Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Human Rights to Water Food Energy: Bonn Nexus

When we began FAN in 2001, the human right to water and sanitation was far from secure and subject to much debate between NGOs and goverments. FAN's first major event was the Bonn International Conference on Freshwater, where southern NGOs presented key messages, some of which finally found their way into the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 outcomes. Most notable was the principle cost recovery for water services should never be a barrier to basic access for poor people. So it was significant to return ten years later for the BonnNexus 2011, as a member of the Stakeholder Advisory Group and panellist on Human Rights. This time around, the inter-linkages of water, food and energy security created a complex matrix for policy discourse and unfortunately, civil society voices were not mainstreamed unlike the Bonn 2001 multi-stakeholder dialogues on freshwater.   

The pre-conference lobbying for the centrality of the Rights Based Approach to ‘the Nexus’ resulted in a ‘Global Panel on Human Rights’, to kick off the Bonn Nexus. I don’t often appear on panels, in favour of promoting FAN members and the local voices. I enjoyed the experience, particularly as it was an interactive and lively Q+A style event. I think we set the tone for the conference, and the Human Right to water, sanitation & food was mentioned again & again by diverse stakeholders in different sessions. This is so different from 2001 Conference on Freshwater, which concludes ".....There was still, however, disagreement as to whether there is a human right or basic right to water or whether there ought to be an independent human right to water."

10 years later, we have progressed! We have a UN recognition for the human rights to water & sanitation within the UNCESCR and the Bonn Nexus summary outcomes concludes:

  "In making the nexus approach work commitment is needed to:

  • Putting people and their basic human rights at the center of the nexus – especially women, who make important choices and decisions regarding water, energy, and food for household consumption
  • Improving policy coherence (in both design and implementation) by ensuring that synergies and tradeoffs among water, energy, and food are considered in policies, plans, and investments
  • Promoting good governance, establishing rule of law, eliminating corruption, and providing
  • secure rights to land and water resources"

In another session, Oxfam presented their recent Land & Power report which discusses the drivers and impacts of FDI land purchases/land-grabs. Yes, foreign direct investment can be an opportunity for jobs and economic growth but the recent rush to buy land in Africa for food and biofuels in response to global market speculation is creating huge problems for the local populations. Long land leases granted to foreign companies, frequently also grant water rights, undermining the traditional user rights of the local people their water and food security along with it. As well as the usual call for better regulation, how about commercial contracts drafted with some key human rights principles in mind, as suggested by the UN Special Representative on Business & Human Rights in the Rugge report? 

Can we look forward to Rio 2012 to revisit and reinforce the basic tenants of sustainable development Agenda 21? Can we take it further and incorporate an equity dimension to sustainable development, so that the development framework of the future secures access to the basic human rights to food, water, sanitation.

Watch a video of the discussion

Thanks, Danielle, for flying the flag

Thanks, Danielle, for flying the flag for the rights to water and sanitation - and for drawing attention to the lack of civil society participation.This shows that despite widespread recognition of the rights to water and sanitation there is still a lot to be done in assisting stakeholders in understanding their obligations vis a vis the rights - and then implementing the rights accordingly.I look forward to continued collaboration on this issue!

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