicated to the rebuilding of the communities using a participatory methodology that strives to empower the local communities and ensures that they own and control their sustainable development agendas.

At the meeting, Don Yellowman, president of the group, explained progress at the two additional test-well projects upstream on the Little Colorado at Black Falls Crossing and near Leupp. If the water found there is potable and palatable, it will be piped through 12.4 miles of new waterline extensions to 155 homes in the area of concern.

Someday the water will be here, he told the group. “Nine homes now have bathroom additions and fixtures plumbed and ready for the water when it comes, and they were built by sharing each other’s labors, organizing the people’s teamwork in a traditional Diné way with Black Falls Project Manager Ronald Tahonnie.”

Blue gold

By 2007, the United Nations had announced two human-rights-to-water declarations. The first, issued in 2002, said, “The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, affordable, physically accessible, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses.” It requires governments to adopt national strategies and plans of action which will allow them to “move expeditiously and effectively towards the full realization of the right to water.”

But in 2007 the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights expanded the statement to include in the definition, “the right to equal and non-discriminatory access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses. . .” ensuring a sufficient amount of water that is “good quality, is affordable for all and can be collected within a reasonable distance from a person’s home.”

The description fit the needs of Navajo people throughout the reservation. FNP began to work on a submission to the U.N. that would eventually lead to a 2010 historic declaration and help from its own central government in Window Rock, and a Navajo Commission on Emergency Management “Declaration of Public Health State of Emergency” for Black Falls/Box Springs/ Grand Falls.

Contamination in the water sources is attributable to uranium-mining and other natural-resources mining practices that began in the mid-1940s. Monestersky said, “The people here have been drinking contaminated water from unregulated livestock sources and springs for more than 40 years. This was our opportunity to address the issue on a global scale, to declare a humanrights emergency.” The case they submitted contained comments from interviews of Diné people denied access to water due to uranium contamination throughout the Navajo Nation, including their neighborhoods in Grey Mountain, Tuba City, Moenkopi and the New Lands.

Currently, the Diné are threatened by new uranium mining just outside their borders, despite a ban on such mining within the Navajo Nation, issued in 2005 by former president Joe Shirley, Jr. Adverse health effects continue, according to the stories in the document prepared by the Forgotten Navajo People, as a result of more than 1,100 un-reclaimed uranium sites throughout the Navajo Nation. The document includes graphic testament to conditions inflicted on the people living around Peabody Coal Company mining operations who are denied access to safe drinking water due to destruction, degradation and diminution of their water sources.

The report also includes a statement alleging that, “The Diné live on lands the U.S. Department of Energy calls a ‘National Sacrifice Area’.”

Response to the submission strengthened relationships with partners already work- ing on the cataclysmic environmental and health disaster. The U.S. EPA Superfund, Indian Health Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Energy, Navajo Nation EPA, Navajo Abandoned Mines, DWR, and others, working on remediation and attribution of responsibility, have activated programs addressing the issues since the mid-1990s.

In 2006, Judy Pasternack, journalist and author of “Yellow Dirt,” began publishing excerpts from her work-in-progress in the Los Angeles Times.

The series painted a stark picture of national disgrace and neglect and the continuing presence of radioactive contamination in the Navajos’ “drinking supplies, in their walls and floors, playgrounds, bread ovens, in their churches, and even in their garbage dumps. And they are still dying.”

Hope fueled the work of the grassroots organizations. The Forgotten Navajo People began to feel remembered. They knew best what was needed in their own community and assumed the role of experts working toward solutions.

Ticking meters

But while the picture may have improved for Box Springs, at least in regard to drinking water, the dark legacy of uraniummining hangs over the Navajo Nation like a specter.

A month after the water-hauling meeting, the U.S. EPA announced a Superfund meeting in Tuba City on the Abandoned Uranium Mines project in the Western Agency. Nearly 200 people representing all the communities in the Western Agency crowded the conference room on May 14 with members of several Navajo grassroots environmental-justice and natural-resources organizations, including the Forgotten Navajo People.

