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Water and sanitation: UN expert calls on the El Salvador to protect the most disadvantaged


SAN SALVADOR / GENEVA (18 May 2016) - United Nations expert Léo Heller urged today the Government of El Salvador to focus on the human rights to water and sanitation in its national plans and policies to address climate change and other future challenges affecting the access to water and sanitation.
“In this manner, El Salvador can avoid retrogressions in the progress made and ensure that people in already vulnerable situations are not the ones that suffer to a greater extent from negative impact,” said the Special Rapporteur of the UN on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, at the end of his first official visit to the country*, which coincided with the current emergency situation of drinking water shortages following a prolonged period of drought.

“El Salvador has shown impressive progress in the water and sanitation sector in recent decades and has, according to the monitoring of the UN Millennium Development Goals, by far exceeded its targets in 2015,” said Mr. Heller. “However, there is still a significant gap between the urban and the rural areas, where 99% of people who lack an access to water live.”

During his eight-day visit, the expert found that those who suffered most from the recent drought were the people with limited or no access to drinking water in the rural areas of the country, including the so called “Dry Corridor” in the departments of La Union, San Miguel, Usulutan and Morazan.

“Similarly, in urban areas I observed that the crisis in the access to water affected mostly the inhabitants of the municipalities of the metropolitan periphery, some of which have already suffered from over 20 years of intermittent water services,” said Mr. Heller.

“In relation to the availability of water for human consumption, I observed the over-exploitation of strategic water sources, such as the aquifer located in the municipalities of Quezaltepeque and Nejapa” continued the expert. “I would like to emphasize that one of the human rights obligations is to prioritize the use of personal and domestic water over other water uses, such as use for economic purposes”

Identifying problems in the context of affordability in El Salvador, the Special Rapporteur noted the existence of agricultural workers who pay up to 16% of their household income on water, while people connected to the collective systems, in particular in the urban areas, see much less of an impact on their incomes.

The expert also expressed concern for women and girls, who in crisis situations tend to become responsible for ensuring the provision of water of their families, people living in areas where criminal gangs exercise strong influence, as well as persons deprived of their liberty, indigenous peoples, and those people living in situations of poverty and on the street.

“I had the opportunity to visit the Esperanza detention center where I received testimonies of conditions of poor access to water and sanitation”, he said. “It is crucial that priority be given to those excluded to ensure equality and non-discrimination in access to these fundamental rights.”

“In order to maintain the progress and address gaps and inequalities, I urge El Salvador to translate its international commitments into domestic law by adopting the General Water Law and a legal framework for the sector of water and sanitation as soon as possible,” said the Rapporteur.

In this regard, he insisted, echoing his intervention before the Committee on Environment and Climate Change of the Parliament on Monday, “that the legal framework should explicitly recognize human rights to water and sanitation, establishing participatory processes, with representation of the most disadvantaged in access to services, in decision-making on water policy.”

Mr. Heller also recommended that the Government of El Salvador establish an independent regulator “in order to strengthen an institutional framework in the field of water and sanitation to address the great inequities observed in access to these services.”

The expert met, among others, with representatives of the central government, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, the legislature and the Supreme Court, as well as with international and national human rights organizations, UN agencies and NGOs working on issues related to the right to water and sanitation.

The UN Special Rapporteur also visited several communities and a school in Ilopango and Nejapa in addition to the detention center La Esperanza, Ayutuxtepeque.

The independent expert will report his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council of the UN in September 2016

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=19974&LangID=E

Mr. Léo Heller (Brazil) is the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council in November 2014. Mr. Heller is currently a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/WaterAndSanitation/SRWater/Pages/SRWaterIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – El Salvador: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/SVIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests:
In San Salvador: please contact Mr. Carlos León (+503 77426186 / carlos.leon@one.un.org)
In Geneva: please contact Ms. Viktoria Aberg (+41 22 917 9790 / vaberg@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: please contact Mr. Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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