UN expert urges Brazilian Government to ensure timely access to safe drinking in wake after dam collapse

Photo: World Bank/Arne Hoel

8 December 2015 – Hundreds of thousands of people affected in catastrophic collapse of a mining dam in southeastern Brazil still lack full access to safe drinking water and sanitation more than one month after the disaster, a United Nations expert warned today, calling on the Government to urgently tackle the crisis and ensure people’s basic rights.

“I remind the Government of Brazil that it is the State’s human rights obligation to take action and ensure access to safe and sufficient water, and to alternative sanitation,” Léo Heller, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said today in a news release.

One month later, thousands of people in Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo states are still suffering interruptions to the water supply, said Mr. Heller.

Further, insufficient and disorganized distribution of water has caused people hours’ long wait for inadequate portion of water, without giving the priority to the vulnerable groups. Moreover, violence has been ignited due to the growing discontent, he noted.

“[People] are also frustrated by the inconsistent and inadequate information on the safety of the water provided by the different authorities,” said Mr. Heller, citing growing concern over the water quality and stressing that providing relevant information is a basic right.

Noting that the main water source in the region, Doce River, contains toxic elements exceeding safety levels, the human rights expert called on the authorities to urgently take preventative measures under the precautionary principle.

“The Government must strengthen its monitoring of both raw and treated water, improve water treatment, and disseminate clear information to the population in order to protect people’s human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation,” concluded Mr. Heller.

Special Rapporteurs, who are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization, are appointed by and report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.


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