Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, SDGs - and: For sanitation, a “rights-based approach” may be the wrong strategy

  • joeturner
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Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, SDGs - and: For sanitation, a “rights-based approach” may be the wrong strategy

I have been at a UN water meeting this week which is new for me - I have not directly covered sanitation policy in my journalism work before (usually I write about scientific papers and discoveries).

The language of the proposed water sdgs, particularly goal 6, is quite interesting. This links into the language of the 'Human Right to sanitation and water' - in that they both talk about 'safe' rather than 'improved' water and sanitation as under the mdgs.

I have not seen official anything specifying what 'safe' is and the people I have spoken to here suggest it is a legal rather than a defined scientific term. I think it will probably be against a local/national standard - but it seems like it will be a big task to accurately determine whether or not these sdgs have been met...
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, sdgs

Given that in many countries the national standards are no where near being enforced (and often also unrealistic under the circumstances) this will lead to major "headaches" indeed.

Personally I see two scenarios:

The optimistic one is that it will be watered down similarly to the "improved" target, but since it starts out at a higher level the safety end result might be closer to a minimum desirable quality level.

The pessimistic one is that as with many of the current standards that are perceived as in-attainable, people will just stop bothering, leading to worse results as would have been with a "as good as realistically possible" policy.

But given the questionable track-record of the MDGs, I doubt that the new SDG will fare much better...

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WASH news aggregator at: news.watsan.eu
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  • joeturner
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Re: Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, sdgs

There seems to a difference in opinion as to value of describing access to clean water and sanitation as a human right.

On one side people seem to be saying it is a nonsense given so many do not have access to it, and given how hard it would be to show that they did. There is no penalty for failing to provide people with their human right to water. Secondly, unlike (for example) the other human rights to fair trial, lack of torture etc - which are relatively easy to determine - the idea of 'safe' can only really be determined with standards, analysis and data. Where is this data going to come from? And without it, what value is there in talking about this as a human right?

On another some are saying that there is value in declaring this as a human right - because it sends the message that everyone should be entitled to it.

If anyone has a thought on this they'd be happy for me to use as a quote in a press article, I'd be interested to hear them.
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  • joeturner
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Re: Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, SDGs (sustainable development goals)

It didn't make it to a press article in the end (for complicated reasons) but I did blog about it here (including a quote from Krischan) on this here:

medium.com/@bucksci/water-water-everywhere-211a2c6f30d6

I interviewed several other interesting people at the conference, but the blog was getting a bit long so I haven't included them all.
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  • joeturner
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Re: Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, SDGs (sustainable development goals)

This paper looks interesting - is anyone able to upload it to the SuSanA library?

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901115000076

This paper assessed an effort to create an indicator of global wastewater treatment performance to inform environmental performance and sustainable development. We compiled wastewater treatment statistics for 183 countries and constructed a first-of-its-kind global indicator for wastewater treatment performance. Although reporting definitions are inconsistent across countries, we preliminarily concluded that wastewater performance trends vary globally, regionally, and by income. Overall, the lack of consistent definitions, reporting protocols, and a central custodian for wastewater treatment data are main reasons for many challenges we confronted in constructing comparable performance measures. We suggest a standardized definition of wastewater treatment aimed at the utility level, which could be normalized and aggregated to reflect national performance. U.N. negotiators, who are designing a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for water that includes a metric on wastewater treatment, must consider these issues if countries are to be successful in managing wastewater and ultimately, water quality.



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Note by moderator: This seems to be not an open access paper, so I am afraid that for copyright reasons we cannot upload it to the SuSanA library even if we bought the pdf file.
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Re: Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, SDGs (sustainable development goals)

This is another article, suggested by Elisabeth, which makes some really interesting points. Such as.. will CLTS be considered 'safe' as per the SDGs?

www.shareresearch.org/LocalResources/Rig...rban_Communities.pdf

Title: Realizing the Right to Sanitation in Deprived Urban Communities:
Meeting the Challenges of Collective Action, Coproduction,
Affordability, and Housing Tenure

By Gordon McGranahan
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Re: Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, SDGs - and: For sanitation, a “rights-based approach” may be the wrong strategy

Anyone have any other thoughts on this? A simpler version by the same author discussing some of the issues in the paper I posted before is here: www.opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/g....VSeX0vvFshc.twitter


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Full text of the article added by moderator:

Title:
For sanitation, a “rights-based approach” may be the wrong strategy

GORDON MCGRANAHAN 10 April 2015

When it comes to sanitation, rights are not enough. A contribution to the open global Rights debate on economic and social rights.

About the author:
Gordon McGranahan is principal researcher for the human settlements group in London’s International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). His recent article in World Development discusses the challenges of urban sanitation reform.

Full article:

A century or more ago, sanitation improvement was the symbol of progressive government in the world’s most rapidly growing cities. In today’s booming urban settlements, however, sanitation often lags other developments, especially when conventional sewers are not affordable.

Neither market-led private enterprise nor government-driven public utilities are well-suited to providing low-cost sanitation, but regulations can also be an unfair and inefficient means of getting poor people to invest in acceptable sanitation.

