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How a human rights based approach to water and sanitation improves institutions for the poor

Christian Borja-Vega's picture

In our previous blog, we looked at how water and sanitation came to be recognized as a human right, and what that means in practice. Today, we look at how formal and informal institutional practices influence the realization of the right to water and sanitation, as well as how the World Bank is contributing towards solutions through the WASH Poverty Diagnostic.

The water and sanitation sector includes and relies on a vast array of institutions – from village water committees to urban utilities, health extension workers to ministries of health, and community irrigation associations to river basin offices.  Helping build the capacity of and roles played by these institutions is a critical element of the Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) to water and sanitation. Formal and informal institutions influence the way in which WASH access-expansion programs are designed, planned, funded, implemented, and monitored. As such, they play fundamental roles in delivering water and sanitation for all.  

 

A young girl carrying home water from a solar based system built under a UNICEF project which 1350 people benefit from.

Machaze District, Timbe-Timbe. © Tommaso Rada

Why a human rights based approach to water and sanitation is essential for the poor

Christian Borja-Vega's picture

It may have taken decades, but access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is now firmly recognized as a human right. How did this happen? What does it mean in practice? And how can it help the rural poor gain access?

In July of 2010, the United Nations General Assembly “explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights” in Resolution A/RES/64/292. Despite these commitments, investments to date have largely proved insufficient to guarantee universal access. Today, 844 million people lack access to safe drinking water, and more than twice that number (2.3 billion) do not have access to adequate sanitation. Take the example of Mozambique. New World Bank research, the ‘WASH Poverty Diagnostic’, reveals that access to improved water on premises could be as low as 32 percent in rural areas, and as high as 69 percent in urban areas. The research finds that inequitable access is due to poor governance and lack of specific attention to the poor and vulnerable; not only it is a matter of life and death, water and sanitation are basic rights.

Does Sanitation as a Human Right = Free Toilets?

Craig Kullmann's picture

Earlier this month, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), Nordic Human Rights Trust Fund, and the World Bank’s Sanitation Thematic Group hosted Catarina de Albuquerque, the first UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to sanitation and safe drinking water. She discussed the human right to sanitation with sector and human rights experts, and what it means in practice. One of the most notable questions she addressed was--- if something is a human right, does that mean it has to be free? 


From the World Water Forum: Water is a Human Right... Now What?

Glenn Pearce-Oroz's picture

The session on Human Right to Water has led to constructive debate and dialogue.  More interestingly, discussion on whether the human right to water implies providing water for free is no longer part of the mainstream debate. We have moved beyond this dichotomy and are now focused on figuring out how to make it work, while recognizing the costs involved. 

There were many take-away messages. We need to operationalize the definition of the human right to water,  develop more specific indicators and targets for each dimension that makes up the human right to water, and work to ensure that targets and indicators are relevant for different country contexts. Questions such as How affordable is affordable?, How safe is safe?, and How available is available? will differ between countries.