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Speech at the UN: Human right to water and sanitation

Speech at the UN: Human right to water and sanitation


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By Pablo Solon

We co-sponsors present this resolution to recognize the human right to water and sanitation at a time when diseases caused by lack of safe water and sanitation cause more deaths than any war. At any given time, half of the hospital beds around the world are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with a lack of access to clean water and a lack of sanitation.


Intervention of the Permanent Representative of the Plurinational State of Bolivia in the General Assembly of the United Nations "Human Right to Water and Sanitation" New York, July 28, 2010

Mr. president

Let me begin the presentation of this Resolution by recalling that "Human beings are essentially water." Around two-thirds of our body is made up of water. 75% of our brain is made up of water, and water is the main vehicle for electrochemical transmissions in our body.

Our blood circulates like a swarm of rivers in our body. Water in the blood helps transport nutrients and energy to our body. Water also removes waste products from our cells for excretion. Water helps regulate our body temperature.

Loss of 20% of water from the body can cause death. It is possible to survive for several weeks without food, but it is not possible to survive for more than a few days without water. "Water is life".

That is why today, we present this historic resolution for the consideration of the plenary of the General Assembly, the co-sponsoring States of:

Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Eritrea, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Burundi, Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Georgia, Guinea, Haiti, Solomon Islands, Madagascar , Maldives, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, Central African Republic, Dominican Republic, Samoa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Serbia, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tuvalu, Uruguay, Vanuatu, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and Yemen.

The right to health was originally recognized in 1946 by the World Health Organization. In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared, among others, the “right to life”, the “right to education” and the “right to work”. In 1966, progress was made in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with the recognition, among several others, of the "right to social security" and "the right to an adequate standard of living" that includes adequate food, clothing and housing.

However, the “human right to water” has continued without being fully recognized although there are clear references in various international instruments such as: the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

That is why we co-sponsors present this resolution to recognize the human right to water and sanitation at a time when diseases caused by lack of clean water and sanitation cause more deaths than any war.

Every year more than 3.5 million people die from diseases transmitted by contaminated water.

Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age. Lack of access to clean water kills more children than AIDS, malaria and smallpox combined.

Worldwide, approximately one in 8 people does not have drinking water.

In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women's time are used to collect and transport water for their homes.

The situation of lack of sanitation is even worse because it affects 2.6 billion people who are equivalent to 40% of the world's population.

According to the Report of the Independent Expert on sanitation, which has been an important contribution to this resolution and will further contribute to its implementation:

“Sanitation, more than many other human rights issues, evokes the concept of human dignity; consider the vulnerability and shame that so many people experience every day when, once again, they are forced to defecate in the open air, in a bucket or plastic bag. It is the unworthiness of this situation that causes shame. "

The vast majority of diseases in the world are caused by fecal matter. It is estimated that sanitation could reduce child deaths from diarrhea by more than a third.

At any given time, half of the beds in hospitals around the world are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with a lack of access to clean water and a lack of sanitation.

Mr. president

Human rights were not born as fully developed concepts, they are the result of a construction given by reality and experience. For example, the human right to education and work that are in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were built and specified over time, with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in other international instruments such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The same will happen with the human right to water and sanitation.

For this reason, in the third operative paragraph of this resolution, we welcome and encourage the independent expert to continue working on all aspects of her mandate and to present to the General Assembly the main difficulties related to the realization of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the effect of these on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The World Summit on the Millennium Development Goals is very close and it is necessary to give a very clear signal to the world that safe drinking water and sanitation are a human right, and that we are going to do everything possible to advance in the achievement of this goal for which we barely have 5 years left.


For this reason, the importance of the second operative paragraph of the resolution that urges States and international organizations to provide financial resources and promote increased capacity and technology transfer through international assistance and cooperation, in particular to developing countries in order to intensify efforts to provide affordable access to safe water and sanitation for the entire population.

Every resolution has a heart. And the heart of this resolution is in its first operative paragraph. Throughout several informal consultations, we have sought to accommodate the different concerns of the Member States, putting aside issues that are not specific to this resolution and always seeking balance without losing the essence of this resolution.

