Global Issues

Key global issues AquaFed is working on currently


Sao Paolo, Brazil


1/ The Human Rights to Water and Sanitation - Key contributions

AquaFed's Radar on the Right to Water

Since its creation, AquaFed has been an active supporter of the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. This is reflected in its Code of Ethics and in public commitments made by Private Water Operators (link to video).

Private Water Operators’ core business is to contribute every day to the implementation of these rights.

When defining the content of these rights in international law in 2010, the United Nations have ruled that private operation of public water services is an option that responsible water authorities can use to meet their obligations. 


AquaFed fully endorses the recognition of these human rights and calls for their urgent implementation for all individuals. This requires appropriate organisation, allocation of means to relevant public bodies and pertinent instructions to their water operators. 

“The core business of most private water operators is the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation to populations in accordance with the mandates are given by public authorities. The Federation encourages its members to engage with public authorities to help and enable them to promote, fulfil and protect the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of their populations.” 

Three steps are necessary for the right to water to be implemented locally:

  • step 1. Acknowledging the content of the right to water. This has been done by the United Nations at the international level, and also increasingly at national level in States’ constitutions.
  • step 2. Identifying the public authority in charge of the implementation of the right to water, its related duties and its means of action. In many places in the world this has yet to be decided. The Right includes several independent components such as water safety, accessibility, acceptability, availability, affordability, etc. Each of these components requires elements of regulation and oversight by public authorities. However, this may be by different sets of bodies. Organising the implementation of State duties with respect to the Right requires the State to define which entities are responsible for each component of the Right in each situation. In particular, targets must be decided, tariffs structures have to be appropriate, local authorities must be allocated the appropriate financial means and their obligations should be clarified.
  • step 3. Making the right real to every individual through delivery in the field. This is where efficient operators are needed to produce the expected results. Water operators are the instruments of the public policies that aim at increasing access to water and sanitation. If called on, they can deliver. Obstacles to their action need to be removed. For example, they are often instructed by local authorities not to improve access to water in illegal settlements. This can be for good reasons such as avoiding settling people in dangerous areas. However, it is an issue to be addressed.

Key contributions of AquaFed to the development and clarification of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation include.

In 2016: Joint contribution to the Special Rapporteur’s enquiry on gender equality with the Women for Water Partnership (pdf)

in 2016 submission to the Special Rapporteur’s enquiry on development assistance (pdf)

In 2010: 2010 - contributions to the report on the role of Non-State Actors, including the private sector (PDF links: * Introduction; * Contribution of Private Water Operators to the Right to Water and Sanitation; * The Roles of Government; * Bibliography; * Avoiding Misconceptions; *Synthesis)

Contributions on the right to sanitation (2009)

The advocacy work of AquaFed during the period 2005-2010 is presented in a long list with some important quotations highlighted. (pdf)


  • In Europe in 2014 AquaFed issued three proposals for the human rights to water and sanitation to be better recognized; and in particular for them to be included in the European Charter (pdf).


  • 2012 - Are we asking the right questions? - AquaFed calls for the real needs for drinking water to be addressed by governments, making visible estimates that “roughly half the people in the world have no assurance that the water that they use is safe and that even more have their human right to safe drinking water unsatisfied”. 


  • 2012 - 2012 - AquaFed co-organises with the Swiss government, the French Water NGO Coalition and the global Water and Sanitation Program the thematic part of the 6th World Water Forum on "Guaranteeing access to Water and the right to Water", including 18 hours of sessions. This resulted in water professionals and decision-makers becoming far more aware than before about the practical content of the human right. A multi-stakeholder debate on the implementation of the right has been organised with many different stakeholders. The panellists were a minister, a mayor, a parliamentarian, a regulator, a public operator, a private operator, a unionist, an NGO representative and the UN special rapporteur. All agreed that they have a responsibility to act for the implementation of the right.

 External references

  • Resolution UN General Assembly (url)
  • Resolution UN Human Rights Council (url)
  • General Comment 15 to the ICESC (url)
  • UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Mr. Léo Heller;
  • UN Special Rapporteur’s 2010 report on non-State operators (url)
  • UN fact sheet on the Right to Water (url)
  • Frequently Asked Questions (to the UN Special Rapporteur) (url)
  • Waterlex -
  • Right to Water, NGO website -
  • The UNECE Water Convention (url)
  • UN Special Rapporteur's 2014 "Handbook" on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation (url)


2/ Transparency & Integrity

AquaFed, on behalf of its members, commits to engage constructively with governments and public authorities to contribute to the delivery of good quality water and sanitation services and to solving local and global water challenges.


These commitments form part of the Federation Code of Ethics. “promoting integrity and ethical practices in every aspect of water services: in particular supporting and respecting international human rights and labour rights within their sphere of influence; and banning any kind of corrupt trading practices.” 


Further commitments, made during the World Water Forum in Marseille in 2012, include:

  • Promoting dialogue, transparency, integrity and fair competition in public water and sanitation services


AquaFed is a founding member of the Water Integrity Network (WIN). The Federation also encourages its members to meet the United Nations Global Compact standards of behaviour.

3/ Private Operators and Climate Change

Changes in climate and the continuous increase of global population have a great impact on fresh water resources. Whereas water resources are expected to become increasingly scarce in the future; cities and populations also face increasing risk of floods and extreme weather events. The United Nations stressed the importance to address challenges driven by climate changes in the 2030 Agenda. Water also became a high political priority in the COP21 discussions in Paris in 2015.


These challenges require education on water use and conservation; as well as more efficient management of resources.More robust degrees of resiliency need to be build in for the future-proofing of water infrastructure.


Whatever the nature and the speed of climate changes, these have a huge impact on the quality and the quantity of fresh water resources, which is crucial to human development and activities, in a context of a global rise of the world’s population from the present 6.5 billion to 8.9 billion by 2050.

Considering that approximately 98% of the water available on earth is salty and only 2% is fresh, changes in climate has a direct effect on these proportions, at the expense of available fresh water resources:

  • Melting ice into the sea water, turning fresh water into salty water
  • Heavier and unpredictable rainfalls, increasing the risks of floods and extreme weather events (hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, etc.); and reducing the ability to store and use water
  • Increase of evaporation rate, due to warmer air that favours rainfall at the expense of snowfall


It is quite difficult to assess with precision these consequences for the future water supplies, as models are quite different and adapted for specific regions. However, experts estimate that around one billion people in dry regions, particularly in Africa, may face increasing water scarcity . On the other hand, climate changes increase the risk of unexpected and extreme weather events. For instance, experts said that frequency of flooding across Europe may double by 2050 .

In this context, AquaFed strongly supports recent positions of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, who both called for addressing climate change as priority within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Authorities and water operators are already proposing appropriate solutions to manage risks due to climate changes:

  • Efficient fresh water management through reservoirs to store it, pipelines to transfer it, and desalination to recover freshwater from the oceans. Efforts are also being made to increase water saving, reuse and recycling.
  • Education for conservation and water wise, through investments in education and research to develop knowledge, competences and technologies on water scarcity.
  • Improving the understanding of drivers of urban resilience, particularly in cities where consequences of climate shocks and stresses on population and infrastructure and their capacity to recover are the most problematic.



  • One in three people in the world are already facing water shortages
  • One billion people in dry regions may face increasing water scarcity in the future
  • $1.2 trillion is the economic impact of global warming per year

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