Why is the universal human right to water and sanitation so important?
“Because it represents a legal basis from which to talk to authorities. If countries have agreed to respect human rights, they must also implement them. An example is the introduction of special legislation to ensure that the most needy communities are the ones to receive first access to safe water and sanitation. In addition, recognition of the universal human right to water and sanitation is important because it triggers a debate about important aspects of the issue, such as availability and affordability. As more and more countries and organisations protect and promote this human right, more and more opportunities become available to provide everyone, always and everywhere, with safe drinking water and sanitation. To give you another example, the General Assembly Resolution recently recognised the distinct nature of the right to sanitation in relation to the right to safe drinking water. This is an important step in the right direction.”
How can the SDGs contribute to achieving this?
“The Sustainable Development Goals include a large part of the human rights approach. For example, SDG 6.2 concerns access to sanitation for all. This goal also includes the importance of the needs of women, girls and vulnerable groups; an important expression of the principle of equality that runs through the human rights approach.”
What are the challenges in realising access to water and sanitation for all?
“There are a lot! One is the importance of good information: who are the poorest people and where do they live? For example, slum dwellers are not included in many official statistics. If governments do not count these people, no special measures will be designed for them. Another challenge is the lack of coordination between different organisations active in the area. This makes it difficult to reach everyone in a community. In addition, there is little sharing of lessons learned and local governments usually have very limited capabilities.
However, with the advent of the SDGs, these challenges have become more and more visible, which is the first step towards change. We’re not there yet, but the arrival of the SDGs and the recognition of access to water and sanitation as human rights are important steps in the right direction!”