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Thirsting for Justice: New Report Reveals Depth of Discrimination faced by Europe’s Roma in Accessing Water

21 March 2017

Budapest, 21 March 2017: Today the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) released its report - Thirsting for Justice: Europe’s Roma Denied Access to Clean Water & Sanitation, highlighting the shocking disparities between Roma and non-Roma in their access to water.

The report summarises research carried out by the ERRC, between 2014 – 2016, covering 93 Romani neighbourhoods and settlements in Albania, France, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Slovakia.

The human rights to water and sanitation are recognised by the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, and require that States explicitly focus on the most disadvantaged and marginalized. However, our research reveals that large segments of Europe’s Roma continue to be denied or disadvantaged in their access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Even in states and regions where safe water supply and sanitation services were available to almost every non Roma household, we found that Roma populations are still often systemically discriminated against in their access to these essential services. In the sites we investigated, Roma living in legal settlements or neighbourhoods were no less likely to be deprived of water than those in unofficial sites.

In more than half of the places we visited (52.69%), the nearest water source was more than 150 m away. In some places, Roma were forced to walk several kilometres to access water. Distant water resources present a major risk to public health from insufficient sanitation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), when the water source is more than one kilometer away from the home, not only is the volume of water collected likely to be very low; but basic consumption and hygiene practices are compromised to an extent that the risk to public health from poor hygiene becomes very high. Distant public pumps or fire hydrants, which are the only source of water for many Roma, are often managed by reluctant and hostile authorities, who frequently cut them off as soon as they find that Roma are using them.

For more than 40% of the Roma we surveyed, obtaining water necessitated using a dangerous route. Roma often have to get over fences and walls, cross highways, trespass on private property or be confronted by stray dogs in order to get their daily water. The burden of collecting this water falls mainly on women and girls, thus compounding their discrimination.

A near universal lack of indoor toilets means that women and girls also have to cross hazardous terrain and risk harassment by day and night, just to use a toilet. We found only 12% of Roma that had a functioning mechanical toilet, with over 75% using outdoor pit latrines. Frequently the only water source or dry toilet is shared with tens of other people at best.

In the absence of a public water supply, Roma often have no other choice but to rely on untreated and unprotected water sources like self-made wells, natural springs, and rivers, all of which can be a breeding grounds for diseases. These sources are rarely tested to ensure safety and are exposed to a wide range of contaminants, including from the dry toilets (pit latrines), insects, and animals. In some cases even when public water is accessible to Roma, it is still unaffordable for many.

“In many of these countries, there are often Roma living in the exactly the same legal conditions as non Roma, yet they still do not have access to clean water. This is nothing less than direct discrimination against my people. There can be no dispute that many European states are badly failing to meet their long-established international commitments to ‘ensure freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, and to guarantee equality and non-discrimination.’

To be forced to live without running water and toilet today in Europe is inhumane and degrading. States must adopt laws that explicitly recognise the human right to water and sanitation, and ensure that everyone enjoys equal access to water.” said Đorđe Jovanović, ERRC president. 

The full report, including our recommendations for State authorities and the European Commission is available here.

For more information contact:

Jonathan Lee
Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre
+36 30 500 2118

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