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Pedro Arrojo, new UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

  • Pedro Arrojo, new Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

Pedro Arrojo, Doctor in Physics and Professor Emeritus in Economic Analysis, has been appointed the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation by the United Nations.

The appointment took place during the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, held in Geneva, where Spain has promoted, together with Germany, its traditional resolution on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, which this time has focused on free access to water and sanitation services in public spaces.

During the session, the Council has appointed nine special procedure mandate holders, among them the appointment of Pedro Arrojo, who will replace Léo Heller in the position of Special Rapporteur.

The first Spanish Special Rapporteur

Arrojo has been a professor at the University of Zaragoza, where his research focused on water economics. On this topic he has published 70 books, about 100 articles, and lectured at multiple conferences.

He is a member of UNESCO’s MAB Committee, has been president of the New Water Culture Foundation (Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua), the Latin American Gathering on the New Water Culture held in Fortaleza, Brazil in 2005, the European Declaration for a New Water Culture and the “Ethical Water Forum” at the Expo Zaragoza 2008 on Water and Sustainable Development, among others.

Arrojo has been a Unidas Podemos Party Member of the Spanish Parliament for the past few years, representing the Zaragoza constituency. He has been active in the water sector since 2001, when he led the opposition to the Spanish National Hydrological Plan. In 2003 he was awarded the Goldman Environment Prize, considered as the “Nobel Prize in Ecology”, because of his efforts to change water management policy through the work of the New Water Culture Foundation (Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua, FNCA).

With this appointment, he becomes the third person to occupy this position, and the first Spanish person to become a United Nations Special Rapporteur.

The role of the Special Rapporteur

The human right to water is implicitly part of different international conventions and declarations. In fact, in 2000, during the UN Millennium Declaration, the importance of water to ensure other rights, such as the right to health and to life, became obvious.

Thus, with the purpose of assessing free and safe access to water and sanitation for all, and formulate recommendations for governments and other stakeholders, in 2008 the United Nations Human Rights Council created, upon the request of Spain and Germany, the position of an Independent Expert on matters related to access to water and sanitation.

The position’s name changed to “Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation” in 2011, and Catarina de Albuquerque was the first to occupy it until September 2014.

Albuquerque, a human rights lawyer and activist, received the Human Rights Golden Medal from the Portuguese Parliament in December 2009, recognising her outstanding work in this field. She is currently the CEO of Sanitation and Water for All.

After Catarina de Albuquerque, Léo Heller was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation by the Human Rights Council in November 2014. Heller has extensive experience in formulating policies, teaching and researching in the field of public policy and management and of environmental health related to water and sanitation.

He is also the author of several books on water and sanitation policy and has a long tradition of working together with and taking part in social movements related to human rights to water and sanitation, especially in Latin America.

During his first report as the new Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation to the United Nations General Assembly, in 2015, the United Nations Assembly designated the human right to drinking water and the human right to sanitation as separate rights. Furthermore, SDG 6, related to the availability of water and sanitation for all, was included in the 2030 Agenda.

Heller has also participated in various conferences and events related to realising the human rights to water and sanitation, such as the 6th Water Economy Forum, held in Barcelona in 2017.

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