California law on human right to water sets example for others – UN expert

Photo: UNECE

28 September 2012 – The new law passed by the state of California in the United States on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is an “inspiring example” for governments, a United Nations independent expert said today.

The assembly bill 685, adopted on 25 September in the most populated US state, with more than 37 million inhabitants, also provides for coordination among state agencies about the use of water for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.

“When I received the good news about the adoption of this bill, my thoughts immediately went to those people I met last year in California who still do not benefit from this fundamental human right,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque.

With the new law, water and sanitation will be placed at the centre of policy formulation to ensure that all people in California have access to affordable, accessible, acceptable and safe water and sanitation in sufficient amounts to protect their health and dignity, Ms. de Albuquerque noted.

As a state that is likely to be heavily affected by climate change, California should now become the first state in the country to adopt a comprehensive policy on the human right to water, she added.

“I remember the tragic stories of farm-worker women in Seville, in the San Joaquin Valley, who were condemned to drinking the water from their polluted wells because they did not have the money to purchase bottled water,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “I recall the crying women who told me that they were devoting about 20 per cent of their $14,000 per year income to water and sanitation. I am also thinking about the indigenous people of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, whose lack of water and adequate sanitation was appalling.”

Ms. de Albuquerque met with the author of the bill, Assembly Member Mike Eng, and its co-sponsors during her visit to the US in February and March last year. She also visited communities affected by the inadequate access to safe drinking water. Since then, she has followed the developments on this issue and given recommendations to lawmakers who introduced, discussed and adopted the bill.

“This bill is a clear sign that bringing safe and affordable water to all in California is a political priority, which I warmly welcome. I am happy to congratulate the state of California for this historic step,” she said.

“After the adoption of a comprehensive law, the crucial next step is to come up with a plan, policy and strategy for the sector. As part of the duties of our office, I am at the disposal of the Government to give the necessary support.”

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs such as Ms. de Albuquerque, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.


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