Catarina de Albuquerque, human rights champion, winner of the IWA Global Water Award 2016

Catarina de Albuquerque of Portugal has been named the winner of the 2016 IWA Global Water Award. The award recognises the exceptional role she has played as the driving force behind the recognition of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation.

From 2008 to 2014 Catarina de Albuquerque became the first United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, having played a pivotal role in the recognition of water and sanitation as human rights by the UN General Assembly in 2010. Her work helped ensure the rights to water and sanitation were incorporated into the formal Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 document approved by the UN General Assembly. The only human rights explicitly mentioned.

This followed a four-year period during which she presided over the negotiations of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the United Nations – a treaty allowing people to bring complaints regarding human rights violations against their governments to the UN.

After successfully completing her second and final term as UN Special Rapporteur in December 2014, Catarina de Albuquerque was appointed Executive Chair of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) global partnership which has the objectives of achieving universal access to clean water and adequate sanitation for all, always and everywhere. Catarina de Albuquerque is continuing her work to implement the human rights to water and sanitation.

Talking about her work, Catarina de Albuquerque said, “I’m honored to receive this award from within the water community, it will raise awareness of the critical water and sanitation needs of billions of people. As a teenager I did volunteer work in the then existing Lisbon slums. I was profoundly disturbed by the injustices and inequalities I saw. Since then I felt that I wanted to contribute to changing the world and the underlying causes of the injustices I saw.”

“This is why I studied Law and then human rights law. I worked for over 10 years on child rights and social rights. The work on water, sanitation and hygiene was a ‘natural evolution’ as it is an essential and practical means to realize human rights, to empower women and girls, to combat injustices and eliminate inequalities.”

In its citation, the Award Committee says that, “Catarina de Albuquerque is a visionary who has shown great leadership to ensure that the human rights to water and sanitation were distinctly identified in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. She has the charisma to influence policy makers at the highest level. She can analyze the challenges of water and sanitation service provision from different angles and contribute solutions that cross boundaries. In a short time she has had a significant impact on the world of drinking water and sanitation, a mission she continues now and into the future.”

Ger Bergkamp, Executive Director IWA said: “Catarina de Albuquerque has been instrumental in supporting the water sector towards universal access and to not ‘leave anybody behind’. Her work has inspired IWA to develop practical guidance on the implementation of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation.”

It is estimated that, globally, almost one third of the world’s population – some two and a half billion people – live without adequate sanitation facilities. Additionally, 663 million people still do not have access to an improved source of safe drinking water. Of course many more do not have access to water and sanitation that meets the human rights requirements.

The health, economic and societal impact of this is immense: 842,000 deaths each year are caused by unsafe water and a lack of sanitation; millions of women and girls are excluded from education and productive work because they have to walk long distances to collect water; the associated cost to the global economy is $260 billion annually.