UN Rapporteur Introduces Framework to Manage Mega-Project Impacts on Water and Sanitation Access
UN Photo/Martine Perret
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UN Special Rapporteur Léo Heller has proposed a framework for managing and monitoring the impacts of large-scale projects on local populations’ access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

His report to the General Assembly outlines seven typical stages in the life-cycle of a large-scale ‘mega-project,’ cites examples of impacts from existing projects including mines, dams, and plantations, and provides questions for duty bearers at each stage, based on existing human rights norms and principles.

The report highlights gaps in the existing regulatory framework around mega-projects and a lack of adequate safeguards in implementation.

19 July 2019: The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, has proposed a framework for managing and monitoring the impacts of large-scale projects on local populations’ access to potable water and sanitation. His report to the UN General Assembly outlines seven typical stages in the life-cycle of a large-scale “mega-project,” cites examples of impacts from existing projects, including mines, dams, and plantations, and provides questions for duty bearers at each stage, based on existing human rights norms and principles. The report highlights gaps in the existing regulatory framework on mega-projects and a lack of adequate safeguards in implementation.

Titled the ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation‘ (A/74/197), the report recognizes seven stages in a mega-project: macro-planning; licensing or approval; planning and design; construction; short-term operation; long-term operation; decommissioning and disaster management.

The report recommends that mega-projects avoid impeding physical access to water sources or sanitation facilities and provide alternative services if needed. It calls for identifying affected populations, consulting them in good faith, and initiating projects only with free, prior and informed content (FPIC) of the affected population. Where there are negative impacts, the report calls for redress and reparation measures to be provided in an appropriate and timely manner.

Among the gaps noted are the frequent lack of regulation for mega-projects to include a decommissioning stage, although project impacts can continue long into the future.

The Special Rapporteur’s report was developed through a consultation process with UN Member States, civil society organizations and businesses. It included written submissions from 33 entities, one public consultation, and two expert consultations in Malaysia and Morocco.

Heller notes that mega-projects are often thought to be needed for meeting different SDG targets, including investment in the ‘infrastructure gap.” He argues that capital investors often create increased incentives for States to implement mega-projects and to disregard the concomitant need for human rights protection against impacts such as water pollution and water scarcity due to retention or overuse of water by upstream actors. He adds that human rights defenders who have advocated for the rights of those affected by mega-projects have in the past been harassed, assaulted or even murdered.

Heller has served as Special Rapporteur since late 2014. [UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) Profile Page]

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