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Catarina de Albuquerque calls for clean water

Catarina de Albuquerque has an ambitious goal for the world — clean water for everyone within the next 20 years.

“If there is the will to do it, it can be achieved, and this right can become a reality for all,” de Albuquerque said.

As a part of UNC’s Health and Human Rights lecture series and the “Water in our World” campus theme, de Albuquerque gave a lecture Friday night titled “Implementing Human Rights to Eliminate Inequalities in Water and Sanitation” in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium.

She has fought for the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation on behalf of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations since 2008.

In that same year, the United Nations ruled that safe drinking water and sanitation were considered basic human rights that are necessary for a happy and successful life, de Albuquerque said.

Benjamin Meier, a public policy professor, was a part of the committee that brought de Albuquerque to Chapel Hill to speak. He said in his introduction of the speaker that the issue is larger than the audience imagines.

“There are over 800 million people who lack clean drinking water,” Meier said. “There are 2.5 billion people that lack means of sanitation.”

De Albuquerque’s lecture focused on examples of her work in countries including Slovenia, Bangladesh, and Egypt, as well as the goals that she has set for the end of 2030, which marks the end of the current United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals plan.

Her presentation focused on another idea surrounding the issues within governments of water and countries which lack basic sanitation. She said countries in need aid citizens who are most in touch with the national identity, while the most needy are marginalized, sinking further into poverty and despair.

De Albuquerque said that this flaw in the process of helping those without drinking water and sanitation makes the goal of reaching 100 percent coverage virtually unreachable.

“We will never be able to achieve universal accessibility of drinking water by 2030 if we don’t start now by lifting up the most marginalized and excluded people,” de Albuquerque said.

De Albuquerque told a story of her visit to a country where she was working in a region which was severely lacking in clean water for drinking and washing. In the middle of the countryside, there was an abandoned water desalination plant. When she questioned why the plant was not in use, the answers ranged from a lack of funds for electricity to a dearth of knowledge and mechanical know-how to run the plant.

“But when I go to the government and ask what their plan is to provide drinking water to those without it, they tell me they plan on installing eight new plants,” de Albuquerque said. “What good does that do to those in need in the countryside?”

Freshman Andy Koltun, an environmental health sciences major, said that the most pressing matter brought up during the lecture was the misunderstanding of governments in places of need.

Junior Emily Clarke, an exchange student from Scotland, said a big obstacle in reaching the proposed goal was that the policies are only affecting the people the government wants to affect.

Ultimately, de Albuquerque is determined to make her goal a reality.

“A world where some people get richer, and stronger, and safer, while others don’t is not the sort of world we want for our children,” de Albuquerque said.

“We must put the elimination of inequalities at the heart of our debate and we must sign up to measuring progress.”

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