The third and final World Water Week session on “Promoting Ecosystem Protection and Human Rights”focused on the groups of Refugees and Migrants. This session, like the previous, were co-hosted by WaterLex, OHCHR and IDB, as well as University of Geneva, Geneva Water Hub, IOM and UNHCR.
The main case studies included South Sudanese refugee Maiwen Dot Pheot Ngalueth. Maiwen is now living and working on humanitarian aid in Switzerland. Previously he has worked as a Protection Associate for the UNHCR office in Abyei, South Sudan, where he carried out assessments among returnees and displaced persons and initiated a case management strategy that helped hundreds of vulnerable women and elderly to access humanitarian assistance. Maiwen has also worked for Médecins Sans Frontières as a translator in Abyei, during which he was able to initiate good relations with local community leaders and authorities in the area.
Antonio Torres was our other speaker presenting a main case study. Antonio is a Global WASH expert at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), where he serves as a technical expert for IOM’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes worldwide. He has implemented WASH projects in diverse humanitarian contexts such as South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Colombia, and Bangladesh – experiences which he shared with us.
These personal stories were very engaging for the audience, with videos and photos to give a real impression of the conditions that millions of people are facing in their daily lives, with little chance of improvement. Both experiences highlighted ideas for ecosystem friendly solutions that could be used in other locations, and encouraged the consideration of nature-based and human rights sensitive solutions, despite the depressing situations.
The session also included expert presentations from legal experts Rakia Turner from WaterLex and Maria Tignino from Geneva Water Hub and University of Geneva. They commented on the rights of refugees with respect to human rights to water and sanitation and in the context of international legal frameworks.
At the end of the session, Rio Hada from OHCHR, summarized the session and the previous two (on Women and Children and on Indigenous Peoples). He noted that women are at the centre of change for water, sanitation and hygiene; that indigenous peoples are some of the more discriminated people in the world; and that traditional know-how and meaningful participation both contribute to a more sustainable outcome.
All three sessions were intriguing, enlightening and engaging. It was made clear that lack of access to water impinges on other rights; such are food health, education. If we know about problems, then we can take positive actions, such as using a Human Rights-Based Approach to community engagement and water and sanitation. More discussion is needed on accountability and the role of governments, private sector, and the roles of NGOS to monitor data.