Special Rapporteur on Water and Sanitation Urges Malaysia to Focus on “Off Radar” Groups
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In his report on Malaysia, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Leo Heller, notes that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is still a concern for some population groups.

Heller recommends that the government implement “social tariffs” that allow for cross-subsidization, including from non-residential consumers to residential users.

27 November 2018: UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Leo Heller, has urged Malaysia to identify and monitor the situation of groups currently excluded from access to adequate services, such as slum dwellers, undocumented migrants, rural people and detainees in prisons and immigration detention centers.

Following his two-week official visit to various urban and rural sites in Malaysia, Heller commended Malaysia’s achievement of near-universal water and sanitation access, especially in urban areas, and recommended gathering information on vulnerable population groups as the “next step” toward universal coverage. The Special Rapporteur is currently preparing a report to be submitted to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2019 on the impact of mega-projects on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (SDG targets 6.1 and 6.2).

In his report on Malaysia, Heller highlights four policy frameworks relevant for guiding actions towards universal access to water and sanitation services: the SDGs; the election manifesto of the government elected in 2018; Malaysia’s current 11th Development Plan; and the framework of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. He notes that access is still a concern for some population groups, mentioning in particular: indigenous people; communities affected by large dam projects; people living in informal settlements; and refugees and asylum seekers – many of them Rohingya people from Myanmar – living in overcrowded housing. Other concerns expressed in the report relate to toilet access for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (LGBTI) when outside the household, and for refugees and asylum seekers held in “almost inhumane” conditions lacking access to drinking water and toilet facilities.

Patterns of discrimination tend to limit access to water and sanitation services.

Heller observes that some parts of Malaysia have not fully benefited from the 2006 water service reforms for various reasons, including state governments in East Malaysia deciding to maintain their own institutional structures. He calls for collecting disaggregated data on access in different regions and investigating how to eliminate disparities so as to provide equal and adequate access to water and sanitation.

Noting that Malaysia’s National Water Services Commission (SPAN) is undertaking studies to restructure water tariffs, he recommends that the government implement “social tariffs” that allow for cross-subsidization, including from non-residential consumers to residential users.

In a press release from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Heller expressed disappointment at Malaysia’s recent decision not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), noting that patterns of discrimination tend to limit access to water and sanitation services.

The Special Rapporteur will conduct further information gathering and analysis on the situation in Malaysia, for an expanded report to be presented to the UNGA in 2019. The report will further elaborate on: enhanced participation in water and sanitation services; strategies for rural water supply and sanitation; access to public toilets for LGBTI persons; access to water and sanitation in detention centers and prisons; accountability of actors in the institutional framework; private participation in service provisions; access to water and sanitation by the urban poor, particularly those in low-cost flats; access in education facilities in rural or suburban areas; and water quality surveillance. [OHCHR Press Release] [Full Statement by Special Rapporteur]

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