Friday, 14 July 2023 21:15

Rights experts urge Uruguay to prioritise water use for human consumption

© UNICEF/Pazos
Thirteen-year-olds share a picnic of fresh fruit, tangerine muffins, cheese sticks and quince pie close to their school in Montevideo, Uruguay (file photo).


A considerable increase in salt levels in drinking water in Uruguay is affecting over 60 percent of the population, UN experts said on Thursday, calling for the Government to take action.



“The continuous decline in water quality due to increased salinity levels in its composition is alarming. This situation significantly impacts vulnerable groups, such as children and adolescents, pregnant women and people suffering from chronic diseases,” they said in a statement.

Water privatization fears

Although health authorities have urged vulnerable groups to purchase bottled water, “this may create a risk of de facto water privatisation for human consumption,” they warned.

“We recognise the government’s efforts to reduce water taxes. However, measures must be deepened to ensure that all people can access the water necessary for life," the experts said.

While the government has recommended reducing household water consumption, they said these restrictions do not apply to large-scale consumers, such as industries using water for production.

Uphold human rights

The experts added that the over-exploitation of water, particularly by some industries, is an underlying issue in the overall problem.

“Uruguay must put human consumption at the forefront, as indicated by international human rights standards," they said.

Experts have been warning for years that the expansion of concessions to water-intensive industries was leading to water pollution and shortages in the country.

“Water for human consumption represents barely five per cent of the total supply of drinking water. Consequently, failure to prioritise its use is unacceptable,” they said.

They recalled that the human right to water implies that supply must be accessible, free of pollutants and managed sustainably,

“Businesses, including state-owned enterprises, have a responsibility to respect human rights at all times, and States have an obligation to ensure the protection of this right by guaranteeing universal access to safe drinking water, even during emergencies,” they added.

About UN rights experts

The five experts who issued the statement were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

They include Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Experts appointed by the Council serve in their individual capacity. They are not UN staff and are not paid for their work.