Europe to raise the bar on human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Private Water Operators contribute to making this right a reality for all.
All individuals need clean water every day. Their basic needs for water are now recognised in the human right that was passed into international law in 2010. This right has precise requirements for states, including the EU. It means that everybody should enjoy access to a minimum quantity of clean water. It also means that this water should be safe, accessible, acceptable, affordable and can be obtained without discrimination.
Currently, this is not the case everywhere in the European Union. Some EU citizens still lack access to public services for water supply or sanitation. Water supplied is not always safe everywhere. Affordability of drinking water to users through bills and taxes may be hindered by unnecessary costs and may not be guaranteed to the poorest. Etc.
Governments have the responsibility to turn the human right to water into a reality progressively for all citizens. The improvements made can be measured on a “radar” diagram where progress on these different dimensions can be reported independently. The starting points differ from one city to another; they can also be very diverse according to different users in the same city.
Private Water Operators contribute to making this right effective to all
Private water operators are companies that deliver public services to individuals as mandated by responsible public authorities through Public-Private Partnerships contracts or through regulated licenses. More than 33% of European citizens receive water or wastewater services from them (directly or indirectly).
Private operators deliver significant progress on all the dimensions of the right when they are requested to do so by public authorities. Their daily job is to provide good quality water to all water-users without any discrimination. Competitive tendering ensures that private operators use their professionalism to optimise costs to users and taxpayers as a whole. Private companies implement the social support mechanisms and subsidies that are designed by public authorities and are therefore efficient tools for governments that want to ensure that safe drinking water and sanitation services are affordable to people, including the very poor. Private water operators have also expanded water services to many un-served or poorly-served areas in developing countries. Many examples are documented in the AquaFed brochure, “Private operators delivering performance for water-users and public authorities” (url1). For example, in Europe, the satisfaction of users with respect to water quality has been dramatically increased in Gdansk (Poland) and in Rostock (Germany). In France, Private water operators have initiated and are funding the regional mechanisms that pay the water bills of the most-disadvantaged people.
Out of 10 people on the planet, 5 receive water from a public operator, 1 from a private operator mandated by a public authority and 4 do not benefit from any public service provision at all. Billions of people are using unsafe water and half mankind does not have its human right to safe drinking water satisfied. These people are desperate for water and do not mind who delivers it to them.
Private Water Operators contribute to advancing and promoting the right to water
Private operators have contributed to defining the content of the Right to safe drinking water and sanitation. To be meaningful to people who need water, this Right had to be more than an idealistic or ideological construct. It had to be clearly defined and practical so that it can be delivered on the ground. As this has now been done in international law, the focus has shifted to implementing this right, i.e. to taking action that makes this right effective to all.
Since 2006, AquaFed, the International Federation of Private Water Operators, has been an active supporter of the right to safe drinking water and sanitation and promoted its implementation even before its recognition by the United Nations in 2010.
In 2013, AquaFed went further in its advocacy efforts and called upon the European institutions to include the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (URL2). This would contribute to making this right effective to all individuals across Europe and beyond.
As explained by AquaFed since 2006, 3 steps are necessary for the right to water to be implemented locally:
- Acknowledging the content of the right in law
- Identifying for each dimension of the right, the public authority in charge of the implementation and its related duties and its means of action. In many places in the world this has yet to be decided.
- Making the right real to every individual through delivery in the field. This is where efficient operators, public or private, are needed to produce the expected results. Water operators are the instruments of the public policies that aim at increasing access to water and sanitation. If called on, they can deliver. Obstacles to their action need to be removed.
The United Nations have resolved that governments may use private water operators to turn the right to water into reality for people.
The compatibility of private management of water services with the implementation of the human right to safe drinking water has been carefully studied and recognised by governments and lawyers at the United Nations. In 2010, the official report of the UN Special Rapporteur determined that the requirements on private operators, public operators and NGOs are the same when they are hired by a public authority to operate its water system. This led to the historical resolution of the UN Human Rights Council in 2010 that recognised access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right embedded in existing international law. The same resolution (url) declares that responsible governments have full capacity to use private companies to fulfill their obligations with respect to this human right. This statement, supported by human rights lawyers, means that contrary to the propaganda of anti-private lobbies, satisfying the human right to water does not restrict the range of management options for water services that are available to public authorities.
Private Water Operators can turn the right to safe drinking water and sanitation into reality. They do it daily in Europe and the other parts of the world.
More action is needed to address the needs of all those who live in the European Union.