The right to safe drinking water and sanitation is an essential human right for the full enjoyment of life.

Drinking water and sanitation are not only main elements or components of other rights such as “the right to an adequate standard of living”. The right to drinking water and sanitation are independent rights that as such must be recognized. It is not enough to urge states to comply with their human rights obligations regarding access to safe drinking water and sanitation. It is necessary to convene States to promote and protect the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Mr. president,

Again and following the transparent path of always seeking a broad understanding and without losing perspective on the very essence of this draft resolution, on behalf of the co-sponsors we want to propose an oral amendment to the first paragraph of the operative part to replace the term "Declare" by the expression "acknowledge."

Mr. President, Before moving on to consider this resolution, I want to bring to the minds of all delegations that, according to the 2009 report of the World Health Organization and UNICEF entitled "Diarrhea: Why children continue to die and that do ”: 24,000 children die every day in developing countries from preventable causes such as diarrhea from contaminated water. This means that a child dies every three seconds.

One two Three…

As my people say "Now is when"

Thank you very much

Notes from the Editor

1.-Speech given by Ambassador Pablo Solon of the Plurinational State of Bolivia before the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, on July 28, 2010.

2.- At the same meeting on July 28, the United Nations approved the Human Right to Water and Sanitation with 124 States voting in favor, 0 against and 41 abstentions.

3.- Following is the Presented Project:

Draft Resolution The Human Right to Water and Sanitation

Agenda Item 48: Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the results of the main United Nations conferences and summits in economic, social and related fields. (list of co-sponsors at the end)

The general assembly

PP1 Recalling its resolutions 54/175 of December 1999, the Right to Development, 55/196 of December 20, 2000 proclaiming 2003 as the International Year of Fresh Water, 58/217, of December 23, 2003, proclaiming the Decade International Action "Water for Life" (2005-2015), 59/228 of December 22, 2004, 61/192, of December 20, 2006 proclaiming 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation, 64/198 of 21 December 2010 regarding the mid-term review of the implementation of the International Decade of Action “Water for Life”, The June 21, 1992 Program, the 1996 Habitat Program, The Mar del Plata Action Plan 1977 adopted by the United Nations Water Conference and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of June 1992.

PP2 Recalling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War.

PP3 Also recalling all the previous resolutions of the Human Rights Council on “human rights and access to drinking water and sanitation”, among others, resolutions 7/22 of March 28, 2008 and 8/12 of October 1, 2009 related to the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, General Comment 15 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on "The Right to Water" ¨; the "Report of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on the scope and content of human rights obligations related to equitable access to drinking water and sanitation, in accordance with international human rights instruments", as well as also the "Report of the independent expert on the subject of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation,"

PP4 Deeply concerned that 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and that 2.6 billion people lack access to sanitation and alarmed that approximately 1.5 million children under 5 years of age die and 443 million days old school children are lost each year due to diseases related to water and sanitation.

PP5 Recognizing the importance of potable, clean, safe and equitable water and sanitation as integral components for the realization of human rights,

PP6 Reaffirming the responsibility of States to promote and protect all human rights, which are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and must be treated globally in a fair and equitable manner under equal conditions and with the same emphasis,

PP7 Taking into account the commitments made by the international community for the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals and emphasizing in this context, the determination of the Heads of State and Government expressed in the United Nations Millennium Declaration to reduce to the by 2015, the proportion of people who cannot reach or access safe drinking water and halve the proportion of people without access to sanitation, as agreed in the Johannesburg Plan of Action.

OP1 Declares the right to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.

OP2 Calls on States and international organizations to provide financial resources, capacity building, and technology transfer, through international assistance and cooperation, particularly to developing countries, in order to increase efforts to supply safe, potable water and sanitation for everybody

OP3 Welcomes the decision of the Human Rights Council to request that the independent expert on the subject of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation present an annual report to the General Assembly, and encourages further work on all aspects of its mandate and in consultation with all relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programs, including in its report for the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly the main challenges related to the realization of the human right to drinking water and sanitation and its impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Georgia, Haiti, Madagascar, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria , Paraguay, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tuvalu, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Yemen.

Original version:
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