Water Pollution, Water Scarcity and Water-related Disasters

Report of the Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment


By: Irene Sacchetti & Joy El Hajaly/GICJ


The Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, Mr. David R. Boyd, delivered a report A/HRC/46/28 at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council, discussing the enjoyment of human rights interlinked with the unfolding global water crisis.

The report (A/HRC/46/28) stresses that safe and sufficient water is one of the substantive elements of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. It also remarks the root causes and consequences of the global water crisis, focusing on water pollution, water scarcity and water-related disasters, their catastrophic consequences on a wide range of human rights and the negative impacts on most vulnerable and marginalized groups. By highlighting that States have procedural and substantive obligations to ensure safe and sufficient water, which are not options but legally binding, Mr. Boyd outlines good practices adopted to combat the water crisis and to achieve the SDG 6. Also, the report provides a seven-step process for States to follow through a rights-based approach to water governance, and urges businesses to respect rights-related responsibilities and to make efforts to ensure safe and sufficient water for all.  

At the 46th session, the Special Rapporteur underscored that still an unimaginable amount of people around the globe lack of safe water and suffer from waterborne diseases. He also stressed that the ongoing climate crisis is exacerbating water-related issues, the enjoyment of numerous rights and creating deep inequalities in water distribution.  Consequently, the Special Rapporteur encouraged States to increase international cooperation and to take a rights-based approach to achieve the SDGs Agenda 2030, promoting a scale up in investments for improving water governance and assisting low income States. The Special Rapporteur also reminded States that water is a priority for our existence and it should not be a victim of abuses and conflicts, but made available and accessible to everyone. Finally, Mr. Boyd called on the Human Rights Council to support the initiative for a resolution to recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as this UN body has the task to spark universal progress of human rights’ protection.

Several countries and regional groups supported the international recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as it is a key precondition for the full enjoyment of multiple human rights such as the right to life, health, water, food, education, an adequate standard of living, development and the right of the child. The importance of protecting the environment, ecosystems and biodiversity has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which demonstrated the consequences of human’s negative impact on the planet. The African Group as well as Asia and Pacific Group and other regional groups united in their statements, by expressing concern for the climate emergency, acknowledging that is threatening water resources and other natural resources, especially in small islands and developing States, and calling for an increase in international cooperation and efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Lastly, most States welcome the seven steps programme presented by the Special Rapporteur, which would facilitate their obligations to ensure a rights-based approach to water management.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) together with International-Lawyers.Org, submitted a joint statement to the Human Rights Council, reminding that still billions of people lack access to drinking water and die worldwide annually due to waterborne diseases. GICJ believes that the international community must focus on finding a relevant solution for vulnerable, marginalized groups and low-income countries who require special monitoring, as they often have insufficient financial resources to meet water’s security targets. By underlying that this is a pivotal moment to take an aligned action to address the water crisis, GICJ strongly recommends states to accelerate and strengthen the full implementation of the key seven steps of rights-based water governance as they promote the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 under Agenda 2030.

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