It's the first time an independent expert of the UN Human Rights Council has visited a South Pacific country.
During her three days in Tuvalu Ms de Albuquerque met with representatives from government, NGOs and civil society groups.
Presenter: Wayne Shields
Speaker: Catarina de Albuquerque, United Nations Special Rapportuer on the right to safe drinking water
DE ALBUQUERQUE: I did not face the limitations contrary to the people in having access to water and sanitation because I was staying in a hotel which had water tanks full of water. And I had access to my personal hygiene and I also had access to sanitation in the hotel.
The situation is obviously dramatically different for the people there. It has been raining a lot lately in Tuvalu so the water tanks people currently have are currently full. But as you know this is not always the case. Last year there was a tremendous drought and people did not have sufficient water, better said they did not have any water. What I also saw was that the water tanks provided to people, namely with the help of AusAid and also the European Union are enough for some smaller families because they have a capacity of ten-thousand litres. But for bigger families they are not enough. I also saw some difficulties of some families to make the connections from the water tanks to their houses, because they had to buy for the gutters and the pipes etc., and sometimes they didn't have money.
A more dramatic situation is the lack of access to sanitation, people have access to latrines or toilets which are connected to septic tanks and the septic tanks are not well maintained. They seep into the ground and this is polluting currently ground water, which people used to use before and this ground water is totally contaminated presently. Many people simply don't have a place to go. I met with a woman and she wasn't the only one, I went to a community and I was talking with them and asked so how do you do, because they didn't have a toilet, we go to the sea. And then I asked how about your dignity and about your privacy when you have to do it, and they were telling me of course they were teased by other kids when they are doing it, children who bath there have skin rashes. And older people, because that was one of my concerns, how do older people or people with disabilities manage to walk to the ocean to defecate or to urinate? And old people they have to be carried in arms by neighbours or by family members in order to be able to do it.
The third concern has to do with menstrual hygiene management. I was shocked at the prices of sanitary pads, and simply what I was told was that among poor communities when they are menstruating girls simply miss school if their families don't manage to have the money to buy the sanitary pads or they have to compromise. The money is not sufficient for everything then they don't buy other things just to make sure that the girl can go during that part of the month to school. And all of these issues are responsibilities of the government. Obviously Tuvalu is in a very desperate situation, difficult situation, economically obviously but also in terms of effects of climate change. But from a legal point of view, from a human rights point of view the primary responsibility is of the government and then it is up to the government to seek international assistance and cooperation to help them face these numerous challenges. So one first step that I advised the government to take is to have a vision for the sector and then based on this vision they can ask for support for particular sector issues.
SHIELDS: Ok so you're suggesting that they actually come up with a vision, meaning that they decide what it is that they want to do and then go out there and start asking for money to do it?
DE ALBUQUERQUE: Exactly, exactly.
SHIELDS: How can the UN help?
DE ALBUQUERQUE: Tuvalu should ask for money but also come up with interesting innovative methods to raise the money internally. It could be through taxation of tourists for example, even if it is a minimal taxation and create a trust fund or a revolving fund that would then enable them to help those people who are in most need in the area of access to water and sanitation. That can be an additional means of financing the sector. What I think is indispensable is have a vision, have a plan, have a strategy.
SHIELDS: Ok now you'll be reporting back to the UN Human Rights Council. How will the UN be following up on your trip?
DE ALBUQUERQUE: Well there is a UN presence for the region here in Fiji in Suva. So obviously they will continue to be contacts between the UN human rights presence for the region here in Suva and Tuvalu, number one. Number two, very soon Tuvalu will come before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to see its human rights situation assessed by all members of the Human Rights Council. And there I hope the situation of access to water and sanitation and human rights will again be analysed. In September I will report myself to the Human Rights Council and I will already bring the situation of Tuvalu because I think it's really critical one. In principle I should only be reporting on it next year, but given the gravity of the situation and the urgency of the problems in the country, I decided that I will anticipate this reporting and I will already present a preliminary report this September. In principle it will be on the 12th of September, then I will present a longer report next year. But given the urgency I will do it already this year. So I think there will be plenty of opportunities to bring the situation of Tuvalu to the international arena, to the international community, make it visible.