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Statement on the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation’s report on Financing by Council of Canadians and Food and Water Watch

New York City – The Council of Canadians and Food and Water Watch commend the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation for stressing the urgent need for States to increase funding for the fulfilment of the human right to water and sanitation with a particular emphasis on meeting obligations towards the most marginalized and unserved segments of societ in her report to the General Assembly today.

We join the special rapporteur in:

  • Calling on governments to focus public policy on equitable outcomes rather than economic growth,
  • Calling on States to develop regulatory frameworks to monitor and ensure the fulfillment of the human right to water and sanitation,
  • Demanding that economic policy be scrutinized for compliance with human rights standard,
  • Demanding transparency, public participation and accountability with regards to the financing of water and sanitation,
  • Demanding that States prioritize those with greatest need, and
  • Calling on States to increase budget transparency.

We share the analysis that:

  • International financing conditionalities have been based on political benefit rather than serving those in greatest need,
  • A narrow focus on economic growth has prevented States from fulfilling human rights obligations,
  • States required to devote large portions of gross domestic product to service external debt may be restricted in their ability to determine their national budget and resource allocation for essential public services, including water and sanitation,
  • The continued use of conditionalities in these financing arrangements can also distort State priorities and have a deleterious effect on human rights,
  • There is an inconsistency when utilities are expected to deliver services on a commercial basis while serving the public good, and
  • When money for development hinges on the enactment of particular macroeconomic policies, it can lead to cuts in public expenditures that could otherwise support the realization of the rights to water and sanitation.

However, we feel strongly that certain models of financing are incompatible with a human rights framework and deserve explicit mention. There is a great deal of documented evidence of private sector financing serving as an impediment to the human right to water. As De Albequerque argues, “human rights law […] requires States to actively promote non-discrimination.” yet privatization schemes fail to ensure the right to water and sanitation for communities that do not meet the profit incentive of private corporations. Pre-paid meters in South Africa which were only installed in the poor neighborhoods are a clear example of  discrimation by the private sector.

For decades, International Financial Institutions (IFIs) have promoted the interests of for-profit corporations to the detriment of marginalized communities and low income households. The Special Rapporteur highlights the history of “inappropriate conditionalities” of IFIs, but fails to define this concept therefore failing to acknowledge that conditionalities aimed at expanding the markets of multinational corporations are intrinsic to the modus operandi of IFIs.

De Albuquerque argues that regardless of the funding source a State chooses, it must always ensure that there are corresponding mechanisms in place to support transparency, public participation and accountability, but history shows that the private sector undermines all of the above. Trade agreements explicitly protect corporations from having to disclose the content of their contracts with the public sector preventing the development of  a culture of transparency and democratic control of water and sanitation services.

Furthermore, while we agree that water and sanitation services must be affordable to all  segments of society, clearer guidelines can only be established through full public participation aimed at ensuring universal access and non-discrimination.

Finally, among the solutions that are not explored  within  the report, we call for public resources to be allocated to public public partnerships  ensuring that public sector best practices are shared among those requiring capacity building and training. We also support the call for  domestic and international transaction taxes that would increase the revenues and capacity of governments to direct funding to public services.