By David Snow, WaterLex | More photos |
In a side event to the 27th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, WaterLex gathered leading agencies and national representatives Monday to discuss how wastewater reuse practices can have a positive effect on human rights, such as the rights to water and sanitation and to a safe and healthy environment.
In front of an audience of about 65 people from diverse backgrounds, a panel of nine speakers at the event, entitled “Water, Energy & Human Rights: Wastewater Reuse Can Help Realize Human Rights,” discussed various aspects of wastewater management. Permanent representatives to the UN in Geneva from The Netherlands, Uruguay, and Singapore presented programmes in their countries, and UN officers spoke on environmental issues, financial schemes, and private-public partnerships that can come into play in wastewater reclamation scenarios.
The side event’s focus on wastewater reuse also enabled discussion on the public legal and policy needs to secure an integrated approach to the nexus of water, energy and human rights.
“Many indigenous and other traditions recognise that we borrow water from nature, from the world that we are part of, or that we borrow it from others and future generations that will also need to use it,”said WaterLex Legal Desk Director Jan van de Venis, who chaired the panel discussion. “Today we saw that we can safeguard such renewed use of water by working together. Through a smarter use of wastewater we can have ‘access to water’, ‘energy for all,’ and human rights progressively realised.”
WaterLex convened the event, in partnership with the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), because of the perceived gradual shift in the common view of municipal sewage, from a waste to be treated and discarded to a resource that can be processed for recovery of energy and a renewed supply of drinking water. As renewable energy, it can be directly used in wastewater treatment, reducing the facility’s dependency on conventional energy. As a new source of water, it reduces dependency on the environment. Thus, wastewater can contribute to the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation and to a healthy environment.
“We tend to forget that 80-90 percent of human and industrial wastewater goes untreated into rivers, lakes and oceans because enforcement of regulation would simply mean the end of entire industry sectors,” said WaterLex Executive Director Jean-Benoit Charrin, who spoke at the event and moderated a related discussion recently at World Water Week in Stockholm. “We need new and innovative regulatory frameworks which facilitate and enable the transition to sustainable economies and development for all.”
Cosponsors of the event were the permanent missions of Finland, Germany, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, and Switzerland.
A Look at the Programme
As chair of the two-hour event, van de Venis welcomed the audience and introduced each speaker, summarising their remarks in transition from one speaker to the next. Speaking first was Charrin, who made a brief presentation introducing WaterLex and its work shaping water law and policy for better water governance. The list of featured speakers and topics follow, wherever possible with a link to each presentation (some presentations to be added when they become available):
- Introduction by His Exellency Mr. Roderick van Schreven, permanent representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations, Geneva
- Experience of Singapore, Mr. Steven Pang, deputy permanent representative of Singapore to the UN in Geneva
- Experience of Uruguay, Mr. Patricio Silva, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the UN in Geneva
- Legal aspects, Dr. Dirk Hanschel, School of Law, University of Aberdeen
- Environmental aspects, Ms. Barbara Ruis, Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, Regional Office for Europe, UNEP
- Financial perspective by Mr. Eric Holterhues, TRIODOS Bank, The Netherlands
- Private Public Partnership, Mr. Jan van Schoonhoven, UNECE
“Over half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with patients with illnesses linked with contaminated water,” Ruis said during her UNEP presentation, which tied wastewater to the global water crisis. “Future demands for water cannot be met unless wastewater management is revolutionized.”
WaterLex is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) and membership association based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a UN-Water Partner with UN ECOSOC special consultative status. Its mission is to develop sustainable solutions based on human rights to improve water governance worldwide, particularly in regard to consistent water law and policy frameworks. It works with an alliance of interested parties to improve water-governance frameworks, bringing them in line with country obligations under international human rights law. The interested parties are individuals and groups working in government (diplomatic missions), academia (professors of law, researchers), bilateral cooperation (water management advisors), the judiciary (high/supreme courts judges), the UN system (UN-Water family members), and civil society (NGOs that work on water issues). WaterLex works in partnership with 13 universities to continuously enrich the content of the WaterLex Legal Database. The organisation is funded by grants and project financing from public agencies, foundations, private gifts, and in-kind contributions. Established in 2010, when the human right to water was recognised by the UN, the organisation has a secretariat in Geneva with seven staff members, a supervisory board of directors, and a large pool of members and expert advisors. It is an official partner of the Global Water Partnership, UNDP Cap-Net, UNDP GWS, and UNECE, and a member of the board of the Swiss Water Partnership.