Coronavirus emergency: National governments and European institutions must ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Call for action by European Water Movement – accessible here

Measures taken in Europe to contain the spread of Coronavirus pandemic are producing a state of exception where people are subject to several prohibitions and prescriptions. We must stay in and apply strict hygiene recommendations, which implies guaranteed access to water and sanitation services. However, in spite of this emergency situation, we have not yet read in the declarations of European institutions the most basic health and hygiene provision: access to water and sanitation for all.

If some European countries and regions have decided to suspend water cutoff, it is because there is a risk that water operators implement cutoff even in emergency situations, i.e. for families without incomes, occupations, roma and migrants settlements.

UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292 (July 28th, 2010) recognizes “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”. 10 years after, any State guaranteed this obligation to achieve the human right to water and sanitation (HRWS) at minimum level to guarantee the dignity of life.

But little has been done to guarantee the HRWS in Europe. In order to introduce the HRWS in European legislation, 1.884.790 european citizens signed the first European Citizens’ Initiative. Today 1 million people have no water access and 8 million people have no sanitation in Europe. It is time to act.

As European citizens claim and the normative development of HRWS indicates, water cutoff constitute a violation of the human right, even more dangerous for public health in the current context.

We therefore call national governments and European institutions for guaranteeing the human right to water and sanitation for all. This implies the adoption of various measures :

  • Water cutoff prohibition for all
  • Water and sanitation bill suspension during this crisis
  • Special attention to emergency situations such as non regulated supplies in occupations and migrant settlement
  • Guarantee of labour rights and hygiene conditions for water and sanitation workers
  • The cost of these measures shall not be borne by citizens but by the water and sanitation operators.

All these measures must be guaranteed through a specific mandatory regulation.

Such provisions are due in an emergency situation, but this is also the time for a systematic improvement of the pertinent normative, by the inclusion of these requirements in the water directives (in particular the Drinking Water Directive and the Water Frame Directive) and the introduction of the UN right to water in the European Charter. Drinking water supply and water resources management are consequently to be excluded from liberalizations and trade and investment agreements.

Effective implementation of the right to water and sanitation is an essential requirement of democracy, but it is also a beneficial and powerful tool for health and well-being of people, for preservation of the environment and, lastly, for economics. If not now, when?