Understanding the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation
Human rights aim at securing the basic dignity and equality of all people. “The idea of human rights is as simple as it is powerful: that people have a right to be treated with dignity. Human rights are inherent in all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. Every individual is entitled to enjoy human rights without discrim- ination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”
When human rights were first articulated in international instruments, they were primarily addressed to governments. However, in recent decades it has become apparent that companies can also have impacts on human rights that extend far beyond labor rights and nondiscrimination, and expectations have risen that companies will identify and address such impacts.
The formal recognition of the HRWS in 2010 by UN member states was the most recent step in a decades-long process of convergence of international opinion about the content and implications of these rights.
Dimensions of the HRWS
|Availability||Water and sanitation facilities must be present in order to meet peoples’ basic needs. This means a supply of water that is sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses, which ordinarily include drinking and food preparation, personal hygiene, washing of clothes, cleaning, and other aspects of domestic hygiene, as well as facilities and services for the safe disposal of human excreta (i.e., urine and feces).|
|Accessibility||Water and sanitation facilities must be located or constructed in such a way that they are accessible to all at all times, including to people with particular needs (such as women, children, older persons, or persons with disabilities). Accessibility is particularly important with regard to sanitation, as facilities that are not easily accessible are unlikely to be used and may raise safety risks for some users, especially women and girls.|
|Quality and safety||Water must be of a quality that is safe for human consumption (i.e., drinking and food preparation) and for personal and domestic hygiene. This means it must be free from microorganisms, chemical substances, and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health over a lifetime of consumption. Sanitation facilities must be safe to use and prevent contact between people and human excreta.|
|Acceptability||Water and sanitation facilities must meet social or cultural norms from a user’s perspective, for example, regarding the odor or color of drinking water, or the privacy of sanitation facilities. In most cultures, gender-specific sanitation facilities will be required in public spaces and institutions.|
|Affordability||Individual and household expenditure on water and sanitation services, as well as associated hygiene, must be affordable for people without forcing them to resort to other, unsafe alternatives and/or limiting their capacity to acquire other basic goods and services (such as food, housing, or education) guaranteed by other human rights.|
Key Term: What are the rights to water and sanitation?
The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic (household) use. “Sanitation” is defined as a system for the collection, transport, treatment, disposal, or reuse of human excreta and associated hygiene. The human right to sanitation entitles everyone to sanitation services that are safe, socially and culturally acceptable, secure, hygienic, physically accessible and affordable, and that provide privacy and ensure dignity.