Saturday, September 17, 2011

UN Report Urges Countries to Take Action to Protect Human Right to Water

September 16, 2011
1:08 PM

CONTACT: Corporate Accountability International
Christine Chester, 617-695-2525

Statement by Shayda Naficy, senior organizer of Corporate Accountability International's International Water Campaign

WASHINGTON - September 16 - We commend the independent expert for her thorough review of the challenges to ensuring the human right to water and sanitation in the United States, and support her call for a national water and sanitation policy and plan of action. To fully realize and sustain the human right to water and sanitation, it is essential that the U.S. engage in a process of policy reform and harmonization to put human rights and marginalized groups first, address gaps in regulation and implementation, minimize inequality and de facto discrimination, protect water resources, and bolster data collection and rural water quality oversight. We support communities that have been impacted by corporate usurpation of water resources, including water bottling, and look to the U.S. government to ensure that these unjust and unsustainable practices are stopped.

The report recognizes the need for adequate investment in planning and implementation, which in the U.S. includes a serious need for federal funding increases for infrastructure. Lack of adequate financing is a major contributing factor to U.S. water and sewer system failures. Since 1978, the portion of municipal sewer infrastructure funded by the federal government has declined dramatically from 78 percent to 3 percent.

States and localities have been unable to fill this shortfall, leading to extensive deterioration of essential infrastructure. This steady cutback in federal funding has also forced utilities to raise rates dramatically, endangering the human right to water and sanitation especially for low income communities. For example, Washington, D.C. needs a $3.8 billion investment over the next ten years, and without adequate federal support, the city raised rates 17 percent in 2010. With nearly 18 percent of D.C. residents living in poverty in 2009, these escalating water rates could restrict people’s access to safe drinking water.

We are concerned that instead of prioritizing the human right to water and sanitation and dedicating needed federal funding, parts of the U.S. government are increasingly promoting “market solutions” such as “full cost pricing” in ways that undermine these human rights for the most marginalized. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now advocating for full cost pricing, backed by private corporations that stand to gain from higher water rates and reliance on ratepayers for investments. In the past, these aggressive rate increases have resulted in residents being unable to pay, and having their water cut off. This is a troubling trend that threatens the human right to water in both urban and rural communities and will exacerbate the de facto discrimination highlighted in the Rapporteur’s report.

Water privatization in the U.S. has too often led to human rights violations, and has consistently undermined democratic water governance, accountability, and transparency. While privatization and the right to water may not be theoretically mutually exclusive the Rapporteur’s report shows some examples of how the myriad forms of privatization have violated the human right to water through cutoffs, price hikes, contamination, corporate withholding of information or misleading the public, and failing to fulfil obligations. Additionally, these practices disproportionately impact low income communities and those with fixed incomes.

For example, in 2004, Aqua America took over the water and wastewater system in Neuse River Village, N.C. Within a year, Aqua America had cut off water service to more than half of the 130 households. Dozens of families were forced to fill jugs of water at their neighbours’ faucets for daily cleaning and cooking, use the nearby woods as a bathroom, and some were evicted from their homes. Many families were paying more for water than for rent.

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