Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Passion for water at the UN

It's probably not that often that we connect what’s happening at the United Nations with sentiments like 'passion'. But this morning I was attending the 18th session of the UN Human Rights Council and I was struck once more by the dedication and passion of Catarina de Albuquerque, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water and Sanitation, as she was presenting her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council.

Her thematic focus this year was on how states should develop national plans for the implementation of the right to water and sanitation – an important next step now that this right has been recognized by almost all countries around the world. As she has done before, the Special Rapporteur highlighted that what was really needed to realize the right to water and sanitation was political commitment. The commitment to set realistic but ambitious targets, to actually allocate the funds needed to implement them, and – last but not least – the commitment to pay special attention to eliminating the discrimination of vulnerable and marginalized groups.

I suppose that her meetings with people who lack access to safe water and sanitation, and who often come up with the most amazing ways of coping with this situation, is part of what makes her so dedicated to the right to water and sanitation. And I find it rather amazing how she manages to make us see these people behind the sometimes rather abstract analysis of international and national legal frameworks, programmes and policies.

I hope that many of the government delegates listening to and collaborating with the Special Rapporteur become infected by her passion.

One example: In her report on her mission to the USA the Special Rapporteur describes how she visited a community of homeless people. There she said she, "met a man who called himself the 'sanitation technician' for the community. He engineered a sanitation system that consists of a seat with a two-layered plastic bag underneath. Every week Tim collects the bags full of human waste, which vary in weight between 130 to 230 pounds, and hauls them on his bicycle a few miles to a local public restroom. (...)The remarkable contribution of this single human rights defender to assume such a burden in defence of human dignity and the human right to sanitation in no way reduces the responsibility of public authorities to correct this and similar situations elsewhere in the country."

One of the government delegates today criticized her for including such 'anecdotes' in her reports – I rather think it’s one of her and her report's strengths that besides meticulously researched facts and statistics she also uses the experiences of individuals and communities to underline her findings.

I hope that many of the government delegates listening to and collaborating with the Special Rapporteur become infected by her passion.

Maike Gorsboth

Ecumenical Water Network / World Council of Churches

If you are interested to know more, the report of the Special Rapporteur on national plans of implementation is available online. You’ll also find there the very interesting reports about her Compendium of good practices and her country visits to Slovenia, Japan, and the USA.

Narrative in reports is a good thing.

We need more narrative stories that communicate the issues directly to the decision makers. I support what Catarina is doing in her report and find it a very helpful and 'real' approach.  Meanwhile, the UK has not explained why it continues to take a negative position in relation to the right to sanitation, it contradicts UK leadership on WASH elsewhere.  But really pleased to see so many other countries, including the USA who have signed up. Looking forward to reading the Special Rapporteurs report on implementation. 

I totally agree with the

I totally agree with the report it should be taken seriously. The anecdotes are real and gives the report a human face in a real situation. Apart from the issues raised being a human rights issue, they are also faith issues. No credible government and body can ignore this report.

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