The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, stressed today in the Water Economic Forum held in Barcelona that regulation is the way to go beyond the debate between public and private management. “I know that this issue is very controversial, also in Spain. In relation to human rights, there is no preference; the results are what is important”, he emphasized.
He likewise highlighted the importance of having a sound regulatory model. In particular, Léo Heller indicated that problems have arisen in those countries where “regulation is very weak or there is no regulation at all. Water is a vital commodity which must be regulated in order to guarantee the general interest”. Heller recalled, however, that “you have to be very careful when choosing a management model”.
The senior United Nations official furthermore admitted his concern about populist policies. “There is a global emergence of populist governments which may lead to policies which do not take into consideration the defence of human rights, especially of the most vulnerable population”.
With regard to the human right to water, Heller stressed the “extremely strong inequality between social classes and the urban and rural population, in addition to gender asymmetries. We have a very unbalanced framework in relation to access to drinking water”, Heller warned. Some 2.1 billion people in the world consume unsafe water, representing 29% of the world population. Indeed, at least 2 billion people worldwide consume water contaminated by faecal material. “There is a risk of increasing non-fulfilment of human rights”, the United Nations Rapporteur concluded.
As for sanitation, the situation is getting worse. “It is dramatic; it is one of the aspects most behind schedule as regards progress with fulfilment of human rights in the world”, Heller lamented. “Two thirds of the world population do not have access to safe sanitation facilities”. Almost 1 billion people defecate in the open, approximately half of them being in India.
The Secretary of the UNESCO Hydrological Programme, Blanca Jiménez Cisneros, and the Programme Officer of the UN-Habitat Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance, José Luis Martín Bordes, participated in a dialogue on the human right to water, a vital right which must be above territorial and political conflicts. It is not in vain, as the senior UNESCO official highlighted, that in the world there are 592 aquifers shared by 140 countries.
In the same vein, in his opening address the General Director for Economic Promotion, Competition and Regulation of the Generalitat, Albert Castellanos, underlined that the challenges represented by water management in Catalonia “require the full cooperation of the public and private sectors, because optimal water management is a collective task”. Castellanos considered the major challenges affecting Catalonia in relation to water to be “maintaining and even improving the extremely high level that we have achieved in supply and quality in a context of climate change; and the pressure from the growth in population and in economic activity. We face the challenge of achieving a social consensus in order to stay on this path”, Castellanos stressed.
For his part, the Academic Director of the Water Economic Forum, Gonzalo Delacámara, closed the Forum emphasizing the need “to grant water a higher profile on the political agenda and to focus more intensely on discussing the most important challenges facing water”.