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Kiribati Must Urgently Prioritize Sanitation To Save Lives – UN Expert
Tarawa/Geneva (25 July 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, called on the Government of Kiribati to address the human rights to safe water and sanitation as a national priority.
“I was shocked by the child mortality rate in Kiribati, which is the highest in the Pacific,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “If the country seriously wants to reduce preventable deaths of children, sanitation and hygiene are two vital issues to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
In Kiribati, a large proportion of the population practices open defecation, which means that people use the sea and bushes as their toilets. This has serious implications for people’s health as human waste spreads diseases, particularly in overcrowded South Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati. Inadequate waste water management systems for existing toilets, a lack of hand washing habits and open defecation are an explosive combination leading to many preventable child deaths.
The Special Rapporteur is in Kiribati on an official mission from 23 to 26 July.
“A first step to improve the situation is to explicitly assign responsibilities for sanitation to a Government department and to provide it with the necessary human and financial resources,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Every individual in Kiribati has the human right to access drinking water and adequate sanitation that is accessible, available, affordable, acceptable and safe.”
Kiribati has scarce water resources. Studies have shown that access to sufficient quantity of water improves personal hygiene and hence reduces cases of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases, which are the major killers of children.
“The current situation of water supply is unsustainable and urgent measures have to be adopted to make sure that all I-Kiribati have access to a sufficient quantity of water for their personal and domestic uses,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “I advise the Government not to concentrate all the efforts in one single solution, but rather to diversify the options to address the water scarcity challenges. This will contribute to both affordability and sustainability.”
“One of the options is the increase of the country’s rainwater harvesting and storage capacity. The efforts to reserve the precious groundwater sources need to be boosted as well,” she added.
On the effects of climate change, Ms. de Albuquerque also appealed to the Government of Kiribati to place a strong focus on identifying the actual needs of its people, including women and children, through participatory discussions and to seek targeted international assistance to address the identified needs. “I observed that the Government’s commitment at the international level is not being fully translated into concrete actions to improve Kiribati people’s access to water and sanitation.”
“I also call upon the international community to continue to assist Kiribati in its adaptation measures as well as its planning for the very near future,” she said. “Putting the rights to water and sanitation at the centre of discussions and planning will promote an adaptation process that is people-centred.”
*Please find a copy of this news release and the full press statement attached.
Catarina de Albuquerque is the first UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. She was appointed by the Human Rights Council in 2008. Ms. de Albuquerque is a Professor at the Law Faculties of the Universities of Braga and Coimbra and a Senior Legal Adviser at the Office for Documentation and Comparative Law, an independent institution under the Prosecutor General’s Office. Learn more, visit: wwwohchr.org/srwaterandsanitation
UN Human Rights, country page – Kiribati: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/KIIndex.aspx
Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en