Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the
Right to Water and Sanitation
UN Human Rights Council – 18th Session – Geneva
September 15, 2011
Delivered by John Mariz
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States takes note with interest of the report of the special rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation. We support the special rapporteur’s assertion that governments should strive to progressively realize universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and should seek to expand access, especially for underserved populations. We agree with her on the importance of monitoring and evaluation the quality of and affordability of drinking water and sanitation as well as the obligation governments have to ensure that access to safe drinking water and sanitation services is provided on a nondiscriminatory basis.
In light of this, we would like to take a few moments to respond to the report from the special rapporteur’s country visit to the United States of America from February 22 to March 4, 2011.
We underscore our commitment to providing safe and clean drinking water and proper sanitation to the American people. The United States is understandably proud of the tremendous accomplishments it has made it the past decades to provide its citizens with clean water at an affordable price. As the special rapporteur notes in her report, 92 percent of the population was served by water systems which met mandatory health standards. In addition, the U.S. far exceeds World Bank guidelines on affordability, as combined water and sewage bills average only 0.5 percent of household income.
While we recognize the challenges presented by the report, we have conveyed to the rapporteur our concerns that the report often focuses on anecdotes that do not fairly depict the state of drinking water and sanitation in the United States. Moreover, the report makes some factual errors and does not cite sources for some statistics.
The United States also acknowledges that some indigenous communities face significant challenges with respect to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. However, the United States is taking steps to address these challenges in conjunction with Tribal and State governments. For example, the United States has established a partnership across federal government agencies that brings together expertise and resources to address access issues, including funding of the construction of water and sanitation systems for indigenous communities. Furthermore, some of the issues raised regarding indigenous peoples are unrelated to their access to water and sanitation, and –to the extent they need to be addressed—would be more appropriately addressed by other special procedure mandate holders.
The report does not take into full account the federal system of the United States, where a number of the issues raised may be most feasibly handled at the state or local level rather than through federal action. As the report notes, water in the United States is governed by a complex amalgam of federal and state statutes which make it hard to make generalizations; however, given the broad range of issues and situations in our country, it is impossible to have a one-size-fits-all solution.
As the report points out, there are considerable challenges that exist, such as in replacing aging infrastructure and providing drinking water to remote communities. We will give the report’s recommendations due consideration.
We look forward to continuing to work with the special rapporteur to take concrete action to reduce the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.