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EOP: The Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation
September 27, 2013

“The Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation”

Explanation of Position

Statement of the U.S. Delegation of the United States of America

UN Human Rights Council – 24th Session
September 27, 2013

As delivered

We are pleased to join consensus on this resolution and thank the cosponsors for their efforts in finding consensus on this important topic. The United States recognizes the importance and challenges of meeting basic needs for water and sanitation to support health, economic development, peace and security.  There is no question of the increasing importance of water as an issue.  A 2012 report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council titled “Global Water Security” found that many countries will experience water problems risking instability and state failure, increasing regional tensions, and hindering countries’ abilities to address their needs relating to food, energy and health.

For these reasons, the United States remains deeply committed to addressing the global challenges relating to water and sanitation.  The United States is working to improve water resources management and promote cooperation on transboundary water.  We encourage countries to prioritize access to safe drinking water and sanitation, on a non-discriminatory basis, in national development plans and strategies.  We have made access to safe drinking water and sanitation a priority in our own development assistance efforts.  The United States is one of the largest bilateral donors to water supply and sanitation programs, as well as one of the largest donors to several development banks treating this problem, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

In 2010, 2011, and 2012, the United States joined consensus on three resolutions of this Council affirming that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  As such, we support States Parties to that Covenant as they undertake steps to achieve progressively its full realization.

We also stress that we read preambular paragraph 14 of this year’s resolution to be consistent with those previous resolutions, which noted that transboundary water issues fall outside the scope of this right.

In addition, while the United States agrees that safe water and sanitation are critically important issues, we do not accept all of the analyses and conclusions in the Special Rapporteur’s most recent report.  The United States appreciates this resolution’s recognition that sustainability represents an important policy objective.  At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that States must balance it with other goals relating to progressively realizing the right to safe water and sanitation.

The United States also believes the post-2015 development agenda should be consistent with States’ human rights obligations.  We also underscore that the discussions among the broader UN membership to develop this new framework are still in an early stage and that, as a result, this resolution does not prejudge those discussions.  In that regard, the United States notes that we do not read this resolution as calling for the post-2015 agenda to address water specifically.  Nor do we read it as calling for states, when they elaborate that agenda through discussions among the broader UN membership, to assign primacy to water over other considerations.  As these discussions progress, we believe the international community should focus concretely on issues of access, inclusion, and governance, as well as good policies and practical implementation.

In conclusion, while we are pleased to join consensus on this year’s resolution, the United States unfortunately must disassociate from consensus on preambular paragraph 15.  The language used to define the right to water in that paragraph is based on the views of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, but this Council has never previously adopted it, nor does it appear in an international agreement.  The United States does not agree with this definition due to the expansive way this right has been articulated.  This language does not represent a consensus position