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UN experts decry water woes in Guadeloupe and say scientists and activists are being censored

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — U.N. independent experts are denouncing chronic water cuts in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, adding that they are concerned about tap water pollution, excessive prices and attempts to silence critics.

They noted that activists, scientists and others who have spoken out about the situation are being censored, and that officials ordered a last-minute ban on a local water debate that was being organized by the University of the West Indies.

“Water has become a sensitive subject, difficult to discuss freely, and several actors denouncing the dysfunctions of the water system are in danger,” the experts said in a statement Thursday.

The experts accused private operators, local authorities and the French government of neglecting the island’s water system for years, saying their actions have led to an outdated network, leaking pipes, defective treatment plants and faulty billing software, among other malfunctions.

The press office for the government of Guadeloupe did not return a message seeking comment.

The experts said the ongoing situation is threatening residents’ “human rights to clean water and sanitation.”

“The situation is particularly serious for the most disadvantaged, because this is the French department where water prices are the highest in the country,” they said.

While noting that the French government has dismissed concerns of pollution, the U.N. experts said that more than 60% of drinking water in Guadeloupe is lost before reaching taps due to leaks, and that the outages and leak rates are evidence that contaminants are entering the system.

“France must take its responsibilities by ensuring that contamination does not continue to spread and by putting in place compensation measures for the entire affected population,” the experts said.

Contamination is of particular concern in Guadeloupe, where a banned pesticide known as chlordecone was used from 1973 to 1993 and still pollutes the island’s soil and water, causing cancer and other illnesses.

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