‘Water is a human right … but it can have a price’

Catarina de Albuquerque, former UN special rapporteur, on getting water recognised as a human right and why involving the private sector is a no-brainer

The first time Catarina de Albuquerque made a presentation at World Water Week, people did not like what she had to say. It was 2009, she was just a year into her role as UN special rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and delegates did not like her suggestion that people should pay for water.

“They were hoping I was going to say that as water is a human right, it should be free and the private sector should not be involved,” says de Albuquerque. She made her presentation, saying that water should be affordable, and the floor opened for questions.

“That’s when the disaster started,” says de Albuquerque. “I think the NGOs were in shock. They were saying: ‘How can you say that water can have a price? You cannot sell human rights.’”

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