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Letter to UN on 1st anniversary of UN Right to Water Mandate

Defending Water for Life Coordinator Ruth Caplan helped draft this letter to the United Nations. Currently, we and other organizations are gathering signatures.  As soon as the signing is complete, we will post the final Letter here on the website…

Letter body:

Esteemed President of the General Assembly, UN functionaries, and State Representatives,

We are writing to express our great appreciation for the gains the United Nations has made in furthering the human right to water, and to highlight some of the progress and challenges to advancing that right.

It has now been one year since the historic General Assembly Resolution 64/292 recognized the right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. That resolution called on States and international organizations to supply the financial and other assistance needed to enable all countries, especially developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible, and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all. Since then, there have been a number of important positive developments including the Human Rights Council’s reaffirmation of the right to water, and the appointment and extension of mandate for the Special Rapporteur (formerly Independent Expert) on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque. Ms Albuquerque’s searching and methodical work on the human right to water represents a major avenue for deepening our understanding of what it takes to realize the human right to water.

At the same time, there are many challenges before us, and some growing trends that are troubling. Many factors continue to deprive millions worldwide of clean water and sanitation, among them: inadequate governance structures and oversight of water and sanitation; lack of public investment in water and sewer infrastructure; contamination, overuse, and appropriation of water by industry, especially chemical-intensive agriculture; scarcity and inequity of access; poverty and unaffordable charges for water services.

In the midst of this dire situation, corporations have been hard at work to ensure that global action to address the water crisis does not impinge on their profits. To shape the global response, transnational corporations have promoted themselves as key partners in a range of incomplete or misleading solutions marketed to governments and inter-governmental institutions worldwide. These include supposed solutions for addressing climate change that actually further compromise the right to water in rural areas, especially among indigenous communities.

Notably, corporations are shaping the global response to the world water crisis by inserting themselves into UN activities as financiers, collaborators, experts, advisors, and participants. Through these means, transnational corporations have gained unprecedented access and influence over the UN at the same time that their activities frequently lead to human rights abuses on a very large scale. Today, the overwhelming focus of international organizations like the UN and World Bank on “partnerships” with the private sector is failing to provide for basic water and sanitation needs, especially in developing countries and rural areas where the need for investment is great. Furthermore, these corporate-promoted partnerships overlook the danger of growing corporate control over water, the inadequacy of pay-to-play responses, and the need to strengthen governments in order to ensure proper water governance.

Thus, we commend the Human Rights Council for establishing a new mandate, the Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, which promises to study and promote effective means of accountability for the human rights abuses of transnational corporations. As part of its work, we ask that the Working Group consider the impacts of transnational corporations on the human right to water and sanitation. Likewise, we commend the work of the Joint Inspection Unit in evaluating the efficacy and impact of increasing UN-corporate partnerships. We call on the UN leadership to ensure that the Joint Inspection Unit’s assessments result in concrete recommendations to safeguard against undue corporate influence on the UN and its activities. This must be done to ensure that the water agenda is not co-opted by the few against the many.

Yet, more must be done to ensure that the water agenda is not co-opted by the few against the many. We call on the UN to openly assess the impacts of corporate collaborations and safeguard against corporate influence on the UN and its activities.

Country governments play the key role in managing water resources, but they are seriously in need of support from international organizations, including the UN, to increase their capacity to fulfill the human right to water, exercise adequate oversight, and ensure that all people have access to safe, affordable water. We must be mindful of the importance of building government capacity – independent of industry – for long-term, macro oversight and planning to ensure sustainability and healthy ecosystems.

In turn, we call on governments to revise national and local law to reflect international recognition of the human right to water and prioritize developing national plans for fulfilling the right to water and sanitation.

Governments and the United Nations should also advance this right through their participation in international collaborations including COP17 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2011 and the Rio + 20 Conference in June 2012. As in other international policy-making arena, governments and inter-governmental organizations should take care to safeguard against and limit corporate influence in these spaces as well.

The United Nations has a tremendously important role to play in coordinating global and local efforts to address the world water crisis, and formulating best practices. Governments worldwide have the crucial role of ensuring that the human right to water and sanitation is fulfilled. We call on both the UN and State representatives to provide essential support for realizing this right by acting on our recommendations, one year after the right was resoundingly recognized by governments of the world.

Thank you for your action on these important matters.


The Undersigned.

Corporate Accountability International, USA & Colombia

Alliance for Democracy USA

Council of Canadians, Canada

Blue Planet Project, Canada

Food and Water Watch, USA

Coalición de Organizaciones Mexicanas por el Derecho al Agua, Mexico

Swarna Hansa Foundation, Sri Lanka

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