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UN expert calls on Mexico to urgently expand and improve water and sanitation provision for all

GENEVA / MEXICO CITY (12 May 2017) – A United Nations expert on safe drinking water and sanitation today called on the Mexican Government to urgently expand and improve reliable, safe and affordable access to water and sanitation for all, including deprived, marginalized and indigenous communities who are poorly served by a struggling national water and sanitation system in many locations.

“The reality of access to water for poor communities in dispersed rural or peripheral urban areas and indigenous peoples is sporadic supply and unreliable water quality, leaving many people dependent on costly or unsafe water sources,” warned the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe water and sanitation, Léo Heller.

“Absence of adequate sanitation services is a very concerning issue for these communities in Mexico,” he stressed at the end of his first official visit to Mexico.

The expert acknowledged the progress of the country in expanding the infrastructure for water and sanitation, but it has not translated into real delivery of services to people’s homes. He urged the Government “to give the highest priority to this strategic sector and guarantee resources necessary to expand and improve service provision to all, including numerous neglected communities.”       

A significant proportion of the population does not receive services that meet the standards required under Mexico’s Constitution, that explicitly recognizes the human rights to water and sanitation, and international human rights law, Mr. Heller noted. “Mexico should rapidly enact an updated water law and close the gap between the Constitutional promises and reality.”  

“One marginalized neighborhood in Mexico City relies on donkeys to transport water to them while other communities in the city complained that water from their localities is diverted to high use commercial, residential and tourist areas,” the expert noted.

“In Filomeno Mata, Veracruz, over 13,000 people depend on local springs and have a wastewater treatment plant that is useless due to a collapsed sewerage system,” he said.

“Indigenous peoples I met complained of lack of services and contamination of water sources that they rely on due to largely unregulated activities of mining, industry and hydrocarbon extraction companies. In Chiapas, I witnessed indigenous women collecting water from sources clearly hazardous to health.” 

The Special Rapporteur emphasized that the primary obligation for realization of all human rights, including the rights to safe water and sanitation, lies with the Government. “The domestic needs of all individuals, families and communities must be the first consideration and highest priority among the various water uses,” he said.  

Mr. Heller conducted an eleven-day official visit to Mexico at the invitation of the Government from 2 to 12 May. He met with representatives of the Federal Government and State and Municipal authorities, as well as members of civil society organizations working on the issues, and talked with numerous residents about their access to these essential water and sanitation services.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a full report of his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in September 2017.

Mr. Léo Heller (Brazil) is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, appointed in November 2014. He is a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil and was previously Professor of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil from 1990 to 2014.

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: Mexico 

OHCHR Mexico Office 

For additional information and media requests please contact:
During the visit: Graham Fox (+41 79 444 3702 / gfox@ohchr.org)
After the visit: (Ahreum Lee +41 22 917 9391 / ahreumlee@ohchr.org )
In Mexico City: Gabriela Gorjón (+52 55 5061 6374 / +52 55 5438 1729 / ggorjon@ohchr.org).

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

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