Human rights to water – From St. Gallen to New York

Local action for global water challenges

Today more than ever, the challenges in the sustainable use of water are greater and more visible worldwide. In light of the UN-Water Conference in New York in March 2023 – the first UN-Water Conference in over 40 years – the topic of water and sanitation for all gains further traction.

Within this context, Skat Foundation, in cooperation with the City of St.Gallen, the University of St.Gallen (HSG), the Blue Communities, HEKS/EPER and the Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences, organised a public event on the topic of human rights to water, which took place on 18.01.2023 in the city of St.Gallen.

The event comprised a keynote speech from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, and an input from the City Council St.Gallen, Peter Jans. The inputs were followed by a panel discussion, which addressed the challenges and opportunities for action related to the promotion of human rights to water. The discussion highlights included:

  • There are tensions between different government levels when it comes to accountability and responsibility for ensuring that the human rights to water are met.
  • Sensitisation campaigns for the sensible use of water are crucial – it is necessary to deconstruct the mindset that water is largely available and inexpensive.
  • People need to realise that their local consumption habits may pose adverse effects on foreign country water resources, especially those related to food, clothing and electronics.
  • Citizen initiatives are an essential part of the path towards achieving the human rights to water. This includes demanding accountability from the government but also adopting responsible consumption habits.
  • We need to work towards circular systems, to foster the synergies between the different water framework components, such as drinking water and sanitation, for instance.

Panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities for action related to the promotion of human rights to water, comprising (from the left to the right): Gaston Jehle, Jeanne Käser, Simon Zbinden, Dorothee Spuler and Peter Jans.

 

Keynote speech by Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, UN Special Rapporteur to human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

 

Input by Peter Jans, City Council St.Gallen.

Panel discussants

The panel was moderated by Bertha Camacho (Skat Foundation) and encompassed representatives from the government, academia and civil society:

You can read the short biographies of all speakers and panelists here.

Making peace with the water sphere

To close the event, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo shared his main reflections:

  1. We need to make peace with our rivers and aquatic ecosystems: it is crucial to restore their environmental quality, protect them, recognise and value the ecosystem services they provide.
  2. We need to promote the democratic governance of water as a common good: laws must be based on ethical priorities, being the first the basic human water needs for a decent living standard.
  3. We must promote global laws that are effective at regulating global companies: companies need to be held accountable where headquartered for the adverse effects their actions cause on foreign water resources.

The event was well attended and counted with over 100 registrants from different sectors. 

The event was greatly attended, counting with over 100 registrants. We hope to have encouraged the reflection of all who joined, as to how we can act collectively and also individually to promote the human rights to water and sanitation. Local actions do matter for tackling global water challenges!

The local media was also involved. The St.Galler Tagblatt featured an article (in German) informing about Pedro Arrojo-Agudo’s visit to St.Gallen and his message as the global guardian of drinking water. A reporter from the local radio “toxic.fm” attended the venue to interview both the UN Special Rapporteur and the City Council St.Gallen.

The event was supported by the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC), Solidarit’Eau Suisse and Eawag.