Human Rights Council pledges to improve water supply protection

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UN) has passed three resolutions that cover water, climate change and toxic waste issues at its 18th session in Geneva and is calling on its member states to take action.

According to environmental nongovernmental organisations Green Cross International and WaterLex, the council has taken “great strides” to ensure the national water governance better considers human rights, while also taking into account national concerns over the effects environmental degradation is having on human rights.

Each of the resolutions share common concerns raised by its 47 member states and point to water-related issues, such as the impact environmental dilapidation is having on human rights, including access to safe-drinking water, which was passed as a basic human right by the council in 2010.

The overarching aim of the resolutions is to provide a reminder that international human rights law is central to the international legal system and that all international treaties must be interpreted using it.

The first resolution, the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, calls on the states to adopt a plan of action for the implementation of the rights to water and sanitation. It also encourages members to adopt a “holistic and integrated approach that clarifies responsibilities”, while stressing the importance in having the “vision and political will to sufficiently prioritise water and sanitation”.

Its second resolution calls on the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights to hold a seminar addressing the adverse impact of climate change such as increases in water temperatures and changes in weather extremes which affect the “full enjoyment of human rights”, adding that it needs to “respect all human rights in climate change related actions and polices”.

The final resolution calls for the adoption of a “more holistic approach to waste treatment”, which covers the life cycle of dangerous substances and waste from production and elimination.

In addition, it said that best practices on the human rights obligations related to environmentally sound management and disposal of waste pollutants, such as sludge, sewage, rubbish and toxic waste is needed as these have been found to damage water supplies.

The report also outlined that water pollution is a crucial issue in countries with weak or non-existent regulations to protect their water supplies, which it said must be addressed.

The full report can be viewed here.

Carys Matthews

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