Svetlana Zenkin, site assessment manager with EPA Region 9’s Superfund Division, explained the mine screening that provided for the initial evaluation of 520 sites found by 2000. During the first four years of a five-year plan of action, 383 of the sites throughout the reservation have been screened in an initial evaluation.

Sites under investigation in the Western Agency chapters include mines, transfer stations, homes and outbuilding structures, hogans, schools, water sources, tailing piles, landfills, barrow ditches, access roads and the Rare Metals mill site east of Tuba City. All 126 were identified in the original study found in the Abandoned Mines 2000 Atlas. The initial investigation of these was to be completed by the end of May, yielding a prioritized list identifying sites requiring additional investigation.

“Our main goal was to gauge the level of interest in the region, educate the people about our progress and to locate what sites people come into contact with that we didn’t know about,” said Zenkin.

The biggest surprise of the meeting was the contamination level discovered for a site east of the Cameron Chapter House on the west side of the Little Colorado River, not far from Box Springs.

According to Alex Grubbs, a representative of Weston Solutions, the Superfund contract environmental consultants for the project, “The meter maxed out three times … at a million,” which is an actual reading of 1,000 radiation counts per minute— a relative measure of radiation to the surrounding background area. Background radiation is typically between 5 and 60 cpm, rarely exceeding 100 cpm.

Although people in the community believe the site may have been a transfer station for ore, Zenkins said, “We hesitate to label the site until we have finished the intensive study required of such a screen. It has definitely moved to the top of the priority list.”

“Superfund” is a retroactive liability law, not a monetary fund. It has the authority to identify and locate hazardous sites and require the responsible party to fund the clean-up — even if it is a government entity such as the Department of Energy or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (former Atomic Energy Commission).

Contaminated water is the highest-priority threat because it is the most direct internal contaminant. Today, the subject of safe, clean water is also a hotly contested issue in the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement.

In a special session in November 2010, the 21st Navajo Nation Council voted 51-24 to pass legislation supporting the settlement.

Ron Millford, a concerned Navajo citizen and opponent of the settlement, asked Superfund project manager Debbie Schechter for a clarification of authority. “Does the EPA Superfund have authority over waivers contained in the settlement?” According to Millford, “The waiver releases all claims against the state or corporations — including Arizona Power Service and Peabody Coal, that may pollute the environment,” including violations of the Clean Water Act.

Because the Superfund can go after any responsible party, it seems logical that it would have authority over such a waiver.

Schechter told Millford, “It is a question that we will ask the EPA lawyers, and get an answer for you on this.” At the time of this writing, Millford had not heard a response from the lawyers.

Green dust

Afternoon breakout groups at the May 14 meeting gave citizens an opportunity to tell their stories directly to the Superfund project managers. Of great concern was potential future contamination from possible Grand Canyon uranium-mining.

A single-parenting father of two young boys said, “I teach my sons to clean up after themselves, to be responsible. What will they think when they learn about the mining residue left behind by the corporations at these natural-resources operations?”

He added that the dust is everywhere and he’s concerned for his children who may play in contaminated soil picked up and blowing in the wind. Another young man called its presence in the windstorms, “unavoidable green dust,” and another woman added that children continue risk exposure when they put it in their mouths. “It tastes like rock candy,” she said.

Sarana Riggs, a young woman living in Tuba City, said she is very concerned about “the potential 50 trucks a day transporting uranium ore from the Grand Canyon through Cameron and Tuba City, Monument Valley and the Utah strip of Navajo Nation to the mill in Blanding, Utah.”

“What is the level of our awareness?” she asked. “What education can we be doing for our communities to prevent a repeat of this contamination and its aftereffects?”

Those answers remain unclear.

United Nations General Assembly A/HRC/18/33/Add.4 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

UN General Assembly Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitati…United Nations General Assembly A/HRC/18/33/Add.4 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque