On behalf of the Government of Malaysia and the people of Sabah, I warmly welcome all of you to this beautiful state of Sabah, also known as “Land Below the Winds”


            The people of Sabah arehonoured to host this ‘Regional Consultation on the Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation in ASEAN (with emphasis on rural communities)’ organised by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). I hope that in spite your busy schedule you would take the opportunity to explore Sabah.


            As you are aware, this year, on the 8th of August 2017, ASEAN turned 50. Given this historic and momentous occasion, I would like to take this opportunity to wish ASEAN, and you, a happy belated 50th ASEAN birthday.


            We are all here these three days to discuss and share experiences and challenges regarding the important right to safe drinking water and sanitation in ASEAN. I am very pleased that the AICHR (pronounce as aicher) has decided to take up this very relevant issue.


            Without water and sanitation, human beings cannot live, and cannot live with dignity.


            As ASEAN has turned 50, it is crucial that we review and take stock of what the region has achieved. It is opportune for us to chart our future course to further strengthen and address any gaps as well as challenges related to the delivery of safe drinking water and sanitation in ASEAN for the next 50 years.


            Although this is the first time that the issue of safe drinking water and sanitation is being discussed from the perspective of human rights in the rural communities in ASEAN, I am pleased with the positive response and strong show of support from all of you present here today. This is a room filled with many experts and implementers with a great deal of knowledge and skills in this area.


            I hope that you would fully use this meeting to exchange your expertise with each other, as well as to formulate good practices on the application of international human rights norms to realise ‘Sustainable Development Goal 6’ (SDG6) within the context of the ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint (APSC) 2025 and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Blueprint 2025.ASEAN looks to the AICHR as the overarching human rights body of the region to provide Member States with the appropriate guidance and to set standards in relation to human rights matters of interest. Further, we look to the AICHR to develop common approaches to manage human rights issues that affect the region.


            Article 28(e) of the AHRD has expressly affirmed that the right to safe drinking water and sanitation is inextricably linked to the right to an adequate standard of living for human beings. It is also a pre-requisite to realise other human rights. Underpinning the right to safe drinking water and sanitation are the core rights principles of universality, non-discrimination and equality.


            Water is crucial to all aspects of human life. In fact, water and sanitation cross-cuts others levers of sustainable development such as the right to health, right to be free from poverty, and the right to rights to peace. Simply put, without safe drinking water and sanitation, one would most likely fall ill and perish. Water-related diseases are also prevalent in communities without effective access to safe drinking water and sanitation.


            Not only must there be access to safe drinking water and sanitation to remain healthy, safe drinking water and sanitation must also be affordable (if it is not provided without charge), adequate and of quality. Only with these key rights elements will we then be able to build a sustainable and resilient ASEAN community. I would also be remiss if I neglect to emphasise that we must ensure that the most vulnerable groups of our societies such as women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, the indigenous, migrant workers, asylum-seekers and refugees are able to enjoy the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.


            There are many times that those who live in urban and developed areas – by accident and not by design – take access to safe drinking water and sanitation for granted. Life is much tougher for rural communities in terms of enjoying and accessing thebasic necessities such as safe drinking water and sanitation.


            Credible reports have suggested that the root of water crises is not about the shortages of physical supply, but are traced to poverty, inequality and unequal power relationships, as well as water management policies that exacerbate scarcity. In the 21st century, unclean water is the world’s second biggest killer of children. Meanwhile, ill-health associated with deficits in water and sanitation undermines productivity and economic growth, reinforcing the deep inequalities that characterise current patterns of globalisation and trapping vulnerable households in cycles of poverty.


            In addressing this issue in Sabah, we have implemented strategies that are in line with the Malaysian National Water Resources Policy towards ensuring that the demand for water throughout the state is met in terms of quantity and quality for both man and nature. The strategy provides a platform to streamline practices and approaches for the preparation of water resources conservation plans as well as to build the capacity of all stakeholders toincrease good governance in the management of water resources.

            With the rapid development of ASEAN’s economy, the demand for water and sanitation has also significantly increased leading to uncertain and limited supplies of the same. In this respect therefore, I urge the AICHR to accelerate its work programmes to inspire the region by infusing into ASEAN’s framework a common set of human rights principles and good practices in handling the competing demands and needs especially for those in the rural communities.


            In order to realise an ASEAN Community that is people-centred, people-oriented and socially responsible,we need to do more to fully realise Article 28(e) of the AHRD. This exercise would involve all stakeholders from multiple sectors under the three ASEAN pillarssuch as the AICHR, the Senior Officials Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication (SOMRDPE), the ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environment (ASOEN), the ASEAN Working Group on Water Resources Management (AWGWRM), and the Senior Officials Meeting on Health Development (SOMHD). I am glad all of you from the named bodies are represented, and participating, in this Consultation. I am also appreciative that National Human Rights Institutions and Civil Society Organisations will be able to share their thoughts and concerns at this meeting to assist the AICHR in forming a more holistic and meaningful position on the matters at hand. Every organisation has to play itsrespective role, not in competition, but in cooperation to undertake concerted efforts to address thecross-sectional issues pertaining to water and sanitation.


            On this note, I commend the AICHR for initiating this imperative Consultation. As ASEAN matures, more human rights will come to the fore, and the AICHR must play an active role to formulate methods and strategies to improve human rights standards in the region.


            On behalf of the Government of Malaysia and the people of Sabah, we are proud to have partnered the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Embassy of Switzerland to organise this programme.

            Exciting days are ahead of us. I believe this Consultation will yield rich, robust and valuable discussions that will embolden us into action. I also hope that we will be able to strengthen the bonds that we have with one another so that together, we can accomplish more.


            I wish you all a very fruitful meeting and I look forward to reading the report of this Consultation including any recommendations or outcomes the AICHR may have for ASEAN resulting from this programme. Thank you.