Non-governmental Organisations Major Group - 2nd World Water Forum.

Background paper for the workshop 'WATER AS A BASIC NEED'

Human rights and the right

to water and sanitation

Belinda U. Calaguas, WaterAid

The draft Ministerial Declaration recognises water and sanitation as basic human needs, but falls short of confirming it as basic rights. There is international consensus from past conferences in the water sector, and from international conventions that water and sanitation are universal human rights. This Briefing Note gives background information on the position taken by NGOs that there should be no retreat from the recognition that water and sanitation are basic needs and rights.

1. Human Rights are rights inherent to every individual because they are human beings. They are universal, indivisible, inter-related and inter-dependent. They are rights recognised under international law; enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the covenants that give it legal force. Human rights also represent universal standards of human development.

2. Human rights covenants and treaties carry obligations upon states that have signed and ratified them. These obligations are to respect, protect, promote, and work towards the progressive achievement of the full realisation of the rights covered in the covenant. Concretely, this could mean the following:

International human rights instruments are incorporated into national constitutions

Policy and legislation in line with the covenants/treaties are developed and passed

Actions are undertaken by the state to fulfil its obligations under the covenant and/or treaty, to the maximum of available resources (its own and through development assistance)

States report on progress in realising the rights for people under

their jurisdiction, and monitor the progress of other states signatories.

3. Human rights can be broadly grouped into three areas:

Rights necessary for survival and dignified living

Rights and freedoms necessary for human dignity, creativity, intellectual and spiritual development

Rights necessary for liberty and physical security

4. Rights carry responsibilities. Individuals have responsibilities to the extent that their enjoyment of a right should not prevent others from enjoying the same right or impose a cost on others. Individual responsibilities include sharing in the costs necessary for the realisation of a right for all.

5. The right to water and sanitation is guaranteed under the following covenants:

1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Ratified or acceded by 135 countries, 57 remaining)

Article 11.1

'the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing, housing and the continuous improvement of living conditions'

Article 12.1 and 2

'the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health' full realisation of this right shall include those necessary for (b) improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene; (c) prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases.

1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Ratified or acceded by 153 countries, 39 remaining)

Article 14.2

'ensure to such women [in rural areas] the right: (h) to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.'

1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (Ratified or acceded by 190 countries, 2 remaining)

Article 24.1 and 2

'right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of healthState parties shall take appropriate measures: (a) to diminish infant and child mortality;(c) combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution; (e) ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation

6. NGOs, especially those in the water and sanitation sector, could use the international legal framework of human rights and the existing international apparatus of the UN's treaty monitoring bodies to encourage and strengthen a culture of compliance on the right to water and sanitation. NGOs could monitor fulfilment of rights, advocate to create structures, policy changes and budget allocations favouring implementation of rights, help to specify service delivery standards and hold public and private agencies to account for meeting these standards, and enable greater public involvement, especially that of the poor, in ensuring accountability of agencies.

7. Universal standards require local debate. The right to water and sanitation has to be defined locally, with appropriate performance standards that are meaningful to the local population.