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Our Age Of Uncertainty: Human Rights And Water Security

STOCKHOLM, Sweden

An international panel gathered virtually to discuss human rights-based water resources management and water security at a webinar on 13 October, which was organised by the UN Development Programme - Stockholm International Water Institute (UNDP-SIWI) water governance facility.

During the webinar, which was timed to take place ten years after the recognition of water as a human right, participants heard from UN experts – Dr Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on human rights to water and sanitation and Dr David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

Catarina de Albuquerque, CEO of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) and the first Special Rapporteur on human rights to water and sanitation, facilitated a conversation between panel participants.

Panelists discussed how the global climate change urgency is already having devastating effects on the realisation of many human rights, with risks and impacts from extreme events disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations and marginalised groups.

The panel recognised the need for governments, development agencies and other actors, to think differently about their responsibilities and responses by adapting water governance resources and management to meet this “new normal”.

They discussed the challenges of reconciling “rights” and “duty bearers” in relation to water, environment, health and climate change.

A conversation ensued about how to empower local governments and participatory institutions, while also taking into account how to manage activity for river basins that cut across a number of locally-governed areas or national borders.

“Empowering local level participatory institutions, such as water user associations, is key because they are the building blocks for a broader river basin strategy,” said panellist Tobiaz Schmitz, a senior advisor on water resources and monitoring at the Global Institute for Water Environment and Health. “We have to ensure that the boundaries of duty bearers do not coincide with ecological units, and this is a big remaining challenge.”

Related reading: Panelist Tobias Schmitz discussed human rights, water security and climate change in advance of the webinar

The panelists agreed that joint missions between groups would be useful in discovering interconnections and stimulating further insights.

They also discussed the need for, and how to, disseminate knowledge about human rights to local communities, to empower them to take action.

“Regarding (informstion) dissemination, I think that COVID-19 has had a silver lining. Online meetings now allow participation from community representatives in meetings with national, and even international, organisations,” said Pamela White, Senior Manager at Finnish consultancy FCG International.

“For me, the most critical thing is people,” Pamela added. “It is no use to give money or 'rights' unless we can build capacity, explain rights and duties, and support local empowerment. For me, technical assistance by NGOs, companies etc, is an important link.”

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