COMMON PATTERNS OF DISCRIMINATION REGARDING ACCESS TO WATER AND SANITATION AROUND THE WORLD
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By Cori Marshall
Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, spoke of the activities of his mandate, at the 36th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 11. In his statement, he said that "in the regulatory frameworks, States should safeguard adequate provision of services to, inter alia, homeless people, dispersed communities, and to victims of situations of armed conflict, emergencies, natural disasters or climate change effects."
What is the role of a Special Rapporteur, and what are the human rights violations to access to safe drinking water and sanitation that they observe? We had the chance to speak with Léo Heller the current Special Rapporteur about his role and observations.
Heller explained that "one of [his] activities as Special Rapporteur is to visit countries on official missions. " Since taking this position, Heller has undertaken five missions.
He added that he "receives communications regarding claims of violations to human rights to water and sanitation." It is these sources, Heller said, that "give [him] an idea of how access to water and sanitation is taking place around the world."
Heller has observed "common patterns of inequality." The situation tends to be better for urban versus rural settings, though itinerant populations "have no adequate access at all." He added that "there are particularities in each country," each having their own policies and budgets.
"We need to invert the priorities of business-as-usual when creating water and sanitation policies." -
Léo Heller, UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Access to Water and Sanitation
"There is a relationship between poverty and access," Heller said. The level of development of the country is also a factor.
Ethnic discrimination can be a factor in denying access to water and sanitation.
"Indigenous groups have less access if compared with the non-indigenous population in several countries," Heller said.
The problems that indigenous communities in Canada have accessing water and sanitation "are well documented, and we have issued communications regarding that," Heller underlined.
Heller said that the same patterns of discrimination are observed with indigenous communities all over the world. The discrimination is not limited to access to water and sanitation, "other basic services have the same treatment from governments," he added.
"If we take a picture of the current situation in several countries you will see there are some groups that are less addressed by the official policies," Heller said. "With the 2016- 2030 Agenda, we put marginalized people in front, and prioritize their access" he added. Heller explained that "the lack of access for these groups adds an additional layer of vulnerability."
There are varying degrees of access to water and sanitation around the world. There are many factors that deny people this human right poverty, geography, and ethnicity. The new agenda is calling for the prioritization of access for marginalized groups, it remains to be seen how this will translate at the state level.