Access to water as a human right: Remarks on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate


Speech delivered by Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen 

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Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,  

I welcome this debate today on access to water as a human right. As we all experienced, water is a precondition for life, and therefore for the enjoyment of all human rights.  

However, access to safe drinking water and sanitation is still a major challenge in many parts of the world.

I am glad the report recognises the importance of the 2019 EU human rights guidelines on safe drinking water and sanitation. It is a reference framework and working tool for us across EU institutions and around the world, with impact on our policies, programming and public diplomacy.  

Equally, the EU’s Gender Action Plan (GAP) III emphasises the interconnectedness between women’s and girls’ human rights and gender equality on one hand and the right to water and sanitation on the other. This is also part of the first ever Youth Action Plan that we have adopted today.

There is a long history of conflicts over water resources, and the modern world has all too commonly witnessed the use of water resources and infrastructure as a weapon of war.  

This is why the EU and its Member States promote the rights to safe drinking water in multilateral and regional forums. It is why we have projects worldwide: we have dedicated more than €2.5 billion to water cooperation in 62 countries. 

We fight for SDG [Sustainable Development Goal] 6 and access to water to be on top of every State’s political agenda. There is a need to strengthen multilateralism and dialogue on water and to ensure that water governance is inclusive. Therefore, [the] EU is actively supporting outreach efforts through EU delegations to call for the establishment of a UN Special Envoy for Water. 

Equally, we are working hard to create momentum for the 2023 UN Water Conference. 

The urgency to act increases every day, so does the need to protect those who stand up for our public good. 

Human rights defenders are on the frontline to protect their rights and the rights of their communities. The EU greatly contributes to their protection. Last week, I signed  an additional €30 million to the EU flagship protecting human right defenders:  

Let me underline again that I fully share the concerns and priorities outlined in the report, and you can count on us to actively pursue the right to water as a human right.  

Link to the video:  

Closing remarks  

Mr President, Honourable Members, 

The debate today testifies your continued commitment to this important subject.  

We greatly appreciate the proposals you made today. We are happy to continue to discuss our actions to increase access to water and sanitation worldwide.  

So, to conclude, water really stands at the heart of human development, but also peace and stability. Without adequate, safe and affordable water and sanitation, billions of people, including particularly women, young people and children around the globe are unable to lead healthy lives and lack the ability to build secure livelihoods. 

So yes, the right to water is a human right. 

Link to the video:

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