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UN expert calls for global recognition of the right to safe and healthy environment
by John Knox
Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
March 2018
It is high time that the international community recognized the human right to a healthy environment, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, said this week.
Knox presented a report at the UN Human Rights Council setting out framework principles for States to ensure the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment within the context of human rights.
“There can no longer be any doubt that human rights and the environment are interdependent,” he stressed.
“A healthy environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of many human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and development. At the same time, the exercise of other freedoms, including the rights to information, participation and remedy, is vital to the protection of the environment.
“The relationship between human rights and the environment has countless facets, and our understanding of it will continue to grow for many years to come.”
Knox emphasized that while the right to a healthy environment had been recognized in regional agreements and in most national constitutions, it has not been adopted in a human rights agreement of global application.
“I hope the Human Rights Council agrees the the right to a healthy environment is an idea whose time is here. The Council should consider supporting the recognition of this right in a global instrument.”
* Access the framework principles:

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Crisis in Cape Town: 3 months until the taps run dry
by Reuters, UNEP, FAO, Unicef, agencies
Mar. 2018
Why You Should Care About the Water Crisis, by Tim Wainwright - Chief executive, WaterAid, UK
For the past weeks, many have been anxiously tracking the approach of Cape Town’s Day Zero: the day its taps will run dry. To everyone’s relief, current predictions are that careful conservation may stave off such a catastrophe in the coastal South African city until the rains arrive.
It is not nearly often enough that a water crisis makes headlines around the world. The Mozambican capital of Maputo, home to nearly 1.2 million people, is facing a severe drought and water shortage that, despite the urgency, has received little attention.
A new WaterAid report, The Water Gap: The State of the World’s Water 2018, reveals that more than 60 percent of the world’s population lives in areas where the water supply does not, or will not, consistently meet demand. There are 844 million people struggling to access what everyone needs most to live: water.
Uganda, Niger, Mozambique, India and Pakistan are among the countries where the highest percentages or largest numbers of people cannot get clean water within a half hour trip. This means millions of people with long walks for water, which is often dirty and likely to make them ill. Those without power are the worst affected.
The report also shows disturbing new data on the often-sizeable gap between rich and poor when it comes to access to water, demonstrating that even those countries making progress are leaving the poorest behind. The least powerful, such as those who are older, ill, or disabled, are most affected because they may be more susceptible to illness and infections from the use of dirty water, with potential fatal consequences.
In Mali and Niger, land-locked nations exposed to drought and flooding in the barren lands of the Sahel, the gap in access to water between rich and poor is vast. In Niger, ranked second least-developed nation in the world in 2016 by the UN, 72% of the wealthiest people have access to water, compared to only 41% of the poorest. While neighbouring Mali made significant progress and secured access for 93% of the rich, only less than half of the country’s poorest can say the same.
This inequality impacts women and girls more, because they bear the brunt of water fetching responsibilities. Think about this: the UN-recommended amount of water per person per day is 50 litres. If it takes 30 minutes round-trip to collect water from the nearest water source, that is two and a half months a year to collect the minimum amount for a family of four – 75,000 litres. That is a lot of time during which young girls should study, and when adult women might be able to care for families or earn an income.
First and foremost, political will and financing are critical in addressing the water crisis. This year, there is an opportunity to change that.
Nearly three years ago, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals and thus made a promise to end extreme poverty. This summer, world leaders will convene at the UN to review the progress made on Global Goal 6; to deliver water and decent toilets to everyone, everywhere by 2030.
In this, however, the world is dramatically far behind. At the current pace, global access to clean water will happen only by 2066 and global access to decent toilets not until the next century. Meanwhile, nearly 300,000 children under five continue to die every year because of diarrhoea linked to dirty water, poor toilets and poor hygiene.
If we don’t achieve the water goal, other Global Goals for progress in education, nutrition, health, equality and stability will most certainly fail too. Ending extreme poverty is impossible without universal access to clean water and decent toilets.
As world leaders prepare to meet later this year it is an absolute priority that they move to provide water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone, everywhere by 2030, regardless of social or economic standing.
Feb. 2018
Crisis in Cape Town: 3 months until the taps run dry. (UNEP)
Just a few years ago Cape Town’s water supply seemed secure. Access to water in South Africa’s largest city was taken for granted, and affluent residents prided themselves on well-kept lawns and backyard pools. Now, after almost three years of record-breaking drought, Cape Town is dealing with a scenario that a major developed city has never faced in the 21st century. In May, the taps could run dry, leaving Capetonians without reliable access to water.
Cape Town has always depended on dams and reservoirs to ensure a steady supply of water, but in recent decades infrastructure projects failed to keep up with population growth. In just over 20 years, Cape Town’s population grew by around 80 per cent, from 2.4 million in 1995 to 4.3 million in 2018. During the same time period dam storage increased by only 15 per cent. Combined with the population boom, erratic weather and a persistent drought have created a severe crisis.
Even with water restrictions in place, experts have said that 11 May will be “Day Zero”. This is the official date when reservoir capacity will reach 13.5 per cent and the city will no longer be able to provide water to its residents. City officials, while doing all they can to avert disaster, are reckoning with the fact that the current crisis isn’t a short-term problem. Less frequent rainfall and a changing climate means that drier conditions are likely to become the new normal.
Reuters reports other cities like Kenya''s Nairobi and Ghana''s Accra have suffered recurrent water shortages for years as reservoirs fall to critical levels in the dry season.
Water shortages in these cities threaten the lives of million in places like Kibera in Nairobi – one of Africa''s largest slums – where an outbreak of sanitary diseases such as cholera and typhoid could be catastrophic.
The Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company said last month that Kenya''s capital could face water shortages by April if the country''s main rainy season, from March to May, fails.
It started rationing domestic supplies in January as the Ndakaini Dam, the main reservoir for Nairobi, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the capital, was half empty.
The Ghana Water Company announced last month that it would ration water in the capital, Accra, and other parts of the country due to insufficient rain and pollution of water bodies.
* More than a billion people currently live in water-scarce regions, and as many as 3.5 billion could experience water scarcity by 2025. Increasing pollution degrades freshwater and coastal aquatic ecosystems. And climate change is poised to shift precipitation patterns and speed glacial melt, altering water supplies and intensifying floods and drought.

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