United Nations General Assembly affirms that water and sanitation are distinct rights and confirms a strong definition of these rights

  • annetempel
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Changing from just one human right to water and sanitation to two separate human rights: one for water, one for sanitation

(The following text is an email that my colleague Philipp Peters, GIZ International Water Policy Programme, has sent, but I think it also deserves to be copied to here)



Dear colleagues,
on 18 November, this year’s draft UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the human rights to water and sanitation (attached) was submitted to the 3rd Committee of the UNGA. The resolution was approved without a vote on 24 November ( www.un.org/press/en/2015/gashc4160.doc.htm ). It can be assumed in all probability that this resolution will be adopted by the UNGA this month.

This year’s draft resolution contains new elements compared to previous resolutions on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation by the UN Human Rights Council and/or the UNGA:


Most importantly, it separates the HR to W+S into 2 individual human rights – Referring to the 2010 statement on the right to sanitation of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and reports of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation (preambulatory clause [PC] 9), the resolution argues that
“the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation are closely related, but have distinct features which warrant their separate treatment in order to address specific challenges in their implementation and that sanitation too often remains neglected, if not addressed as a separate right, while being a component of the right to an adequate standard of living” (PC 21)
It consequently recalls, affirms and defines the human right to safe drinking water and the human right to sanitation as two individual rights and components of the right to an adequate standard of living (PC 22, operative clause).


The resolution also makes the connection to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and specifically SDG 6 on water and sanitation – It welcomes “the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the reaffirmation of commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation therein” (PC 4) as well as SDG 6 on water and sanitation, emphasizing that the Goal “includes important dimensions related to the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation” (OC 3). It calls upon States to adequately consider their commitments toward the HRs to W+S in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, “including through the full implementation of Goal 6” (OC 5(b)) and to “enhance global partnerships for sustainable development”. And it highlights that states “need to develop adequate follow-up and review of progress on the agenda” including on SDG 6 (ibid.).

The resolution also contains a number of important elements that already featured in previous resolutions on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation by the UN Human Rights Council and/or the UNGA. It, inter alia,

• recalls the need and calling upon States to approach sanitation in a broader context, including hygiene promotion and wastewater management in the context of integrated water management (PC 7 & OC 5(g))

• makes reference to menstruation and menstrual hygiene management as a human rights challenge (PC 14)

• expresses deep concern about the fact that current official global monitoring underestimates the number of people without access to safe and affordable drinking water (and safely managed and affordable sanitation) and highlights the need for improved monitoring in line with the HRs to W+S (PC 17)

• recognizes the need for more integrated approaches and strengthened water resources management for the realization of the HRs to W+S(PC 18)

Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA)
Secretariat
Located at Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany

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  • F H Mughal
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Re: UN Recognises Separate, Distinct Right to Sanitation

UN Recognises Separate, Distinct Right to Sanitation

Right to "sanitation" was, in the past, tagged with water, and the commonly used reference was “right to water and sanitation.”

The UN General Assembly Resolution A/HRC/RES/27/7 of 2 October 2014, which dealt with the rights, was captioned “The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.”

Section 11 (a) and (b) of the Resolution says:

11. Calls upon States:

(a) To achieve progressively the full realization of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation;

(b) To identify patterns of failure to respect, protect or fulfil the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation for all persons without discrimination and to address their structural causes in policymaking and budgeting within a broader framework, while undertaking holistic planning aimed at achieving sustainable universal access, including in instances where the private sector, donors and non-governmental organizations are involved in service provision;

Back in September 2014, the previous UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, developed publication: “Realising the human rights to water and sanitation: A handbook.” Here also sanitation was linked with water.

For translating the abstractness of human rights into an practical course of action, Sean Furey, vide his email of 23 Nov 2015, sought cooperation of the government officials, followed by details given by Hannah Neumeyer and Louisa Gosling.

With that brief background on work on right to water and sanitation, it was encouraging to see the post of Cor Dietvorst of 18 Dec 2015 (courtesy: Sanitation Updates), in which it was stated that, on 17 December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution which for the first time recognises the distinction between the human right to water and the human right to sanitation. The relevant United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/C.3/70/L.55 of 2 November 2015 (available at www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/C.3/70/L.55 ).

The relevant text is:

1. Recognizes that the human right to safe drinking water entitles everyone,
without discrimination, to have access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically
accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use, and that the human
right to sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have physical and
affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure,
socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity;

2. Affirms that the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation are
essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights;

This is an important development and, is of great interest to sanitation champions. I’m sure, Susana community will be happy to note that, now, sanitation has separate, distinct right.

Thank you, Cor Dietvorst, for sharing this important information.

F H Mughal

F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan
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  • HannahNeumeyer
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Re: United Nations General Assembly affirms that water and sanitation are distinct rights and confirms a strong definition of these rights

Dear colleagues,

Just before the holidays, the UN General Assembly has adopted a new resolution on the human rights to water and sanitation - with important new developments!

The General Assembly affirms that water and sanitation are distinct rights and spells out the scope and content of these rights. Both are very important clarifications regarding the human rights to water and sanitation, especially since they come from the General Assembly.

Also, the resolution highlights the gender-specific human rights impacts of inadequate water and sanitation services.

Please refer to the attachment for more information. The text of the resolution will soon become available here: www.un.org/en/ga/70/resolutions.shtml

Best wishes
Hannah

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  • arno
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Re: United Nations General Assembly affirms that water and sanitation are distinct rights and confirms a strong definition of these rights

Thanks for that Hannah. This is the direct quotation:
The General Assembly resolution, in operative paragraph 2, also for the first time recognises the content of entitlements under the right to sanitation and right to water respectively, and specifically highlights that these entitlements apply “without discrimination.” It states that everyone is entitled “to have access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use” and entitled “to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, and socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity.”

These are the closest definitions yet seen reaching towards sustainable water supply and sanitation. The only word I miss in the definition for sanitation is the word affordable. It's there for water supply but not for sanitation. The trend today in poor countries is that water supply is to be subsidized but sanitation is something that consumers have to cover themselves. That may be OK for rural communities but urban sanitation systems will almost always need large subsidies for capital and maintenance expenditures.

Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
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