PM+: Right to water and sanitation still an 'unrealised dream'

Written by Jack Moss on 25 March 2015 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Ahead of World water day 2015, Jack Moss argues that the EU's strong track record on water management is key to achieving even better results.

The right to water and sanitation is still an unrealised dream for far too many people, including in Europe while the lack of access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene causes a huge burden of unnecessary diseases worldwide, including 600,000 deaths annually from diarrhoea.

It is always the poorest, weakest and most disadvantaged who suffer the most. This is not simply about life; it is about dignity, equity, jobs, economy and environment - in a word - development.

Juggling with estimates and statistics will be useless unless communities worldwide engage in better water management.

The European Union's strong track record is a clear example of how integrated, ambitious, and holistic, water management policy, with the overarching water framework directive, connects water policies with the other policies of the EU and achieves results.

"The European Union's strong track record is a clear example of how integrated, ambitious, and holistic, water management policy, with the overarching water framework directive, connects water policies with the other policies of the EU and achieves results"

Water operators, public and private, turn the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation into reality for the public authorities that engage them. They are tools that governments use to deliver this human right. To do so they need strong political backing and a stable legal framework.

After their unanimous reaffirmation of this right at the UN in New York in November 2013, all governments should take action to ensure that their whole population enjoys access to a minimum quantity of drinking water that is safe, sufficient, accessible, available, acceptable, affordable and can be obtained without discrimination.

All EU member states should ensure that their institutional frameworks enable them to comply with all the dimensions of the right and that they provide appropriate instructions to whatever kind of organisations they use to deliver it.

Polemics about the respective merits of the different types of operators should not hide the urgent need for action. Can all member states be sure that all marginalised populations enjoy satisfactory access to water and sanitation within their territory?

We represent private water operators that supply safe drinking water or sanitation to more than 150 million EU citizens. Last year we presented three proposals for parliament and the commission on how to implement the human right better in the EU.

Since the EU has not yet formally recognised this right to safe drinking water and sanitation, our first proposal is to include this human right in the European charter of fundamental rights. This would align the EU framework with the UN process and contribute to making this right more visible.

It would create an incentive for governments to make it effective in all its dimensions to all individuals across Europe and beyond.

Our second proposal is to ensure that member states report regularly on the human right to water and sanitation indicators.

Our third proposal is to enhance transparency and accountability of water services through transparent benchmarking for all.

The UN general assembly resolution, adopted in November 2013, called upon states “to provide for effective accountability mechanisms for all water and sanitation service providers to ensure that they respect human rights”.

"Today, it is difficult for most EU citizens to access information online on the quality of their drinking water and on the performance of their water services, which means that citizens cannot apply pressure to their water suppliers to improve their performance"

Today, it is difficult for most EU citizens to access information online on the quality of their drinking water and on the performance of their water services, which means that citizens cannot apply pressure to their water suppliers to improve their performance.

The transparency and the accountability of water services would be enhanced significantly if all public water systems, public water authorities and all of their operators, whatever their status, were required to disclose regularly through Internet and other appropriate means, comparable data on key economic, human rights and other performance indicators.

Once the EU has these systems in place; we need commitment from authorities and operators to engage in this exercise, in a non-ideological and open way.

 

About the author

Jack Moss is executive director of AquaFed the international federation of private water operators

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