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UN special rapporteur on water says human rights should be a component of all SDGs

Leo HellerThe Blue Planet Project is calling for the explicit recognition of the human right to water and sanitation in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, which will supersede the Millennium Development Goals this year, will determine the UN’s development agenda for the next fifteen years.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already warned that by 2030, nearly half the world’s population could be facing a scarcity of water, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent. And the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says that by 2030, “Water scarcity will worsen due to unsustainable use and management of the resource as well as climate change; the number of people living in areas affected by severe water stress is expected to increase by another 1 billion to over 3.9 billion.”

An open letter spearheaded by the Blue Planet Project and the Mining Working Group (an NGO coalition promoting human and environmental rights at the UN) and signed by 87 civil society organizations states, “It is crucial that the SDG process guarantee the progressive realization of the human right to water and sanitation now and for future generations. Furthermore, given the central role of water within a number of different SDG areas, it is vital that the human right to water be seen as a central component of other focus areas including energy, food, gender and climate change.”

But at present ‘the right to food and water’ is only recognized in the seventh point of the 18-point preamble to the SDGs. That preamble reaffirms “the importance of freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development and the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food and water, the rule of law, good governance, gender equality, women’s empowerment and the overall commitment to just and democratic societies for development.”

WaterSan Perspective reports, “Leo Heller, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation noted [at a UN conference last month] that a component of human rights should be included in all discussions related to SDGs.” And while the previous special rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque had expressed her “satisfaction at the significant advancements in the protection and promotion of the human rights to water and sanitation” in the SDG draft proposal, she also highlighted, “The formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals presents an unprecedented opportunity to reaffirm explicitly the human rights to water and sanitation as being indivisible from, and interrelated to all other human rights.”

The WaterSan Perspective article adds, “There are 17 proposed SDGs and 169 targets. SDG six focuses on water and sanitation.” The proposed SDGs including Goal 6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – can be read in full here.

The SDGs are expected to be adopted at a special summit of world leaders at the United Nations in New York this September.

Further reading
Right to water must be recognized in Sustainable Development Goals, say civil society groups (June 2014 blog by Meera Karunananthan)
SDGs Must Recognize Human Right to Water and Sanitation (June 2014 blog by Meera Karunananthan)
Water justice groups call for the UN to remember its commitments to the human right to water (May 2014 blog by Meera Karunananthan)

Photo: UN special rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation Leo Heller.