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Joint Statement of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and the Ombudsman for Future Generations on the Occasion of World Water Day

The protection of water resources as a natural treasure is our collective duty, pointed out Dr. Ákos Kozma, Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and Dr. Gyula Bándi, Deputy Commissioner, Ombudsman for Future Generations in their joint statement issued on World Water Day. Acting as proprietor and trustee, the State conveys values via the legal regulation, which shapes the possibilities for water use and protection, thereby exerting a significant influence on the living conditions of present and future generations.

At the initiative of the UN General Assembly, ever since 1993, we celebrate World Water Day on 22 March of each year, which provides an occasion to call attention to the importance of fresh water. In relation to this, the Ombudsman and his Deputy underline that a mere 3 per cent of the water resources on the Earth is fresh water, of which only 0.5 per cent is effectively accessible, while nearly all lakes and rivers of the planet are polluted to some extent. Each year there are several million people in the world, including children, who die due to the lack of drinking water or illnesses transmitted by drinking water. The UN has been working on finding solutions to this problem, as a result of which, in 2010, the General Assembly declared the right of access to water and sanitation a human right.

In Hungary, it is a priority task of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights to defend the values specified in Article P) of the Fundamental Law, including our natural treasures, and in this effort, he is aided by the Deputy Commissioner, Ombudsman for Future Generations. Article P) of the Fundamental Law of Hungary stipulates that natural resources, including the reserves of water, form the common heritage of the nation, and it is the obligation of the State and everyone to protect and maintain them, and to preserve them for future generations. By stating that, Article P) of the Fundamental Law creates a common foundation for the substantive unity of all those components of the Hungarian legal system that are relevant from the perspective of justice between the generations. In relation to this, the Constitutional Court of Hungary declared that “the State manages the natural and cultural treasures entrusted to it as a sort of trustee for the future generations as beneficiaries”.

The Commissioner and his Deputy underline that in Hungary, natural treasures, including water resources, are provided firm horizontal legal protection. During the creation of all pieces of legislation concerning natural resources and upon making state- and municipality-level decisions, the requirement of the preservation of natural resources, as well as of ensuring the living conditions of future generations, must be taken into consideration in an integrated manner. Water resources must be managed with a view to the sustainable satisfaction of water use demands both in present and future times. For that to happen, it is quintessential to provide appropriate qualitative and quantitative protection for our water resources.

All of the above is closely related to ensuring access to drinking water, hence to the fundamental right to physical and mental health. Ninety-five per cent of our water demands are supplied from groundwater resources in Hungary, but this presupposes that resources that are suitable for the abstraction of drinking water remain available. Consequently, according to Article P) of the Fundamental Law, the protection of water resources is a pre-requisite for ensuring access to drinking water. As it has been pointed out in Constitutional Court decisions, groundwater resources as natural treasures constitute “finite assets”, and their capacity to be renewed is limited. Therefore, the Commissioner and his Deputy emphasize that the State as trustee has a primordial role in preserving groundwater resources for the abstraction of drinking water for future generations.