Remarks by Frederick D. Barton, Representative to ECOSOC, to the Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the issue of the Human Right of Water

Ambassador Rick Barton
U.S. Representative 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
July 27, 2011


Mr. President,

The United States is deeply committed to finding solutions to our world’s water challenges. In the United States’ Strategy for Meeting the Millennium Development Goals, released in September 2010, we welcomed progress, recognizing that over 1.6 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water between 1990 and 2005. At the same time, the United States expressed its concern that “[i]n many countries, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation remains unacceptably high.”

At the September 2010 session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the United States joined consensus on a resolution that affirms “that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from [one], the right to an adequate standard of living and [two] inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Both tenets are drawn from the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and they call upon governments to take steps towards the progressive realization of this human right. In March at the Human Rights Council, the United States supported the renewal of the mandate of the independent expert on this issue.

In the context of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, we believe the following:

· First, governments should strive to progressively realize universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and should seek to expand access, especially for underserved populations. Governments should develop and implement national policies and strategies, where needed, and commit sufficient budgetary resources so that they will be able to advance this goal as quickly as possible.

· Second, governments have an obligation to ensure that access to safe drinking water and sanitation services is provided on a nondiscriminatory basis. Governments also have obligations to provide, or ensure access to, safe drinking water and sanitation to persons in their custody.

· Third, the right to safe drinking water and sanitation can reasonably be interpreted to include access to cooking water. It can also be reasonably understood to mean water in sufficient quantity and quality-- although not necessarily potable quality-- to meet basic needs regarding personal hygiene.

· Finally, in support of all of this, governments should work towards greater transparency and accountability in water and sanitation service provision and include the public in government decision making. Good governance is fundamental to the achievement of a right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

In this regard, we would like to recognize and applaud the efforts of the Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation and its commitment to implementing water and sanitation initiatives through its “Sustainable Sanitation: Five year Drive to 2015.” This initiative targets decision makers in an effort to build political will for water and sanitation programs.

The United States hopes that this plenary meeting, aimed at providing dialogue, also leads governments to take concrete action to reduce the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Thank you, Mr. President.


PRN: 2011/151