In response to the conclusion of the UN independent expert on the human right to water and sanitation’s mission to the U.S.

For Immediate Release:
March 4, 2011

Corporate Accountability International congratulates Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Independent Expert on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, as well as her staff, on the conclusion of her mission to the United States. Her mission created an important opportunity for communities working to protect their right to water from corporate interests to share their stories and offer recommendations on how public officials have a responsibility to take action to address these concerns.

Corporate Accountability International was pleased to join with community partners from California, Michigan and Maine in meeting directly with the Independent Expert and providing details of how communities across the country have struggled to retain control of their local water resources from food and beverage giant Nestlé. At a time when the world is facing a global water crisis where two in three people may soon not have enough water to meet their basic needs, water bottlers like Nestlé are undermining the human right to water by
attempting to manipulate and strong-arm communities into handing over their water rights – often after strong objections. These activists shared their stories in hopes that the UN will take immediate action to secure the human right to water and prevent profiteers from abusing more communities like theirs around the world.

Overall, the Independent Expert’s preliminary remarks on the conclusion of her mission make a strong case as to why the U.S. needs to make realization of the human right to water a priority. In particular she:

  • recognizes the concerns of community groups working to protect the human right to water from water bottling corporations like Nestlé, and calls on government officials to exercise proper oversight of the bottled water industry;
  • urges the federal government to continue funding water infrastructure in a manner that ensures this funding is not only sustained but also benefits those most in need of improved access to water; and,
  • calls on the federal government to adopt a national water policy that would be guided by human rights norms, as well as a mandatory standard on affordability.

We hope that the work of the Independent Expert will help move U.S. decision makers to take a more progressive stance on the human right to water. Unfortunately, the U.S. lags behind other countries in acknowledging the rights underpinning the right to water. Our government has not joined many international treaties that affirm economic, social and cultural rights, and historically has been reluctant to affirm the human right to water itself.

Meanwhile, our country faces big challenges. Our water infrastructure is aging, in need of major rehabilitation, and investment in infrastructure is underfunded to the tune of at least $23 billion a year. Yet, Congress is proposing cuts to the federal budget that would greatly decrease, not increase federal funding for water infrastructure.

While our allies in California, Maine, and Michigan — the McCloud Watershed Association, the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and Shapleigh/Newfield’s Protect our Water and Wildlife Resources — have had victories in protecting their local water resources, bottlers like Nestlé continue to search for new sources of water to feed their rapidly expanding bottled water business. Meanwhile, some cash-strapped state and local governments dealing with the fallout of the recession are considering selling off or handing over control of local water system to private corporations, whose promises of efficiency and savings often come up empty and are replaced by big rate increases, layoffs and cuts in service that benefit corporate bottom lines not the public interest.

Protecting the human right to water and ensuring people’s access to this essential resource is one of the most critical issues of our lifetime. We extend our appreciation to the Independent Expert for her visit to the U.S. and her attentiveness to the concerns of communities across the country.

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