Statement by Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to safe drinking water and sanitation to the Thematic Debate of the General Assembly "Water, Sanitation and Sustainable Energy in the Post-2015 Development Agenda"
New York, 18-19 February 2014
Mr President of the General Assembly, Madame Moderator, Dear Panellists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to speak at this important initiative taken by the President of the General Assembly. It is both a pleasure and an honour to be here today with you.
I wish to start by supporting the idea mentioned by the other participants as well as by representatives of Member States that our chances of making the world a better place, where the human rights to sanitation and water become a reality for all, are stronger if we adopt a dedicated global water and sanitation goal in the post-2015 development agenda [and when I refer to a global water and sanitation goal, I am thinking not only of universal access to safe and adequate water, sanitation and hygiene and the elimination of open defecation - but also adequate water resources management and wastewater management]. This should also be aligned with human rights standards and principles – as urged by member states belonging to the Blue Group and as mentioned by the distinguished representative of Thailand on behalf of the Friends of Water.
Why do we need a stand-alone goal rather than water and sanitation targets under other relevant goals?
During the 13 country missions I have undertaken in the 5 continents in my 5 years of work as Special Rapporteur, I saw the clear difference in progress regarding access to water and sanitation at the national level – when countries adopted a specific strategy and a holistic vision for the sector and undertook dedicated and specific efforts towards its achievement. I saw progress when decision-makers made water and sanitation a high priority. I believe that dedicated attention to water and sanitation at the global level – in a form of a new goal – galvanizes and motivates governments and donors to focus and invest in the sector. A dedicated goal gives a clear indication that water and sanitation matter!
I strongly believe that universal access to safe water and sanitation is within reach. But we can achieve this only when a future water and sanitation goal entails an explicit commitment to progressively eliminate the inequalities between those who have and those who don’t have access to water and sanitation. Securing non-discrimination and equality is also at the heart of States’ obligations under international human rights law.
Under the MDGs, as we all know, we met the water target. But appearances can be deceptive. I mean that data focused on statistical averages or aggregates mask inequalities, that even in countries where extraordinary progress has been made in terms of overall access to sanitation and water, the poorest and most marginalized people in society all too often continue without access. An appearance of progress is masking profound injustices- it masks profound inequalities in access to water between different social groups. I have seen this in the richest countries on earth, but also in poorer ones.
GRAPH 1 on hidden disparities in African countries; official data by JMP
We cannot achieve universal access to sanitation and water without addressing inequalities in access. This in turn means that any future goal must include a clear commitment to progressively eliminate inequalities. This will be a clear sign that we do not accept that one billion people defecate daily in the open, that we do not tolerate that hundreds of millions of school and work days are lost yearly dues to lack of access to water and sanitation. Just collecting and disaggregating data is not enough – we need to take that essential next step, and commit to progressively ending inequalities, so as to make sure that “we leave no one behind” and we “strive for a world that is just, equitable and inclusive” as Rio+20 committed.
First question: Is this possible? Yes it is! Let me give you an example!
Five years ago I went on an official mission to Bangladesh, which is a country facing enormous challenges – not only in the area of water and sanitation, but also in terms of poverty and effects of climate change. And what did I see in Bangladesh? That targeted interventions and investments - not necessarily in big and technologically advanced infrastructures, but rather in cheaper but efficient technology, budget allocations for rural areas, empowerment of communities and a strong commitment to end open defecation everywhere – lead to impressive reductions in inequalities in access to sanitation.
GRAPH 2 on reduction in open defecation among the poorest in Bangladesh
I saw the same commitment to ending inequalities in access to water and sanitation in several other countries I visited, which shows that when there is a will, there is a way. Even if the task is difficult, it is achievable.
Now the other question is, can we measure reductions in inequalities?
The answer is also yes. I can say this with confidence because over the last two years I worked closely with more than 200 experts and organisations including statisticians and engineers under the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, which is monitoring the current MDG targets on water and sanitation, and we developed a simple tool to measure the elimination of inequalities in access to water and sanitation.
Now the third question: how can we measure it?
SLIDE 3 on a Tool to measure the progressive elimination of inequalities
We suggest data will be disaggregated by five population groups: women and men; poor and rich; rural and urban; informal settlements and formal urban settlements and disadvantaged groups identified through national consultations and the general population.
Then we determine the necessary rate of progress for both disadvantaged groups and advantaged groups in order to meet each target. The graph shows that faster progress will be necessary for the most disadvantaged groups – and it also shows what progress needs to be achieved each year, in order to stay on track to meet the goal. This means that progress can be monitored for all groups, so that no one is left behind.
We compare the percentage of the disadvantaged population that has access to the relevant service with the percentage of the advantaged population, to establish the disparity.
This simple tool is also applicable when the target is to achieve an absolute target as the elimination of open defecation.
I am confident that we all want the same thing. We all want the world where children do not miss schools and women do not miss work opportunities because of fetching water, diarrhoea, menstruation. We all want that people in rural areas and informal settlements are not forgotten. It is in your hands to make the right choices now.
Water and sanitation are a human right. The realization of this right is indeed crucial to the livelihoods of billions of people and has significant impacts on other rights such as the rights to life, health, education and work. It is in our hands – it is in your hands to make sure that the post 2015 development agenda listens to the voices of all those who are still excluded from progress and becomes instrumental in making real differences to their lives. It is in your hands to send a clear message that we do not tolerate the indignity and injustice that billions of people suffer due to lack of access to sanitation and water.