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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.

Demystifying the role of financing SDG6

Joel Kolker's picture

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments coming out of the SIWI World Water Week in Stockholm at the end of August was the large number of sessions and debates around the financing issue.  In essence, the discussion on how we will collectively raise enough funds to close the financing gap was prominent in many discussions. 

It is worth noting that some progress has been made. The issue is now prominent in all the major policy discussions with stakeholders. There is an acknowledgement that domestic finance, rather than international resources, are key to addressing the issue. 

Solving for water security at the source

Andrea Erickson's picture

Aerial view looking south toward the Gulf of Mexico down the Wax Lake Delta, Louisiana.
Photo © Carlton Ward Jr.
 

New York City faced a challenge in the 1990s: the city needed a new water filtration system to serve its nearly 8 million people. But the prospect of spending $6 to 10 billion on a new water treatment plant, and another $100 million on annual operating costs, was daunting. So, city officials took a closer look at the source of their water—the Catskill Mountains.
 
Water from the Catskills flows through 120 miles of forests, farmlands and towns to reach New York City. When that landscape is healthy, it acts as a natural purifying system, but certain development and agricultural practices can result in impaired water quality. For city officials, reaching out to local farmers and landowners and compensating them to restore and conserve their lands in the watershed, combined with some land acquisition, proved to be significantly cheaper than building and operating a new treatment plant.
 

Is shared sanitation the answer to Maputo’s sanitation challenge?

Baghi Baghirathan's picture
 
Sanitation Blocks in Charmanculo

Poor sanitation is the all too familiar story in many expanding African cities and Mozambique’s capital city Maputo is no exception. In fact, over half of the country’s urban population lack access to even basic sanitation. With an estimated 668 million city dwellers around the world not having access to safe sanitation, overcoming sanitation challenges in cities like Maputo will go a long way towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal for safe sanitation (SDG 6.2).
 

Time to focus on water management in Arab world as source of growth and stability

Anders Jagerskog's picture
Co-authored by Pasquale Steduto, FAO Regional Coordinator for the Near East and North Africa

In Gaza, the drinking water tastes like seawater. Years of neglect and poor management, due in large part to recurring conflicts, has led to the steady depletion of Gaza’s natural aquifer. The empty aquifer has been invaded by seawater and, alarming for public health, untreated sewage.

How many people can share a toilet?

Rebecca Jean Gilsdorf's picture

An Introduction to Shared Sanitation

Co-authors:
Rachel Cardone

Martin Gambrill

How many people can share a toilet? This question might sound like the start of a joke but it’s actually a serious issue for many across the world. That’s because an estimated 20 percent of the global population do not have their own toilets.
 
In urban areas, almost one person in ten uses a shared household toilet, i.e., a toilet shared with at least one neighboring household. But sometimes no one in the neighborhood owns a private toilet, so some of these families instead have no choice but to use community toilets - that are locally available and used by anyone who lives nearby. In such cases, hundreds of people might be using the same block of community toilets. Now let’s think about the other toilets we all use – when we’re out shopping or running errands, when we’re at work or school, or when we’re in transit. These public toilets might be used by hundreds or thousands of different people at different times of day.
 
Many of us go through the day without giving much thought to this. But for hundreds of millions of people worldwide who do not own their own toilet, these are daily realities. Additionally, even for households who have their own toilet, when they are outside of the home, they still need access to improved sanitation facilities. The illustration below depicts a day in the life of the Mijini family (Mijini means urban in Swahili). The Mijini ’s sanitation situation is great in their home, as they have an individual household toilet, but it’s underwhelming and even dangerous once they leave home for their day. Their experience is not unique, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Half the world away? Fecal sludge and septage treatment in low and middle income countries

Martin Gambrill's picture

Co-authors: 
Jan Willem Rosenboom, Sr. Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation 
Rebecca Gilsdorf, Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist, the World Bank
Ruth Kennedy-Walker, Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist, the World Bank 



An engineering design manual is an unlikely device to set pulses racing and even less likely to grab headlines. Yet within the pages of such a newly-released manual, there are vital solutions for one of the most important sanitation challenges which most people have never heard of. 