The UN's recent recognition of the human right to basic sanitation is very welcome; sewage improvements clearly deserve our most concerted and extraordinary efforts. Still, the same obstacles that prevent markets, public providers and regulations from delivering sanitation improvement are likely to impede a narrowly “rights-based” approach. Moreover, successful demand-led efforts have used different approaches, with good reason.

In principle, a rights-based approach could entail a complete overhaul of countries’ legal and governance systems, as implied by the Handbook on Realising the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. In practice, however, it is likely to focus on claims-making against those failing in their duty to provide adequate sanitation, including landlords who do not provide tenants with latrines; public utilities refusing service to shacks; local governments blocking provision to unauthorised settlements; law enforcement agencies ignoring sanitary regulations; and perhaps even national or international donors who ignore sanitation while funding less critical services.

In this sort of rights-based approach, NGOs and other activists work with grassroots movements to push national legal systems to support their demands and hold governments accountable.

Less likely under a rights-based approach, however, would be efforts by the residents of deprived communities themselves to organize their own sanitation improvements, work closely with local authorities to produce mutually acceptable solutions, prioritize affordability over acceptability to achieve scale, or use sanitation improvement as a means of achieving stronger communities capable of engaging more effectively with local authorities. Yet this is exactly what successful and well-documented community-led efforts to improve sanitation have done.

Consider the simplified sewers of Karachi, developed through the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), or the communal toilet blocks of Pune and Mumbai, developed through Mahila Milan, SPARC and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India (the Alliance).



Flickr/PraveenaSridhar (Some rights reserved)
A communal toilet block in Allahabad, India.

In both cases, the communities created their own organizations, not just to protest against existing conditions, but also to implement real sanitation improvements. In the OPP, local residents created “lane committees” to oversee sewer extensions; in the Alliance, women’s savings groups and other residents organized around communal toilet blocks.

In both instances, residents challenged local governments to contribute to realistic solutions that authorities and citizens could jointly “co-produce”. With OPP, public sector contributions included trunk sewers into which community sewers flowed; with the Alliance the public sector started off very sceptical, but eventually became a significant funder of local toilet blocks.

In both instances, residents worked with sanitation systems widely considered inadequate due to gross mismanagement. OPP struggled to prevent limited sanitation funds from being spent on costly conventional sewers in Karachi, while the Alliance chose a technology that would not even qualify as “improved” in official international statistics, as they are shared, rather than private, facilities.

Both groups of local citizens used their sanitation improvements to gain legitimacy for their settlements, all without putting rights-based claims front and center. Rather than organizing to make demands, they first organized to find and start implementing improvements. Then, instead of demanding solutions from government authorities, they demanded support in coproducing solutions they had developed. Finally, rather than seeking to secure the facilities they desired most, they worked hard to make these more affordable, negotiating also to get contributions from the state.

Does this mean that a narrow focus on rights can never succeed? No. When conventional sewer connections are appropriate and affordable, at least with realistic subsidies, a rights-based approach can be effective. With sufficient political and financial support, engineers can design sewer extensions, accountants can cost them, economists can devise affordable tariffs, and public utilities can roll them out. Activists can then use rights legislation to push for universal coverage.

For most people without adequate sanitation, however, these conventional sewer connections are not an option. Lower cost systems are decentralized, and require users to help operate and maintain them. They create challenges requiring users to organize themselves locally, cooperate with local authorities, prioritize affordability, and use sanitation to gain legitimacy for their settlements.

In particular, these efforts involve several key challenges: collective action, coproduction, affordability, and housing insecurity.

Bad urban sanitation involves private behaviours with huge public impacts. To put it crudely, your own shit is not the problem; it is other people’s shit, contaminating the local environment, that causes you serious damage. If you improve your facilities, and your neighbours don’t, you and your children still face serious sanitation problems. To overcome this “collective action problem”, as social scientists call it, local residents must organize locally and act collectively, rather than leaving it to individual households to decide independently whether to up-grade.

But even when communities overcome this problem, they can’t do the job alone; they need local government to take responsibility for the ultimate removal and treatment of excreta. The local government may also need to make other contributions. Residents, public utilities and/or local authorities, in other words, must combine forces to “coproduce” sanitation.

Cost, however, is a big problem. Under these conditions, the kind of strict government regulations demanded by some rights activists are more likely to exclude than uplift. Cost, however, is a big problem, since the poor can’t afford good sanitation any more than they can afford adequate food, clothing or shelter. Under these conditions, the kind of strict government regulations demanded by some rights activists are more likely to exclude than uplift. The new standards will be unaffordable for many, and irregularly enforced. The result is likely to be more informality and corruption, not healthier people.

Also, the poorest residents often live in informal settlements where their right to reside is insecure – and doubly insecure if they are tenants – blocking both residents and public agencies from investing in proper sanitation. Sanitation reforms must either address such tenure issues head-on, or find other ways of overcoming the disincentive to invest.

Considering these challenges, a narrowly rights-based approach to sanitation puts too much emphasis on individual rights, enforces too sharp a public/private separation, ignores the sanitation regulations’ exclusionary tendencies, and neglects tenure problems.

Private markets and public plans are already failing hundreds of millions of the poorest urban dwellers. Ironically, the right to basic sanitation could also be poorly served by a narrowly rights-based approach that fails to take these challenges seriously.
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