Tajikistan’s water reform, a key chance to prioritize safe drinking water and sanitation for rural areas – UN expert

DUSHANBE / GENEVA (12 August 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, urged the Government of Tajikistan to seize the opportunity of the ongoing water sector reform “to reach out to the millions of people currently without access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the country.” 

“Tajikistan is known as a champion of water at the global level. The Government must now become a champion of sanitation and drinking water for its own people,” Mr. Heller said at the end of a nine-day official visit* to the country. “This is a critical moment for the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation in Tajikistan.” 

“Tajikistan must not abdicate its responsibilities in dealing with water and sanitation issues in rural areas. The Government must invest in sanitation and water services to guarantee affordable services for the poor and marginalized,” the human rights expert stressed. “I call on the Tajik Parliament to adopt a new Water Code which places the human rights to water and sanitation front and centre.” 

The Special Rapporteur noted that the division of power and responsibilities in the country’s water sector is not clear. “Under the current reform, the Government must urgently clarify the institutional structures which both provide and regulate the drinking water and sanitation sectors – it must be clear who is responsible and accountable for what. Regulation must be independent and separate from the provider.” 

“I remind the Government that it has an obligation to prioritize its budgets in order to realize fundamental human rights,” he added. “The current proportion of the national budget allocated for sanitation and water supply is almost invisible and will not ensure universal access to these services.” 

Water is prioritized for irrigation, and drinking water of both piped water and other sources (springs, irrigation ditches, canals) is unsafe and insufficient. Water and sanitation are not always available in schools and health facilities, with particularly negative consequences for girls and women. Combined with inadequate hygiene practices, waterborne diseases are still widespread, in particular in rural areas. 

In Tajikistan, over 90 percent of the rural population is estimated to use and manage pit latrines entirely by themselves. “People I met told me that they construct a toilet and simply cover the pit when it becomes full. They then dig another pit because the public service to empty a pit latrine is too expensive. The more remote from the district centre they live, the more they are charged. The Government must step in and regulate and manage such solutions,” he said. 

“The good news is that by investing in sanitation and water, Tajikistan would make significant economic gains by saving on health care costs and related productivity losses.” 

Regarding water tariffs, currently the better-off households benefit from a flat tariff and the poor households who are not connected to the centralized systems tend to pay much more to secure water. Noting that the Tajik authorities began a revision of water tariffs, the expert called on the Government to adopt a comprehensive water and sanitation tariffs’ policy, which ensures sustainability and takes into account the special needs of the poor. 

“The Government of Tajikistan has a great opportunity to explicitly prioritize access to safe drinking water and sanitation in its policies and budget,” the expert stated. I am confident that with efforts the Government can make the human rights to water and sanitation a reality for everyone in the country.” 

The Special Rapporteur will present a formal report on his official visit to a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, which will include his final findings and recommendations to the Government of Tajikistan and other key actors. 
(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16313&LangID=E 

Léo Heller is the second UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council in November 2014, and started his mandate on 1 December that year. Heller is a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. Previously, Heller was Professor of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil from 1990 to 2014. During his career in the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Heller held several positions including the Head of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, Associate Provost of Graduate Studies, Dean of the School of Engineering and coordinator of the Graduate Program in Basic Sanitation, the Environment and Water Resources.

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The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page – Tajikistan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/TJIndex.aspx   

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