Alongside the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank’s Citywide Inclusive Sanitation team has worked with globally-renowned expert Kevin Tayler to produce the newly-published book ‘Faecal Sludge and Septage Treatment - A guide for low and middle income countries.’ For those not familiar with the sanitation sector, this subject may not sound particularly exhilarating but, trust us on this, it’s a crucial issue and the book is a game changer. Here’s why.

Tackling a crisis of too much, too little, too polluted

Guangzhe CHEN's picture
The world’s water problems have regularly made the news in 2018. And the scale of the crisis behind the headlines is stark. It is a crisis of too much, too polluted and too little. 

Too much because the devastating impacts of floods, exacerbated by climate change, is hitting poor people first and worst. Too polluted because so much wastewater does not get collected or treated. And too little because across the world today 2.1 billion people lack reliable access to safely managed drinking water services and 4.5 billion lack safely managed sanitation services, which means that a majority of the global population go without safe containment, emptying/collection, conveyance, treatment and reuse/disposal of their waste. All the while, water scarcity could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP, spur migration and, in the extreme, spark civil conflict.
 
Tackling this crisis is one of the most urgent issues for the global community to address. That’s why a team of experts from the World Bank are attending World Water Week in Stockholm from August 26 to 31 to deepen knowledge, shape debates and amplify action for a water-secure world for all. 

Inclusion in water: breaking down barriers

Soma Ghosh Moulik's picture
Also available in: Español | Français

In many countries, women walk over six kilometers to collect water. Between 2006 and 2012 in Niger, women traveled an hour, on average, to fetch water. Worldwide, 4.5 billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation services and 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water services.
 
Yet even these large numbers and stunning statistics cannot fully reflect the reality for pockets of societies which bear the brunt of inaccessibility. Marginalized groups and low-income communities often lack basic water and sanitation to a staggering degree - a  recent World Bank study found that in Guatemala only 33 percent of the indigenous population have access to sanitation, compared to 77% of the non-indigenous population.
 
So, what does this mean for the water sector? Visibly, it is the case that water remains largely unsafe and inaccessible. Less visibly, it may also be the case that marginalized individuals and groups do not have voice or agency when it comes to managing water. As people are excluded based on facets of their identity - such as ethnicity, social status, gender, sexual orientation, or disability status – their obstacles to safe and accessible water remain unchanged and overlooked. With the previous numbers in mind, these cases make it all too clear that women and other marginalized groups are absent from decision-making roles. They reveal that water and sanitation all too often become conduits of exclusion and disparity.  It is time for the water sector to fully recognize and scrutinize the overlap between inclusion and water.
 
Social inclusion can involve one or a combination of factors that exclude people from markets and services. It is the path to ensuring that marginalized groups are given a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, inclusion is an important component of the work of the World Bank’s Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP). The GWSP aims to deepen social inclusion in water through knowledge generation and curation, country engagements, learning, and stronger partnerships. Moving into its second year, GWSP has supported a number of initiatives and projects to help advance the inclusion agenda:

Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership: Scaling up financing outreach at World Water Week

Joel Kolker's picture

The latest news about the finance world usually involves stories of blockchain technology, acquisitions and mergers, and stock market fluctuations. But the world of finance is also central to the Sustainable Development Goals and particularly the objective of universal access in the water and sanitation sector. Financing, whether public or private, is essential to the development, maintenance and improvement of water supply and sanitation (WSS) systems.

That’s why scaling-up finance for water is crucial if we are to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the water sector. The SDGs call upon the world to achieve universal WSS access that is safe, affordable, and available to all by 2030. In addition, the SDGs include targets for increasing efficiency of water use across all sectors, protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, and improving water quality. And water is a fundamental prerequisite to the achievement of all 17 of the goals – water flows through and connects all the other SDGs.  

However, many people still live in areas where WSS systems are inadequate or even unavailable. Although drinking water is essential to life, across the world today 2.1 billion people lack reliable access to safely managed drinking water services and 4.5 billion lack safely managed sanitation services. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 42 percent of people lack improved water sources within a 30-minute roundtrip.

The World Bank Group’s Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) understands that additional finance for water infrastructure is absolutely critical to achieve the SDGs. The WSS sector alone requires six times more financing than governments, the private sector, and donors are currently funding.

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